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“Secondary children universally miss primary school”. Really?!?

This morning I saw this tweet from John Sutton pop up as my year 7 SMART class were sitting down for their register

tweet from HGJohn

Now, I have a huge amount of respect for Stephen Heppell, but I suspect he may have overstated his case here. So I checked!

I asked both my year 7 class, and the next year 10 to suggest whether they missed primary school. In both cases I got a mumbled, unclear answer, so I dug a little deeper, asking each class to suggest what they missed about Primary, and what they preferred about Secondary. The results are below are what they said. In the case of the year 7 table, the numbers represent how many agreed / disagreed with the statement. If there is a third number, the middle number shows the number who had no experience or opinion

Year 7

Things you miss about Primary School Things you prefer about secondary school

Less work / less homework (19-2-0)

More trips (7 – 12)

Know everyone (16 – 6)

Couldn’t get into ‘proper’ trouble (12 – 6)

More freedom (20 / 2)

Less detentions ( 4 / 18 )

Better subjects – prefer having different subjects – get more depth (22)

Better food / quantity / value (14 – 6 -2)

Make more friends (20 -1 (indifferent) – 1)

Better trips (20 – 2 no op – 0)

Prefer being able to move around (21 – 1)

Different teachers – gets a bit boring having same one / if they don’t like you. (20 – 2)

Start earlier, less breaks – home earlier (20 2)

Better toilets (12 – 7)

Don’t have to go to the Head if you get into trouble (18 – 3)

For one student the issue of reencountering the bullies he had moved primary schools to avoid was an issue, and another agreed.

Year 10

Things you miss about Primary School Things you prefer about secondary school

Less pressure

Don’t have to carry books

More educational trips

More freedom

Choose what you study

More fun trips at the end of the year

Only stuck with teachers for one lesson at a time

When I asked which they prefered, they asked to make the distinction between where they ‘learned better’ (all voted for secondary) and which they enjoyed more (2 for primary, the rest for secondary)

So what?

Now clearly this isn’t very scientific – it’s a tiny sample in one school, and in hindsight even the two headings probably weren’t very well chosen. In addition, I suspect that Prof. Heppell’s quote is taken slightly out of context, but for all of that I think we need to be careful that in rethinking education we stop and ask our students what they think, and that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

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Dave Stacey

7 Comments

  1. I don’t want to be accused of putting words into someone’s mouth, so I’m not sure if Prof. Heppell actually used the word “universally”, my tweet is obviously an interpretation of what he said. Nevertheless the gist is there and he was definitely suggesting that most children looked back at primary school wistfully and missed the learning that went on there. I can’t quote a source for his research though.

  2. @ John – Certainly didn’t mean to accuse you of putting words into someones mouth! I’d love to know the source of his research as well. Thanks for kick starting a very interesting discussion with my students!

    @ Guy – Agreed. Our transition process gets very positive feedback.

    That’s not to say we don’t have lots to learn from primaries. One of the most useful things I did last year was spend a morning in a primary class just watching what was going on, and another couple of days in different classes running workshops on how to use their macs. Loads of food for thought about how much responsibility the pupils had, and the way learning was structured that I’ve tried to replicate to an extent in my classrooms. I’d love it if every secondary school teacher could do that (and vis versa), I think we’d really start to make some progress on closing the transition gap.

  3. I didn’t take it as such, more a case of reminding myself of the need make sure that the discipline of 140 characters doesn’t lead one to over simplify complex issues. It’s great that you’ve got the space to pick up something like this and just explore it. My favourite comment: “You don’t have to go to the head if you get into trouble.”

  4. Yeah, that kick started quite a discussion about the different approaches to discipline between different primaries, as well as between primary and secondary! :0)

  5. As a year 10 in secondary school, I can say that the only thing I enjoy more about secondary school is that you have slightly more freedom. Seeing as a went to quite a large primary school (300-400 kids) I can’t really say that there is a much wider range of people. Primary was much more simple. No exams (proper ones anyway), more things were done as a year instead of forms, lessons were great fun, and of course the end of year play. Assemblies were more interesting and music was a much larger part of life. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

    • Thanks for the comment Michael – great to have a perspective from a little further away from the transition point. I confess the ‘novelty’ of secondary was something I hadn’t taken into account at the time.
      If you don’t mind my asking, how did you find this post?

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