Curriculum Continuity Links Between Primary And Secondary Stages In Education In European Schools
 
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A LONGITUDINAL SURVEY INTO SCHOOL TRANSFER

FROM PRIMARY TO SECONDARY EDUCATION

IACOVOS PSALTIS - CY


Abstract:

This study investigates the relationship between the difficulties of adjusting to secondary school by the first-year students of a suburban secondary school and the gap between primary and secondary schools regarding their philosophy, teaching methods and curriculum.

It also examines the reactions and feelings of first-year teachers regarding the transfer from primary to secondary school.

Data was gathered from questionnaires, interviews, visits to the feeder primary schools and observation of and participation in meetings and lectures in my capacity as liaison teacher between the secondary school at which I was a deputy head teacher and its nine feeder primary schools.

The report concludes that there is some connection between the gender, the size of school, the education and socio-economic position of the family of the first-year students and their expectations towards secondary school.

The report also shows that there is a lot of scope for further research and work at different levels if the gap between primary and secondary schools is to close.

Introduction:

The aims of this research are the following:

·       To find out the factors that impact on the transfer from primary to secondary school with a view to facilitating  change at a very sensitive age.

·       To enable secondary schoolteachers to enhance their insight into the peculiarities of teaching first-year secondary school students.

·       To increase the awareness of primary school teachers of the need to take measures towards preparing their pupils for the school that follows.

·       To assist parents in understanding all the physical and psychological changes that their children undergo during the transition period.

·       To point out the necessity for education research in the Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture if we want innovations to be institutionalised.

·       To help the Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture in its attempts to introduce measures that will decrease the gap between primary and secondary education.

           

In carrying out this research I didn’t face any particular problems.  Right from the beginning, I have worked in a very positive climate, since my post as a deputy head teacher in the school and my official role as liaison teacher between the secondary school and the primary feeder schools put me in a very favourable position.

The survey was adopted by the head teacher as a measure towards promoting the goal of Nine-year Compulsory Education for which efforts had been revived the previous year, since several attempts that started in 1968 had failed up to that point.

The only area in which I encountered a lot of difficulty with my research was the stage of analysing the findings of my survey, since I was absolutely ignorant of computer programmes.

The Problem:          

            

Attempts at linking primary and secondary education in Cyprus started in 1968 by the Ministry of Education but, unfortunately, so far, they have had no substantial results. One of the reasons why this has happened is probably the fact that the whole effort, which was revived in 1987, was identified with the linking of the national curriculum of primary and secondary schools.

The new national curricula were tested in fourteen primary and secondary schools for three years. When the experimental period was completed, a group of primary and secondary school inspectors started evaluating the experiment and concluded that the adoption of unified curricula wasn’t enough for bridging the gap between the two sectors of education. So, they suggested a series of new measures in order to promote the goal of unifying the primary and secondary schools. The most important measures are the following:

·       A liaison teacher between each secondary school and its feeder primary schools should be appointed.

·       Each primary school should appoint a teacher to act as a co-ordinator with the liaison teacher.

·       Each department of the secondary school should appoint a co-ordinator to work with the liaison teacherwith a view to promoting interaction with primary school teachers.

·       There should be an exchange of teachers between primary and secondary schools.

·       Arrangements should be made so that teachers from the two education sectors have the opportunity to attend each other’s staff meetings.

·       Top-year primary school pupils should have the opportunity to visit their future secondary school.

·       Examination papers should be exchanged between primary and secondary school teachers.

·       Top-year primary school teachers should start preparing children for their new school.

·       First-year secondary school teachers should adjust their teaching methods and pace to the level of the new students, be friendly and understanding with them.

·       First-year secondary school students should have more time with the same teacher.

Review of literature:

The thrust for the new effort must have been instigated by the Appraisal Study on the Cyprus Education System (International Institute for Educational Planning 1997) which outlines the problem of transition as follows:

·           The structure at school level suffers from discontinuity, especially at Primary-Secondary transition. The gap existing in the curriculum of the two levels of Education is so big that the Principals of primary and secondary schools know very little of the contents of the curriculum of each other’s school. Pupils transferring to secondary school are facing difficulties because there is no clear formal and effective transition programme through Primary-Secondary liaison to support them.

·       Some Principals and administrators maintained that the gap was favoured by many Secondary teachers who felt that it emphasised their different professional function and strengthened their case for salaries higher than those of primary teachers.

·       The well organised Counselling and Careers Guidance Service which places a high value on pastoral care provision and could well assist in the transition process is currently uninvolved in Primary Education or in formal links between Primary and Secondary. These suggestions are more or less in line with measures taken in the U.K. and it remains to be seen whether serious work will be done in the direction of putting theory into practice.

Other than the above I have found very little in the way of research regarding the problem in question except a survey on the opinions of primary and secondary school teachers on the subject of nine-year compulsory education.

The main findings are the following:

·       Educators believe in the value of nine-year compulsory education but at the same time think that it is difficult to implement.

·       They suggest the following measures for promoting the goal: Linking of curriculum, co-operation between the inspectors of primary and secondary education, in-service training for primary and secondary teachers, unified teaching approaches and continuous assessment of the application of the institution.

In Greece, Κακαβούλης (1984), comes to the following conclusions: 


Top year primary students have mixed feelings about going to gymnasium
. The optimistic predictions of primary children regarding secondary school are confirmed by 91% whereas the pessimistic ones are confirmed by 72%. Boys, in relation to girls, and bright students in relation to less bright students are more pessimistic about their school transfer. Comparing primary to secondary school, students feel more respect about secondary education especially at the beginning of the first term. Girls and students with families of higher socio-economic and education show more respect for secondary school. Students’ interest for learning is significantly increased at the beginning of their attendance at secondary school and it is connected with intelligence, whereas interest at primary school is connected with school performance and the education of family. Parents confirm that their children have negative feelings during their entry to secondary school. There is no relationship between the tense emotional reactions of students during transfer and gender, age, intelligence, school performance, socio-economic and educational level of family.

The emotional reactions of students during the transitional period:

Let us then turn our attention to the problems that are caused by these intense emotional feelings during the transitional period from primary to secondary school. The main characteristic of these problems is the difference between the two levels of education, almost in all sectors.

A different philosophy. Different curriculum.  Different teaching methods and approaches.  Different discipline. Different timetable for the primary school.  First-year secondary school children leave the primary school as the oldest to enter a huge for their dimension school as the youngest. They lose their friends, their classmates and peers and their teachers. They are now confronted with about a dozen of teachers with different demands every time a lesson changes. Spelman (1979), who asserts that transfer, is a trauma for perhaps ten per cent of the age group, with many more children than this having continuing problems. He indicates that ‘we might anticipate problems from children who are younger, less mature, working-class, timid, anxious, withdrawn on non-academic’ (p. 22).  This is confirmed by Youngman (1978), who states that the ‘the overall impression is that approximately ten per cent do find transfer, or more correctly the secondary school, a distressing experience and this is a feeling which persists for at least two terms’ (p. 22).

The question that is raised here, is the following:

Isn’t there a way to eliminate these differences between the two levels of education? The answer is not easy. What it can certainly be said is that each level of education has its particular aims and objectives, its own structures that are imposed by the different philosophy of the two schools.

The aim of the primary school is general education, while the aim of the Gymnasium [1] is the gradual specialisation before the Lyceum [2] where, as we know, specialisation is dominant. Therefore, the Gymnasium is a transitional stage in the education of children. Research has shown that this stage is very crucial in school life, because the age between 10-13 is the period during which the attitudes of children towards learning are reshaped.  Nisbet and Entwistle (1966), have the opinion that there is no one correct age for transfer, stating that ‘the transition from primary to secondary education should extend over the whole period from age 10 to age 13’ (p.12). The same authors (1972), found that ‘the best predictor for final secondary school performance was given by assessments of attainment in the first two years of secondary school’ (p. 13). Murdoch (1986), draws the reader’s attention to the fact that the transition period from primary to secondary school coincides with the transition from childhood to adolescence and questions the wisdom of drawing so much attention to the graduation from primary by organising special ceremonies.

In other words, school transfer from primary to secondary education takes place at a very crucial stage of their life that coincides with their physical and mental development. This is the reason why the behaviour of first-year students, especially during the first term is restless, fidgety and boisterous (Cotterell 1986).  On the emotional side, disturbances are noticed which are manifested in anxiety, depression, immaturity and low self-concept.

In order to cope with the above problems, a child has to summon all his/her physical and mental power. However, even when these problems are confronted in a satisfactory way, it would be a mistake to assume that the adjustment to the new environment is complete. The process of coping with the demands and challenges of secondary education is long and subtle and continues to happen for 12-18 months (Cotterell 1982a). 

Methodology:

The character of my study and the time limits I had for delivering my assignment decided the type of my research. Since I wanted to measure how several variables impact children’s feelings during transition period from primary to secondary school over a period of time, I opted for a longitudinal experimental survey. My main instruments were two questionnaires, one for the students and one for the teachers. The questionnaire for students, apart from biographical information, consisted of a self-evaluation scale, which I prepared myself and on two five point Likert scales on students expectations which are based on Brown’s and Armstrong’s scales but adjusted to local circumstances. The questionnaire for students was prepared and tested during summer holiday with two children, (one boy and one girl) from my neighbourhood and one Greek-Cypriot girl who happened to be in Cyprus for a holiday. All children were moving up to secondary school In September. When the questionnaire took its final shape it was piloted by me with a representative sample of 29 children, the very first day (on the 10th of September)

the new students came to school. Since the pilot results were considered valid the questionnaire was administered to the whole population of the 159 first year students on the 21st of September during the first teaching period. There was a 100% response and very few missing cases occurred since the students were instructed for the completion of the questionnaires in a question by question approach by the form tutors. The same procedures were followed when the questionnaire was administered to the students for the second time on the 11th of December, one day after the end of the first term. This time the number of students was only 157 because one had moved to another school and one was undergoing medical treatment abroad.

 

Conclusions and proposals:

When first year students are evaluating themselves at the beginning of the first term, even though they are overestimating their capabilities, the results, by and large, reflect the general climate of leniency at primary school. (Figure 1). Although the same evaluation in December is more restrained, it is still very generous and this

leads to a significant difference from the gymnasium grading at the end of the first term. Therefore one issue that has to be discussed between the two education sectors is student assessment.

Figure 1: Pupils’ self rating and primary school evaluation

 

The feelings of the children:

First year students’ main concerns are related to their effort to enhance their self-concept rather than to the academic side of school as such. They draw more satisfaction from the social activities of school and less from academic subjects. On the whole, they feel more satisfaction about secondary schooling than they feel worry. However, by the end of the first term, these feelings draw closer as, generally, worries increase and satisfaction is decreased. So, a more realistic communication of what  goes on at the secondary level should be given to top year primary school children (Table 1).



Table 1: Positive and negative expectations of first-year students:



WHAT WORRIES STUDENTS                      

DEGREE

01. Detentions

3.63

02. Being bottom of class              

3.45

03. Missing lessons             

3.42

03. Forgetting equipment 

3.42

04. Being punished

3.25

05. Tests      

3.20

06. Doing wrong   

3.16

07. Miss friends              

2.91

08. Being bullied               

2.81

09. More tiring timetable  

2.75

10. Difficult classwork

2.42

11. Strict teachers                 

2.35

12. Different curriculum

2.26

13. Not knowing teachers’ names         

2.06

14. New lessons

2.04

15. Homework        

2.03

16. Longer school day

2.01

17. School uniform

1.96

18. The new teachers   

1.85

19. Being the youngest                

1.61

20. Having more than one teachers  

1.58

21. Getting to school                 

1.55

22. Changing rooms for lessons

1.34

 

WHAT SATISFIES STUDENTS                          

DEGREE

01. School visits and excursios

4.29

02. Sports                   

4.08

03. Being grown up       

4.07

04. Technology lessons

3.97

05. Making new friends

3.92

06. Extra carricular activities     

3.91

07. Art 

3.90

08. Sciences

3.64

09. Different teachers

3.55

10. Cookery – needlework

3.52

11. Languages   

3.51

12. The new uniform

3.37

13. New lessons

3.24

`


Parameters that impct the feelings of students:

            Students whose fathers belong to the higher professional level worry more about new subjects and having more than one teachers, than students whose fathers belong to the lower professional level. Boys worry more about the new uniform and longer school day than girls, but feel more satisfaction for sports. Girls feel more satisfaction for cookery/needlework than boys. Students who come from small schools worry more about homework and more tiring timetable than students who come from big primary schools. Students who have many elementary schoolmates in their classroom worry less about being bullied, being bottom of class and different curriculum. Students whose fathers are more educated worry less


about having more than one teacher, about detentions, about


new teachers and about getting to school. Students whose fathers are more educated have mothers who are more educated. Students whose mothers are more educated worry more about strict teachers.

Problems confronted by teachers:

            Teachers believe that the factor that influences first-year students most is curriculum (Table 2). They feel that the most serious adjustment problem they came up with is getting students to concentrate during lesson (Table 3). The teachers who taught first year students the year before as well, assessed the situation concerning the form/s they taught, comparing it to the year before, either the same or better for most class aspects but definitely better for class size and the work done by the year deputy head teachers. On the whole, quite a lot of interest had been shown for the proposed  induction programme and especially for teaching top-year primary pupils who would visit our school. In assessing students’ worries and satisfaction, teachers seem to be overestimating both the negative and the positive feelings and place more emphasis on the academic side of schooling rather than on the social aspect of it. The last finding corroborates popular feeling that secondary school teachers lack training in pedagogy and educational psychology.


Table 2: Factors influencing students during the transition.


 

FACTORS INFLUENCING STUDENTS DURING

 SCHOOL TRANSFER ACCORDING TO TEACHERS

DEGREE

1

Different curriculum           

3.68

2

Change of school environment

3.52

3

Different school approaches     

3.40

4

Preadolescence  

2.96

4

Losing friends

2.96

5

Losing teachers

2.56



Table 3: Problems confronted by first-year teachers during transition


 

TEACHERS CAME UP WITH THE FOLLOWING ADJUSTING PROBLEMS

BY THE 1ST YEAR STUDENTS

DEGREE

1

In concentrating during lesson                                

3.48

2

In being disciplined during lessons           

3.20

3

In comprehending the contents of lesson     

3.16

4

In analysing simple texts by using simle words

3.08

4

In participating orally in lesson     

3.08

5

In preparing their homework                   

2.92

6

In bringing their books and exercise books to school

2.68

6

Turning up for class in time        

2.68

7

In defining their positions in class     

2.36


Proposals:

Having in mind the above findings and the suggestions of the Ministry of Education and Culture I shall propose the following induction programme to the staffroom:

A yearly schedule, through which the top-year pupils of the designated feeder schools would visit the secondary school. These visits could take the form of several activities so that the pupils of each primary feeder school have a different experience.  Here is a list of such activities: Welcome by head teacher with biscuits and refreshments; joining of gymnasium classes; tour of school; joint social functions and joint academic projects.

Exchange of visits between primary and secondary staffs with a view to socialising, understanding each other’s role, and teaching and linking curriculum. Meeting of liaison with feeder school co-ordinators, liaison’s participation in primary staffroom meetings and presentation of the findings of this survey to primary and secondary school teachers.

First year parents meetings with form/year tutors, head teacher’s talk to parents and first year students regarding school regulations.

A detailed account of the evolution of the above Induction Programme is given in a separate document.  


References:

Cotterell, J.L.(1982a) ‘Institutional approaches in relation to student behaviour: A atter of adaptiveness´, Journal of Educational Research, 75, 333-8.

Cotterell, J. (1986). ‘The adjustment of early adolescence youngsters to secondary school: some Australian findings’ in Youngman (Ed) Mid-Schooling Transfer: Problems and Proposals. Berkshire: NFER-NELSON Publishing Co. Ltd.

International Institute for Educational Planning (1997). ‘Appraisal Study on the Cyprus

Education System’. Paris: Unesco.

Κακαβούλης, Κ. Α. (1984). Η Μετάβαση των Μαθητών από την Πρωτοβάθμια στη

Μέση Εκπαίδευση: Ψυχολογικές και Παιδαγωγικές Επιπτώσεις. (School Transfer from Primary to Secondary Education: Psychological and Pedagogical Repercussions)   Athens: Athens University  

Μιχαηλίδου Α. Ε. (1997). Απόψεις Eκπαιδευτικών Δημοτικής και Μέσης Εκπαίδευσης για το Θεσμό της Εννιάχρονης Υποχρεωτικής Παιδείας..

secondary educators on the Institution o Nine-year Compulsory Education) Unpublished study by the Pedagogical Institute of Cyprus.  Nicosia

Nisbet, J.D., Welsh, I. and Entwistle, N.J.(1972). ‘Age of transfer to secondary

    education; a postscript’, British Journal of Educational Psychology. 42, 233-9

Spelman, B.J.(1979). Pupil Adaptation to Secondary School. Belfast: Northern Ireland

    Council for Educational Research.

Youngman, M.B. (1978). “Six reactions to school transfer”. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 48,280-9.



[1] Lower Secondary School

[2] Upper Secondary School


 

   
       
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