Dear Primary Teachers,
As a secondary school English teacher, I know that I know very little about how you work or how you get the best out of your pupils with all the pressures that you face. I know that we are not as good at the key stage 2 to 3 transition as we should be and I know that we all feel that if we had more time and opportunity to get together and understand each other’s perspectives, then it might make all our jobs a little easier, and more successful. I know that visits between each other’s schools, sharing some teaching maybe, or some planning, might help. I will if you will. Any takers?
I’m pleased and excited, now that my school has become a teaching school, to be able to work with some primary colleagues through our partnership arrangements. We’re making a priority of transition work, and shared projects to improve reading and writing in particular. We’ll have to share our worries, and our triumphs. This is something happening round the country. I want to find out how to make this work. I will if you will. Are we ready for this?
Within our English departments, we’ve been anticipating feeling the effects of some of the changes that we’ve heard have been happening in primary. I shared with my English colleagues the glossary outlining the language terms that KS2 pupils will soon be coming to us with. Some gulped, their fears based on a sense of bewilderment at this terminology. Most secondary English teachers are Literature trained, and know they’ll soon be facing language lessons themselves in order to develop appropriate schemes for new pupils. English teachers with linguistics knowledge will be called upon to share and disseminate – and maybe this is something that we should all be doing more readily – within our departments, between partner schools, across phase boundaries? I will if you will. Should we talk about this?
I now know, since reading Michael Tidd’s blog, more about how English teaching has been changing in primary schools and I know we’ll need to think again, and again, about how to build on the work being done in primaries over the next few years. I guess we’ll have to adapt the schemes that we’ve only just implemented since the rewriting of the national curriculum. It’ll be tentative at first, as we get used to the new ‘profiles’ of the pupils coming through to us. I’ll admit, we’ll be relieved to see new Year 7s with better spelling, but we also know that it doesn’t end there. When new starters come to us, their 4 hours a week in English are dwarfed by the other 21 hours of subjects in their timetables which might not focus to the same extent on the explicit development of reading and writing skills – spellings which are taught, practised, marked and corrected in English might be deemed less important elsewhere, by some of their other 12 or 13 teachers, in about 85% of their week, in fact. What messages do the children take from this? Our ‘Literacy Across the Curriculum’ expectations need to be watertight. I think we need to learn from the primary experience here. We should compare approaches. I will if you will. Shall we give it a go?
More of a focus in primary on whole text reading, on poetry and on analysing the craft of the writer sound great to most of us in secondary. It fits with the eventual movement towards GCSE and A levels, especially in their new forms, so we’re hoping that the children will feel a smoother ‘join’ between the two phases than their older siblings might have. Like you, we’ll be glad to get rid of some of the fragmentary and formulaic approaches to text production and reception that we’ve had in recent years – maybe we could actually meet up in our communities of schools, secondaries and feeder primaries together, and air our concerns, chat over a coffee and give each other a few pointers? We’d love to know more about phonics, for example, to be able to build on the learning already experienced in primary. I will if you will. Who will you bring?
And the things that happen in secondary?
Well, when our new Year 7s arrive in September, we will retest them in some way. It’s not because we don’t trust the tests they’ve recently taken, or your judgements, but we know most children will have forgotten some of their Year 6 learning over the summer, so we need to have a new measure of what they can do at the start of their new key stage: we can plan for the children in front of us when we know for sure what they can do ‘right now’. We’ll need to add more detail to the broad brush strokes of levels and sub-levels. And that child whose results were a disappointment to you? You knew they could really manage more but they messed up on the day – we’ll spot that soon enough. But maybe we’d spot it sooner if we shared pupils’ work more readily between us? I will if you will. Maybe I should give you a ring?
For similar reasons, we will cover some aspects of the topics they will have studied before – I need to know, for instance, what my 7M class know about different types of punctuation, before setting out to teach them their next steps. My school takes children from almost 30 feeder primaries, so we need to find a quick way to set our own standards and get the pupils going on their new key stage learning. We’ll then take these children through a whole range of texts of different types, from different periods, different writing projects and some spoken debates, recitals and presentations. Our data collection schedules dictate that a range of skills are covered each term – it might seem like a rush, but on only 4 hours a week, we have to plough through the topics to show progress in the different areas. I suspect there might be a better way to do this. I imagine that, having built relationships with your classes over longer periods of time, you might have found more subtle ways of keeping track of pupils’ learning. We should meet up more often to discuss these things. I will if you will. When do you want to do it?
With so many changes to our curriculum plans, new testing arrangements and the ‘raising the bar’ initiatives that are happening at the moment, we’re all worried about getting it right. Assessment procedures feel like a day out at the old funfair ‘crazy house’ where reflections are exaggerated, the ground shifts beneath your feet and perspectives are distorted. We could be facing a crisis in results and reputations could tumble if we don’t adapt quickly enough. We might suspect that such uncertainties are put here to test our resolve and initiative. So these are the challenges we need to respond to by taking control of all the elements in our reach. More liaison between phases might help us both adjust and develop. I will if you will. Your place or mine?
With thanks to @MichaelT1979, @shinpad1 and @thinshadow