Transition from Year 6 to Year 7
Report by Hampshire Ethnic Minority Achievement Specialist Teacher
Bridging the gap between Primary and Secondary - what does it mean for our bilingual and ethnic minority pupils?
Following the success of the Primary initiatives of the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) and National Numeracy Strategy (NNS) with its consequent rise in levels of achievement, the DfES has recently expressed some concern over the apparent failure to sustain this progress over the first two years in Secondary school. Some pupils been merely ‘treading water,’ while others have actively regressed, according to the data available.
In response to this issue, Hampshire Ethnic Minority Achievement (EMA) Service organised a Transition Project to examine some issues arising from the transfer of our bilingual and ethnic minority pupils from Year 6 to Year 7. This forms part of the Achievement Project in which underachieving groups have been the focus of attention. The aim of the project was to track 20 pupils across the county and examine their experiences to find out which pupils made a successful transition and which strategies, if any, may have been responsible for this. Some children were chosen for their ‘level of need’ based on existing data referring to, for example, low attainment at the end of KS1 or inclusion on the SEN register. Others were chosen at random, to ensure a cross-section. Class teachers, SENCOs (where applicable) and pupils were all interviewed in the final term of primary school and the first year of secondary school to make a contribution to the data-finding exercise.
The exercise was based on a questionnaire initially to ascertain each pupil’s category of ethnic background and home language. The questions were specifically to do with ethnic and/or bilingual issues. Teacher assessments before the KS3 SATS and levels actually obtained were compared with placement in sets in Year 7. A check was made on whether the bilingual pupils had had their speaking and listening, reading and writing ability in their home language recently assessed, and whether any details of their religious and cultural background had been identified. The children were also asked to self identify eg, as predominantly Bangladeshi or British, or both. The schools were asked if letters to parents needed translating and about the amount of parental involvement in school life. We asked if parental expectations had been identified and also examined incidents of racial abuse, how they had been recorded and their impact on the victim. There was an opportunity to identify which EMA records would be sent to the receiving secondary school and what liaison had taken place. We checked on each pupil’s home facilities for help with homework and use of a home computer. Teachers were asked for comments or concerns. Finally, each pupil was interviewed about special interests, development of first language (including attendance at community language classes), whether they would like the receiving school/class tutor to be informed of their bilingualism, their willingness to take part in a display celebrating language diversity, racial abuse awareness and expectations of, and possible concerns about life in Secondary school.
The findings were very interesting. It transpired that occasionally information regarding a pupil’s home language was not transferred to the secondary school because the pupil was not thought to have ‘a problem’ with English. As a consequence some children were given less than adequate recognition of their achievement in having made tremendous progress as new arrivals to Britain some years previously with very little English at all.
In one case, a Black African pupil had arrived in Year 4 with no knowledge of English and progressed to Level 4 by the end of Year 6. This had not been noted by the receiving secondary school. The pupil was remarkably expressive in interview and clearly well above average. Had this information regarding her astonishing progress been received at the time of allocation there would have been good reasons to put her into a higher set at the beginning of the year.
Another highly articulate, recently arrived bilingual pupil was clearly able to define her preferred learning style - reading text to accompany practical science activities. In this particular school there were no books provided for Science in Year 7. Where books are not routinely provided there could possibly have been an exception made for an EAL student who has explained that she cannot always follow verbal instructions ‘on the hoof.’
Other children had a need to continue with their EMA support, particularly at the beginning of term when they faced completely new experiences - a complex timetable, changes of room, new teaching styles from a variety of staff but although the receiving school was notified of this need, albeit verbally, there was a disappointing lack of take-up, probably due to expense or lack of conviction about the benefit to be derived.
In more than one school where EMA information had not been disseminated there was some disregard for parental absence from Parent’s Evenings. In each case the SENCO/class tutor/Head of Year was unaware of the non-attendance or the reason for it (eg, father working in a restaurant, single mother working at three different places of employment). This in turn contributed to acceptance by schools of non attendance by ethnic minority parents as the norm, and can perpetuate the belief that these children lack parental support in general, thus contributing to their under-achievement.
There were some instances of EAL pupils failing to hand in homework on time. On investigation this sometimes proved to be due to lack of understanding about the task. In one case a pupil lacked the necessary resource for historical research. In another example, a reference to the Kitchener recruitment poster used in World War One and bearing the command Your country needs you had no meaning for a newly arrived Bengali speaker. Another child was in ignorance of the scale of the task ie, how many pages she was expected to produce. These were cases where cultural awareness and a knowledge of successful strategies to support EAL pupils might have led to models being usefully provided.
In interview with the SENCOs of more than one school I found that the subject of underachievement was frequently accompanied by the comment, ‘There are many children below that reading age here.’ There is still a tendency to regard underachievement in English for bilingual children as fairly natural and not immediately prompting any further investigation or action. There was a lack of familiarity with the simple, proven strategies contained in our Aide-Memoire, which is widely distributed along with our Early Profiling reports, which could be undertaken. There is clear evidence that in some classes the impact of training provided to all school staff on the arrival of an EAL pupil does not progress much beyond the initial receiving year group. There is a case to be argued for offering a short ‘refresher’ course as the child moves up the school to ensure that the impact of training, while possibly diluted, is not entirely lost. In one school, where I asked for any suggestions as to how EMA could assist with the transition process, I was asked that EMA should not pass on ‘irrelevant’ information but simply forward a note concerning the nature of the ‘problem’ and any useful strategies that had been ‘proved to work.’ EMA could possibly undertake to ensure that ethnic minority/EAL pupils have relevant information about them passed directly to teaching staff, or at least set up a mechanism for checking that the EMA contact or class teacher has done this.
One very positive finding deserves our final attention. There was noticeably high self-esteem and confidence among pupils who had had their home language/culture acknowledged by their class tutor and even more so where they had had their home language celebrated in a photographic display. It emerged quite clearly from the wealth of confidential information obtained in the survey that our pupils want to have their language skills and knowledge acknowledged by the people whose opinions they most value - and that for our Year 7 pupils is all the staff that they meet when they make the transition into secondary school.
- Highlight key information and specific recommendations only regarding current issues in EMA transfer documents - do not overload with out-of-date information.
- Ensure group setting is based on cognitive ability and not current performance in English especially in the case of new arrivals - allow for rapid growth in English acquisition.
- Ensure EAL pupils are well supported across the curriculum eg, through scaffolding and staging activities.
- Circulate key information pertaining to EAL pupils among all subject teachers.
- Actively recognise pupils’ heritage languages eg, through whole school language displays, advice on obtaining GCSEs in heritage languages.
- Ensure resources are provided for homework tasks especially in the case of pupils who do not always comprehend or retain oral instructions only.
- Provide models for tasks to enable parents or older siblings to support at home.
- Proactively develop partnership with parents of ethnic minority pupils, especially where they are unable to attend Parent’s Evenings eg, through phone calls in support of achievements.
(Achievement Projects Strand © 2003)
Print-friendly version: Portable Document Format 122kb