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EDITIONS
Unions 2000 Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 13:46 GMT
Moving schools sets back progress
Sir Michael Bichard
Mind the gap: Sir Michael Bichard says pupils need help when moving schools
Alison Stenlake reports from the Secondary Heads Association's annual conference in Harrogate.

Pupils need more help making the transition from primary to secondary school, according to a senior civil servant.

Sir Michael Bichard, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, told secondary head teachers that everyone responsible for educating the pupils at this time in their school careers needed to "see what they could do" to improve young people's performance during this "critical" transition period.

Speaking at the Secondary Heads Association annual conference in Harrogate, Sir Michael said that pupils could find moving from the smaller, more familiar environments of primary schools could find secondary schools "daunting".

The difficulty of the transition was one of the reasons which could be attributed to a dip in achievement in the early years of secondary, he said.

Mentoring

Initiatives which would help included summer schools for pupils entering secondary school, and the government's Connexions scheme, under which teenagers will be able to call upon a personal mentor, who will offer support and advice on anything from difficulties at school to problems at home.

But he said there was more which could be done, including expanding the concept of limited "tasters" of secondary school sometimes offered to primary pupils before they begin.

Speaking to the conference on Saturday, SHA general secretary, John Dunford agreed there was good independent research that children "slip back" in the early years of secondary education, and so "there is good reason for the government to do something to improve the situation".

But he said: "The problem is that there are less good explanations of why this apparent regression occurs.

"There could be many reasons to do with the maturation of the children. Then there are the consequences of transferring them from one-teacher primary classrooms to the peripatetic existence of a Year 7 child, with 12 different teachers and 1,000 fellow pupils.

Class sizes

"It certainly has something to do with class size and resources in the lower years of secondary education."

Mr Dunford said head teachers "accepted the potential for improvement" in the early secondary years.

But he said their support for government policy in this age group was dependent on certain conditions, including improved core funding of secondary education so schools could cut class sizes for 11 to 14 year olds.

He added that increased emphasis on numeracy and literacy at this level must not be at the expense of other subjects, and that policies must be introduced into secondary schools with a "much lighter touch than the prescriptive methods of the literacy and numeracy initiatives".

See also:

03 Feb 00 | UK Education
23 Mar 99 | UK Education
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