What goes around comes around

26th May 2000 at 01:00
AMONG the books and remnants of past enthusiasms stored in our attic I uncovered a yellowing copy of The TES Scotland dated April 23, 1976. It was the edition which contained the first education article I had written and I turned the pages with a certain reluctance expecting to be embarrassed by my naive thoughts.

A quarter of a century has brought obvious changes to the design of our august journal. The black and white front page was a block of solid print unrelieved by any illustration while inside was an occasional small photograph and powerful advertisements from the newly created giant regions of Strathclyde and Grampian, but the greater interest lay in rediscovering the educational issues of the day.

There was a debate in Parliament about how best to tackle child crime and a report from the SCE Examination Board expressing concern at the "shoddy English" of many candidates while a front page article wrestled with the problem of how to make the results of educational research relevant to real classrooms.

There was also the next instalment in a continuing debate about declining standards in primary schools which had seen some Glasgow headteachers issue an outline scheme of work in an attempt to bring structure to a climate in which, as they saw it, the "proliferation of modern methods" had led to a fall in standards.

In the mathematics supplement, the lack of any primary material among the heavy advertising reminds us of the dark days when the only choice was between the dreadful Making Sure of Maths and making your own. Perhaps the poor provision of maths materials explains the bizarre story of the P6 class which had just finished a lesson on fractions.

The teacher asked how many had not understood the lesson and 30 put their hands up whereupon the teacher rewarded the children with one stroke of the belt each. It is not recorded if the children understood their fractions better but they had learnt the lesson of not giving an honest answr to any future question posed by the teacher. The modern reader fails to see any indication of the teacher as reflective practitioner here and wonders how our present P6 pupils would react. With laughter, I think.

While many of the issues are still being replayed for modern readers I find that the subject of my own article, "Liaison between primary and secondary", is now the height of topicality. Twenty-four years ago, liaison was almost non-existent. Children appeared at their new secondary school in August without any introduction or preparation, and the secondary attitude was that nothing of any worth had happened to the child before that day so there was no need to find out what pupils had learnt.

Secondary schools were closed to parents and to primary teachers and this was reinforced by an academic snobbery and silent intimidation towards those who were, at that time, mostly non-graduates.

In the town where I then taught we had managed to negotiate our first afternoon visit to the secondary for P7 pupils. In the circumstances it was a significant step forward but my article shows my impatience with liaison which was reduced to "a minimum of effort on one afternoon a year" and argues for what we now call continuity and progression within the P6-S1 curriculum.

I met a sympathetic English teacher and together we planned a topic for P7 and S1 pupils. We exchanged ideas and classes and achieved a level of liaison which was new to both of us but it was a drop in the ocean and no one else was much bothered.

A quarter of a century on, the Scottish Executive is proposing "Transition from primary to secondary" as one of three action areas. None of this is new. The first concerns appeared 50 years ago. Is our system so unwieldy that it takes decades even to think about real change?

I shall return my old TESS to the attic. Its next outing will be in 2025. Who's taking bets that we'll have cured the primary-secondary problem by then?


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