Write into secondary: Y6-7 progress
Published: 28 April 2019
One of the action research-based projects the Babcock LDP English team is running in 2018-19 is a Writing Progress project, designed to give teachers and leaders the time and challenge to shine a light on the factors that enable or disable continued progress in writing across the crucial transition points in education from KS1-3.
After an exciting launch day, when schools came together with advisers to discuss the types of barriers that can prevent children and young people progressing in their writing skills, schools identified a ‘litmus’ group of pupils and returned to their settings to investigate and identify barriers to those pupils’ writing progress, beginning to work to remove those barriers. Many identified the jump from Year 2 to Year 3 as particularly problematic, but schools also chose to examine what goes on between Year 1 and 2, Year 4 and 5, Year 5 and 6. Our secondary specialist has been working with one school to explore the difficulties faced at Year 7.
Barriers to writing progress
Interestingly, right from the start of discussions, the difference between a primary teacher’s ability to influence the outcomes for a particular child and a secondary teacher’s were laid bare, with most of the barriers to writing progress at secondary level relating to the organisational structures of education at secondary level, rather than the individual barriers displayed by a particular child. Whereas primary colleagues were citing barriers like concentration lapses due to a new-born sibling, weak motor skills, lower confidence, or failure to recognise themselves as ‘writers’, secondary colleagues cited timetable restrictions as barriers or the fact that children were moving between 13 different teachers who may not have a homogenous approach to teaching writing.
Through a primary teacher’s eyes
Through a primary teacher’s eyes, the secondary education sector must seem very strange. The same pupils who, only weeks before, were taught by just one teacher who was on hand to make helpful links between topics and subjects, to insist that writing standards pertain to writing in all genres and for all purposes, children who were taught in one consistent room which provided a supportive visual learning environment are suddenly propelled into a system that requires those pupils to continually move to different classrooms to be taught by different teachers who are unlikely to have talked in depth with other colleagues for some considerable time about how children progress as writers.
Most telling though, looking through the eyes of a primary practitioner, has been in the amount of extended writing that pupils are expected to do in Years 5 and 6 in comparison with the amount of extended writing being undertaken in Year 7. Should a primary practitioner undertake a pupil pursuit, run a cross-curricular book scrutiny or perhaps work alongside a small group of vulnerable Year 7 pupils at risk of making less than adequate progress at KS3, as one member of the Writing Progress Project Group has been doing, they would undoubtedly be struck by the lack of extended writing at KS3. One Primary specialist now working in a secondary school commented, “In Year 6, pupils like these would have been writing at length every single day. It was crucial to practicing their skills.” Yet, looking at their books across the curriculum, by March of Year 7 there had been very few extended pieces of writing modelled and undertaken by Year 7 pupils.
Of course, there are many reasons for this shift: most obviously the organisation of the curriculum into subject specialisms is triggered by the increase in knowledge required in many subject areas in preparation for GCSE. However, there is no getting away from the fact that these pupils will be examined at the end of KS4 in almost every subject through the medium of writing. Yes, in some subjects the rigours of extended writing will not be required for pupils to gain the highest marks; however in many, including English, English Literature, History, Geography, PE and RE, pupils’ ability to write at length, independently, under timed conditions is crucial to their success. Children who achieved Greater Depth in writing in Year 6 are likely to have embedded writing skills into their repertoire in such a way as to withstand the fracturing of their curriculum time in Year 7 – they will be more likely to do the job of ‘making links’ between subjects and transferring skills and approaches across subjects. But what of those pupils who only just passed into the ‘Expected Standard’ or those who were working towards?
So, what can we do?
So, what can we do? At Secondary level, Senior Leaders can invite a primary colleague to visit their school and spend a few days with Year 7 pupils. Try interviewing the pupils and asking them what has changed since primary school, specifically in the learning of writing: what they say will be both obvious and startling. Ask that primary colleague to have a book look across the curriculum – where are the opportunities for extended writing and how do those compare with the daily diet of Year 5 and 6 pupils? If the budget allows, schools could very helpfully employ primary teachers in secondary schools and vice versa, so that the encultured aspects of learning in these two very different systems can be laid bare again and again. Time is tight in schools, we know, but there must be regular time made for teachers, particularly of Year 7 pupils, to come together to discuss the curriculum and work out how best to weave nets to support those pupils most vulnerable to a halt in progress at the KS2-3 transition point. How can writing be taught in ways that re-activates their considerable KS2 knowledge? How often should pupils be expected to write at length and what are the most powerful ways of modelling and supporting this writing?
For more of our ‘discoveries’ about KS2-3 transition, take a look at our blog post from October 2018: Exploring KS2-3 Transition in English.