the Dragonfly journal

Primary vs Secondary: The Not So Seamless Transition?

By Steve Chapman - @SteveChapmanDFT

Over my years in education, I’ve been asked about all the different experiences I have had and the variations I have seen. I’ve taught both here in the UK and abroad; I’ve taught in the state system and also in the independent system. However, the one area I feel has the biggest discrepancy between two systems and arouses the strongest emotions is the difference between primary and secondary teaching. I work in both and this has led to utter incredulity among staff in both sectors.

Having begun my career as a secondary history teacher, I was a bit nervous when starting my first primary lesson. However, within seconds two things became immediately obvious. Firstly, the enthusiasm of the pupils was purely infectious and secondly, it was teaching – the same as what I was completely accustom to, the only difference being that the students were younger.

Over the years I came to be involved with both systems and now I actually teach a lot more primary than secondary. However, this has resulted in me sometimes being looked at as if I’m from another planet.

“How can you bear it having to wipe all those noses?” I was recently asked by one secondary teacher. “All they care about is what colour pen to write in,” added another. I tried to tell them that I had never wiped a kid’s nose at school and that many of my primary pupils were used to working on iPads. I did add, however, that being slightly larger than the average bear, I did find it hard to sit in the primary school chairs!

“Isn’t it scary with all those massive teenage boys hulking around the place?”, and: “Don’t you get fed up with all that monosyllabic grunting?” I was asked by some primary teachers. Well, the obvious answer was “yes” but I tried to reassure them that not all teenagers were that bad.

The simple fact is that despite the massive improvements made in transition these days compared to years ago, most teachers don’t seem to mix between the two systems and they certainly don’t do much teaching in the other sector. This seems such a shame for many reasons; the most important one being an understanding, or lack of, between the two systems.

It gives secondary teachers a much better understanding of who their pupils are and where they have come from when they teach in primary schools. I also believe it to be essential for primary teachers (especially for those in KS2) to teach at GCSE for at least a temporary period in order to see the goals that pupils ultimately shoot the educational ball into.

I recently took my class from Evenlode Primary, a feeder of the nearby secondary, Stanwell School in an attempt to lead the way in demonstrating how the two can work together. The session, which was documented by ITV News Wales, featured Year 5 pupils paired with Year 8 pupils from the other school in order to work together on a story-writing project. The unique collaboration saw primary pupils write the story and secondary pupils oversee, monitor and correct their partner’s work. They also used an online platform called Wikispaces (password protected) to demonstrate progress and for peer-to-peer assessment which is visible to friends, parents and schools around the World.

Wiki Literacy Project

It was truly fascinating to see each set of pupils apply their separate skill sets to the project for a common goal. Secondary pupils improved their communication, appraisal and literacy skills while the primary children learnt the standard expected in secondary education and were expertly guided to try and achieve that standard. The primary children gained a real sense of where they were heading in education, and I can’t help but feel that their confidence was boosted in this way. The sudden shock of turning up at ‘big school’ will not be an emotion these children will now feel, and that is something which will ease the transition period comprehensively.

Equally, for teachers running this sort of session, there is the real opportunity to see exactly what the standards of pupils from the other system are, and an overall picture will become clear.

At the very least, I believe teachers should be allocated time to sit in and experience the teaching of the other system. What a real understanding from both sets of teachers would set pupils up for is a swift transition with very little time wasted on becoming accustomed to new systems and strategies of teaching. Ultimately, I believe something as basic as this could really prove so beneficial to pupils of both systems and beyond.

Lastly, as the French would say: “C’est tout comprende C’est tout pardonait”, or : “To understand is to forgive.” And whilst I’m not sure we necessarily need to forgive each, I think we certainly do need to understand each other a bit better.