From the first to second year of secondary education there is a significant drop in positive attitudes towards school

Achieving continuity of learning

By Suzanne O’Farrell, Curriculum and Assessment Specialist, ASCL

As we begin to understand more about how secondary schools are starting to build on what has been learned following the introduction of the new primary curriculum, it makes sense to redefine ‘academic transition’ as ‘continuity of learning’. Continuity of learning is ensuring that pupils’ learning builds sequentially on what has been learned previously so that there are no unnecessary jumps and gaps in pupils’ learning or repetition.

So what approach should schools and teachers take to ensure continuity of learning for the maximum benefit of their pupils?  Really knowing where pupils are in their learning when they join secondary school is the key to successful academic transition.

1. The first thing to do is to find time to talk to primary colleagues and really understand the impact of the new curriculum in terms of what pupils have covered. Once you have that information, it is a lot easier to adjust the Year 7 curriculum to accommodate.

2. Next, prioritise the students as individuals rather than as a number on some spurious new scale; a number tells us something but not everything they can do.

3. Share assessment that is useful and meaningful, for example sharing with colleagues what pupils can do confidently and competently on their own and in other contexts rather than relying on a number or a label generated from narrow assessments.

4. Assessment is broader than just data; discuss with primary colleagues what information would be useful, why you need it and what you are going to do with it.

5. One significant difference between primary and secondary is the approach to curriculum; in primary this tends to be reasonably broad right through reception to the end of Year 6 whereas in secondary, the curriculum is less connected and eventually narrows as pupils make their options as early as half way through Year 8 in some cases. Adjusting from a generalist approach to a specialist approach is one of the challenges pupils have to adjust to and make sense of. Some schools are managing this by having specialist teachers from secondary deliver discreet lessons in primary ( particularly modern foreign languages and science), others are using teachers of Year 7 to deliver a number of subjects – e.g. humanities and science options.

6. Build on strategies that pupils have developed in primary schools to help them learn, be resilient and independent; for example observing pupils in a primary setting gives secondary teachers an insight into their ‘stuck strategies’ – the processes they have been trained to go through before asking for help.

7. Ensure pupils of all abilities are challenged so they do not repeat work and respond well to the increased gradient of work in the secondary setting.

8. Share pedagogies that have been successful with particular groups of pupils, for instance lower ability pupils.

But how and when do we know if transition has been successful? At the end of the first term? At the end of Year 7 or even at the end of Year 8? Do we sometimes take it for granted that pupils will sustain their initial enthusiasm for all things ‘secondary’?

Attitudinal surveys as well as research from Ofsted into Key Stage 3 show that there is a dip in the upper years of key stage 3.  Could we be doing more in schools to develop and sustain pupils’ confidence, self-esteem and positive attitudes to school life throughout this period?

A number of schools are reversing this dip by ensuring the first two or three years of secondary school have a very high profile and investment which they say pays off in later years. One successful school in London has abandoned the concept of Key Stage 3 or Key Stage 4 and regards the years in Year 7 and 8 as foundation years from which pupils have to graduate at the end of Year 8 after compiling a portfolio of evidence and completing an extended task. Pupils graduate at a number of different levels and the greatest achievement is to ‘graduate with distinction!’ Year 9 then becomes an ‘acceleration’ year to inject new challenge, followed by ‘examination’ years. In this way, momentum is sustained throughout each phase through new expectations and priorities.

The focus on creating a challenging culture in these early years making them the bedrock of the entire secondary experience is proving successful in many schools.

The growing development of  an increasingly collaborative culture between secondary and primary schools where colleagues understand each other’s barriers and understand the whole journey is leading to an acceptance of  a shared responsibility for transition – one in which  secondary schools are primary responsive and primary schools are secondary attuned!

Follow Suzanne on Twitter @OfarrellSuzanne
This article forms part of GL Assessment’s Pupil Attitudes to Self and School Report 2016. Read more about the report on Twitter using the #pupilattitudes hashtag.