Unions voice fears as Assembly outlines plans for bridging units to ease transition to secondary school. James Graham reports
New proposals to help pupils move between primary and secondary school will place an additional burden on teaching staff, unions have claimed.
Teaching unions say that the Welsh Assembly government's plans to smooth pupils' transition between the sectors, by creating bridging units working with older primary children, will merely add to teachers' existing workload.
The Assembly government has published a consultation document proposing that all secondary schools work with their feeder primaries, drawing up a plan to help pupils with the move into Year 7. It aims for all schools to have such plans in place by September 2007.
Secondary subject teachers and primary subject co-ordinators will work together in bridging units, developing shared schemes of work in one or more subject.
And arrangements would be made for observation of classroom practice, with teachers working together to assess pupils as they move from Y6 to Y7.
Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, said she hoped the plans would iron out the bumps in the education system.
But Geraint Davies, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, fears that these changes will place an even greater burden on existing staff.
He said: "My main concern is the creation of bridging units. The administration and assessment could create extra workload for teachers in the classroom.
"These units should be created by engaging more full-time teachers to deliver the work, fluctuating back and forth between primary and secondary schools."
This is echoed by Heledd Hayes, education officer for the National Union of Teachers Cymru. Dr Hayes fears that requiring schools to contribute to a transition plan would inevitably create more work for teachers.
She said: "We welcome the document on the proviso that there are enough staff to match what it calls for."
However, many authorities are already pursuing transition policies. Neath Port Talbot has well-connected clusters of primary and secondary schools, and produced its own report on transition earlier this year.
Aled Evans, primary development officer, said: "We're trying to ensure bridging units are not burdensome, and that they dovetail with common practice."
And, in Pembrokeshire, transition bridging units have been a feature of primary schools for the past five years. Secondary teachers work with older primary pupils in the core subjects of English, Welsh, maths and science, The county has embraced the transition ethos since 1996. It is now cited as a model of good practice by inspection agency Estyn. Chris Noble, head of Greenhill comprehensive, in Tenby, works with 13 primaries.
"We're all mindful of workload issues involved in planning these transition units," he said. "But the other side of the coin is that they can save time at secondary level because the teachers know so much more about the students."
The Greenhill cluster is one of the authority's seven "families" of schools, which receive pound;50,000 a year from the council, and share resources such as an educational psychologist and a welfare officer.
Jan Llewellyn head of Tenby junior, one of Greenhill's feeders, has built the bridging lessons into the normal work plan. She believes that pupils respond well.
She said: "At Greenhill they had to give Y7 maths Y8 work to do because standards have risen so much that they didn't want pupils to get bored."
The Assembly government has said that it hopes all authorities will find its transition proposals equally beneficial.
A spokeswoman said: "Many secondary schools have developed units working with their feeder primaries. Their use within transition plans will build on current practice. We do not expect bridging units for every subject. All parties can register their views before we firm up our plans."