‘Cause for concern’ over transition from primary to secondary schools

The Press Association (via the Mail) is reporting warnings from Sir Michael Wilshaw that the good work done by primary schools is being “lost” when they enter secondary education, causing “an enormous waste of talent”.

…He said he had “great cause for concern” about the transition from primary to secondary education and warned it was “particularly damaging” for the most able pupils from poorer backgrounds.

In the first of a series of monthly commentaries, Sir Michael said: ” My inspectors tell me that much of the good, structured work done in primary schools on understanding and using correct grammar, both when writing and when speaking, is lost when pupils enter the secondary phase.

“Worse still, the rigour with which spelling, punctuation and grammar is being taught at primary stage is often not developed sufficiently at secondary stage, especially in the foundation subjects like history and geography.

“This slows down all children, but is particularly damaging for the most able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who disproportionately fail to fulfil their earlier potential when they come to sit their GCSE examinations.”

…he pointed to figures in 2014 which showed around 5,000 disadvantaged pupils, who attained the highest levels at the end of Key Stage Two, had failed to achieve a grade B in English and mathematics at the age of 16.

“This is little short of a tragedy for the young people concerned and an enormous waste of talent for our country,” he said.

Sir Michael said he would offer his “full support” to plans to introduce resit tests for Year Seven pupils who do not achieve the expected standards for 11-year-olds…

More at: ‘Cause for concern’ over transition from primary to secondary schools


UPDATE: Sir Michael’s commentary is now available in full from Ofsted: HMCI’s monthly commentary: October 2015


See also: Wilshaw: ‘Nobody can argue against the benefits of phonics’


Is Sir Michael right to suggest there are issues with the transition between primaries and secondaries?

What about the suggestion that much of the good work being done in primaries – especially in terms of spelling and grammar – is being lost when children enter secondary schools?

Please share your insights and reactions in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. TW

    It does happen that good work done by primary schools gets lost when the students enter secondary school.  Doesn’t stop Ofsted grading those secondary schools as ‘Outstanding’ though.  Typical Ofsted hypocrisy.

  2. neil8Jones

    SchoolsImprove secondary schools give little credence to primary sch attainment. All pupils taught the same for 1st 12 months waste of time

  3. higgins_dee

    MaryMyatt HeyMissSmith Good transition is essential but Y7 resits? When will they realise? Weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter!

  4. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove A typically positive message from the educational island that is Wilshaw; he backs Y7 kids resisting a Y6 test #pointless

  5. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove There has always been transition issues from primary to secondary as students come from numerous different experiences

  6. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Other than having all-through schools for everyone & even this won’t eradicate the issue, this will always be an issue

  7. GenieNewton

    SchoolsImprove languages are a prime example – prior knowledge is so varied – need a more joined up approach

  8. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The point of Michael Wilshaw diminishes every time he opens his mouth/removes his pen lid; an increasingly toxic ingredient

  9. Dai_James1942

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Can anyone associated with OFSTED ever shake off ignominy of having supported Nat Curric levels assessment?

  10. 7puzzle

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove As long as children have a good grasp of the basics in numeracy & literacy, transition should be smooth.

  11. Sir Michael’s comments are in full here:  http://schoolsimprovement.net/cause-for-concern-over-transition-from-primary-to-secondary-schools/
    He says the increased emphasis on ‘high-quality, effective synthetic phonics teaching’ is responsible for the increased number of pupils reading to a ‘good’ standard.  Presumably he means Level 4 at the end of KS2 but as the UK Stats Watchdog pointed out (18 December 2014), pupils with Level 3 CAN “read a range of texts fluently and
    He also seems unaware of DfE commissioned research which found that while primary teachers recognised the value of phonics the majority combined it with other methods.  http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/09/gibb-claims-rise-in-number-passing-screening-test-is-down-to-relentless-emphasis-on-phonics-but-dfe-commissioned-research-contradicts-this/

  12. ‘Surely nobody can still convincingly argue that systematic phonics isn’t the most effective method of teaching children to read,’ writes Sir M.  But earlier he commented on ‘synthetic phonics’
    These two descriptions are incorrectly used (as Sir M has done here) as if they mean the same thing.  But they don’t.
    Synthetic phonics is one method of phonics teaching.  There are others, such as analytic. 
    Systematic phonics means the structured teaching of ANY method of phonics.
    You’d expect the Chief HMI to know this.

  13. Grammar isn’t knowing how to identify parts of speech, literary devices etc.  It’s word order and how to make tenses.  This is picked up effortlessly by very young children when learning to speak.
    That’s not to say knowing the words which describe language aren’t useful in discussing, say, the effectiveness of a poem.  But it isn’t grammar.  And being able to spot parts of speech doesn’t make a good writer or increase enjoyment of literature.  Imagine a teacher after having read a moving story, asking the children to identify conjunctions or prepositions before allowing an emotional response to sink in.  Crass.

  14. KatieKates_84

    MaryMyatt in terms of transition for RE we are creating a tracking benchmark document for Plymouth schools to track from k1 through to ks3

  15. KatieKates_84

    higgins_dee MaryMyatt HeyMissSmith I feel that transition needs to be more about dialogue rather than testing…

  16. wasateacher

    I wonder what Wilshaw is basing this on.  Many years ago while teaching Maths, I was puzzled by the results of the internal tests we gave to all incoming year 7s.  The school gave all students NFER tests and the Maths Department gave its own SMILE entry guide.  I compared the results with the KS2 results.  This indicated that there was no correlation between the KS2 results and either the NFER or our test results.  There was a correlation between the NFER test results and our results.  When I asked one boy about his KS2 results (Level 4) because he had barely made level 2 on ours, he said that the KS2 test had been done as classwork.

    As long as high stakes league tables are used to batter schools and teachers, there will always be problems.

    His stance is slightly ironic: he seems to be criticising secondary schools and praising primaries, suggesting that the former have it wrong whilst the latter are getting it right.  Isn’t he the person who supports the independence of academies and aren’t the majority of secondary schools academies, whilst only a minority of primary schools are?

  17. amirshah316

    SchoolsImprove this is because we need an all through model. There are too many variables that need control. Secondaries work hard!

  18. colinsparkbridg

    SchoolsImprove Do tell me where (Utopia?) primary/secondary transition has been “cracked”. Not even at Mossbourne in the past, I’d bet

  19. DenrooneyDenise

    SchoolsImprove could possibly be improved if there was a through curriculum from 3 to 18, so transition was smoother.

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