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Primary Education News
News How can we get primary and secondary schools working together?
If there was more collaboration between the primary and secondary phases of school, students, teachers and heads would all benefit, says Anna Hadfield
Teachers from primary and secondary have all got their own ideas about the other, but few have experience of seeing each other in practice. During a recent conversation with Sam Colburn, deputy headteacher at Tronador Lower School within ARK's Globe Academy, who is on the Future Leaders primary pilot programme, we discussed what it's really like when phases are joined and become all-through.
Common gripes from primary teachers include the undoing of all the good work that was done in the nurturing environment of primary school – handwriting becomes unruly and creativity bound up. While secondary teachers can be known to cite primary teachers and indeed the institution of primary as being to blame for pupils that struggle at that important transition stage. One of the ideas behind having an all-through school is to break down some of these barriers and to promote dialogue between the two phases, which have traditionally remained separate – it certainly sounds simple, but what does this mean in practice?
Clearly there are benefits and as we started our conversation, Sam was quick to mention that an extended pool of staff expertise is of huge value in a large school. It offers a teacher an environment where there are more styles, approaches and levels of experience than any other. It also gives teachers the opportunity to plan classes using the facilities that only an all-through school (or a close partnership of schools) can offer, both of which ultimately enrich pupils' learning and time at school.
Sam explained the benefits of shared facilities in real terms. The examples she cited give concrete evidence that the all-through structure, or indeed a strong partnership between individual primary and secondary schools, give rise to a less isolated education. This is of paramount importance, particularly in schools where children come from disadvantaged backgrounds and often do not have the chances to learn at home and out of school. At Globe, year 3 pupils go across to the food technology department and learn from a young age about the principles behind staying healthy, while gaining practical skills. It gives young children the chance to apply learning in different situations.
The pupils in secondary are also able to engage in new opportunities through initiatives set up as a result of being an all-through. Year 11 pupils on the sport leadership programme have put their newly acquired skills into practise by leading the younger primary years. These types of activities make the classroom so much bigger than just four walls and give teachers the opportunity to carry out ideas that may have previously been side-lined due to facility-based restrictions. Both of these cross phase initiatives highlight what children can gain through improved relations.
Besides the physical indicators, such as the facilities and the unity of having all school buildings on one property, albeit in a separated small schools set-up, the ability to easily discuss new ideas with a wide range of teachers and across a wealth of experience means that a multitude of practice can be tested and developed. It ensures that certain nurturing, creative styles that are often associated with primary are not immediately dismissed by secondary teachers, but embraced particularly by those teachers teaching pupils in year 7.
Improved understanding of how the child's environment becomes completely different can only help primary teachers prepare their pupils for the styles and structures they will encounter in secondary. Moreover secondary teachers are given vital insight into how returning to some of the primary teaching methods can help to prop up and encourage pupils struggling through the transition.
It's early days, but the benefits of increased dialogue between the phases are clear to the pupils involved. There is more work to be done in fusing stronger relationships, however, it is fair to say, that if sought, more opportunities, more varied advice and ultimately a more advanced learning environment can be found in this set-up. Initiatives to address this issue are few and far between and with the emphasis of the achievement gap and educational disadvantage in this country focussing predominantly on secondary schools, primary schools are often side-lined.
Careful understanding between primary and secondary is essential in providing pupils with the belief that they can achieve, the personal and interpersonal skills, and the academic transcript to be successful in life.
Encouraging partnerships and cross-phase conversation needs to be embraced and the development of primary school leaders is invaluable in achieving this. Initiatives such as Future Leaders, a leadership development training programme for senior leaders in challenging schools, has recognised the importance of developing primary and secondary leaders alongside each other in order to close the achievement gap and for 2013 have expanded the programme to include senior leaders from primary schools.
This is a bold statement demonstrating the value in cross-phase collaboration and in changing opinions about the relative influence, importance and skills involved within the two phases to truly address the issue of educational disadvantage in England.
Anna Hadfield works for the Future Leaders Charitable Trust. For further information on the Future Leaders Programme please visit www.future-leaders.org.uk or follow @FutureLeadersCT.