You know you haven’t made your point clear enough when Laura McInerney – Queen of Nuance – starts rebutting an argument you haven’t made!
Late last night I posted a tweet asking how many secondary schools (note: not teachers) had contacted feeder primary schools over the past few weeks. Inevitably it became a bit of a them-and-us squabble which was never my intention.
Rather, my intention was to raise the possibility in teachers’ minds – especially those with pastoral responsibility. This wasn’t because I think secondary school teachers are negligent; it was because I genuinely think it doesn’t always cross the minds of busy staff.
However, the responses I got, including from the always-very-reasonable Laura, all centred around the same few points:
× “we did it all before the summer”
× “teachers are too busy teaching”
× “we talk to parents and students”
× “we’ve got 300 students…”
The latter of these was the most frustrating, because it struck me as a way of saying that individuals weren’t important enough. It’s something I hear primary teachers imply too often about secondary schools and I don’t think it’s true at all. But using the argument of numbers implies it just as much. What quickly became clear was that people really meant that they couldn’t ring about every one of 300 students… And I never suggested that they would.
I’ve written before about the importance of conversations, but the focus on pre-transition work worries me. We know that some kids will find the transition hard. Sometimes we can predict who might find it tricky, but other children surprise us – and they are often the hardest to crack. All I want to suggest is that when a child crops up who seems not to have any prior note of difficulties, it would make sense to get in touch with the relevant primary teacher. Not because we can fix things, but because we might just shed some light. Maybe we know something because of a younger sibling; maybe we know something from years past that we thought was dealt with; maybe we just screwed up and forgot to mention something in our previous conversations. We’re not perfect.
Of course, in most cases kids settle well and thrive. I like to presume that no news is good news. The trouble is, I know sometimes that’s not true. I know of the child who was put on a part-time timetable in their first year of secondary because of attendance issues (!), yet no-one ever asked what we’d done to improve their attendance from around 40% to 88% in their time with us. I know, too, of the girl who was suspended in the Spring term having never had any bother in primary school. Only when I heard on the grapevine did I get in touch and point out what I knew had happened with the family over the summer months. The cases are few, but the consequences can be enormous for those few – and the effort to contact one or two primary teachers each year is surely negligible by comparison?
I don’t blame secondary teachers for being busy. I don’t blame them for asking students and parents first. I don’t blame them for focusing on pre-transition arrangements. I dint expect every subject teacher to be in touch. But I also don’t think it’s acceptable to spend so much time and money on promotional events for new students each autumn, while ignoring the individuals among the 300 who have just arrived. Sometime must surely have overall responsibility for the care and well-being of these children – I’m just offering them an extra tool. And for free. With a smile!
I don’t want to hear about every child. I don’t need to hear about every problem. I just want secondary colleagues to know that if one of those few cases crops up, any primary teacher in the land would be only too happy to help if we can. And sometimes we can’t, but it might be worth making that one call just in case. It could transform a child’s life chances, and save you a while lot of bother in the long run. And even if it didn’t… Wouldn’t it be great if we all just chatted from time to time anyway?
(It’s worth noting that primary teachers are not exempt from this call: as Starlight McKenzie pointed out on Twitter, primaries are not that always great at calling other primaries when kids transfer between them either)