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Social Class and Achievement Case Studies

Extra-curricular activities and extended school provision

All of the schools had substantial extra-curricular activities and extended school provision. These activities were popular with parents/carers and pupils. Two had official extended school status and others were working towards developing this. School G, for example, was in a community learning partnership and would have a children's centre on site in 2008. They currently open 7 days a week, 50 weeks a year, till 10 pm weekdays, 6 pm weekends. There is a play scheme every holiday, adult learning sessions taking place during the day and evening, a fitness suite, OAP lunch clubs and a scrambling track on site.

The extra-curricular activities aimed to provide enjoyable activities to increase motivation and participation and to widen opportunities. Some were designed to support learning for families as well as pupils.

'We've had 50 trips and visits this year so far – five of them have been abroad (Madrid, Paris, New York, Romania, and Washington DC). I call this widening horizons. It broadens pupils' perspectives and gives them something to aspire to'. (Headteacher, E)

Parents/carers appreciated these opportunities for their children.

'There's a wide range of after-school clubs that give them opportunities that you'd want for your kids. I couldn't afford to take my children to dancing lessons or buy the equipment but they can do dance here'. (Parent, D)

Parents/carers also appreciated schools being sensitive to cost implications for low-income families.

'Lots of trips and visitors – but the school is very good about paying. They give you lots of warning and you can pay weekly. At my other school you just got a letter and had to find the money straight away. I couldn't do it. You have to budget for it. Then I can manage it'. (Parent, D)

All schools also found ways of ensuring that no child was excluded from opportunities to become involved because of lack of parent/carer contribution.

Well-developed transition programmes

'When our staff first went into the primary school they were blown away by what the children could do'. (Member of SLT, H)

All the schools had some form of transition programme and some had highly developed and innovative programmes. School E had employed a transition mentor who works in primary schools for two terms and who then transfers to the secondary school with the primary pupils for their first term. There are two transition classes at Year 7 with 10–15 more vulnerable pupils in each class and these stay with the same teacher, gradually joining the mainstream over the year. There is also a home-school liaison officer who works with six feeder primary schools.

Fusion project

Secondary school H

School H had developed a fusion programme with its feeder primary schools. As part of the scheme, staff from the secondary school spent time teaching in the primary school. Initially, this was staff from core subjects but the scheme had now been extended to other subjects, partly in response to its impact and staff demand. This teaching was part of the joint transition units of work the schools undertook. Spending time working in primary school had a major impact on staff expectations for Year 7.

'When our staff first went into the primary school they were blown away by what the children could do. They came back saying 'We baby these kids too much. They can do so much more. Now they hit the ground running'. (Member of SLT)

Another outcome had been that staff trusted information from the primary schools.

'We get good information from our primary schools and we use it. We set groups using the primary teacher assessment. We also record our dialogues with Year 6 parents/carers and put this in a different font on our records'. (Member of SLT)

Year 6 pupils met their form tutor and spent a few days at the secondary school in the summer term. Targeted pupils were offered a summer school in the secondary school.

'He attended a two-week summer school, and was given a buddy from Year 8'. (Parent/carer)

Key Stage 3 pupils had recently made a DVD for Year 6 pupils to show them what the secondary school is like, and the kind of experiences they would encounter.

There was a city-wide working party to improve transition and school experience for pupils identified as vulnerable or volatile. Groups of these pupils attended the secondary school for a weekly session throughout the summer term. Volatile students ('mainly white working-class boys') undertook activities to help them understand expectations and rules and to get to know their form tutor and learning mentors. Both groups did activities such as treasure hunts to get to know the school grounds and active learning sessions such as practical science experiments to encourage them to engage with the curriculum.

However, even in schools with well-developed transition programmes, moving to secondary school was mentioned in the interviews as an area of anxiety by parents/carers of primary school children and by some primary teachers. Other than a preliminary meeting for parents/carers, no schools seemed to have developed this area of practice in terms of building their partnership with parent/carers. As some of those interviewed pointed out, more adventurous arrangements, such as joint teaching, exchange visits or 'day in the life' videos for pupils and parents/carers to see what goes on in secondary classrooms might be helpful to reduce misconceptions and allay fears.