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Building bridges: A DIY approach (archived)

Introduction to the NLC

This case study is entitled Building Bridges: A DIY approach to reflect the key focus of the NLC, which is to connect different schools within the local area; promoting a common curriculum and pedagogy across them and easing issues of transition.

The Building Bridges NLC is particularly large, comprising 20 schools, and its goal is equally large. It is of particular interest as it is a cross-sector NLC including a very large secondary school and all its feeder schools. As a case study it highlights how the NLC initiative can provide a focal point for a much larger piece of ongoing work.

The core of the NLC is a leadership group, which co-ordinates and facilitates a large transition project. The schools first began working together in 2007, forming a transition cluster in 2008 and accessing NLC funding from 2009. The overall goal of the wider project has always been a seamless transition for students through primary and into secondary school. The specific goal for 2010 was to share and develop curriculum and pedagogy across years 0 to 13, with a particular focus on years 7 to 10.

Activities and processes

The key activities in 2010 were the buddying of year 7 and 8 teachers from the 19 primary schools with about 30 teachers from the secondary school and a professional development day. The goal of the professional development day was to develop agreed common pedagogical threads for the cluster. It included a workshop on Visible Learning.

Through the buddying programme a teacher, or teachers, from the high school was buddied with a primary school. At least one high school teacher at each primary school had to teach a core subject (mathematics, science, English, social studies). The focus of the buddy visits, in 2010, was on ‘what causes the best learning’. During these visits participants used a framework for recording practices they believed should be started, stopped, parked or kept.

The leadership team is comprised of principals, classroom teachers and an RTLB. The ten members represent seven schools, including the secondary school. This team meets once a term to co-ordinate activities, to consider what is happening across the overall project and where to next.

Some specific activities that have occurred as a result of the project include:

  • the high school surveying students and teachers to gather information regarding the transition experiences of students into their schools
  • schools developing their own action plans relating directly to the overall goals of the NLC
  • the development of the ‘advisory’, a regular newsletter to all participant schools
  • changes to the way the orientation day is organised at the high school
  • some year 7 and 8 teachers changing the language they use to describe curriculum activities to their students to better align with secondary school terminology (for example, topic becoming science or social studies).

The benefits and highlights for those involved

The key benefit, and a highlight for most, has been the increased interaction between the secondary school and its feeder schools. The sense of ‘us versus them’, of barriers between the two sectors, seems to have been minimalised through the buddy project. Participants from both primary and secondary reported gaining a greater awareness of what is happening in the other sector.

For the secondary school, there is a greater understanding of the abilities of their year 9 students, and of what primary school practice can teach them with regard to pedagogy. Other reported benefits for the secondary school included better relationships with the wider community and students feeling better about coming to secondary school. Also mentioned was being able to avoid the repetition of material taught at primary school, as they have a better understanding of their year 9 students’ prior learning.

For the primary schools there was reportedly more awareness of what their students will face and of the mechanisms behind the secondary school system. Through greater interaction they reported feeling able to better prepare their students and to ensure that they cover key areas in their teaching. As a result of the NLC they have begun making efforts to shift their practices in years 7 and 8 to facilitate the transition between primary and secondary.

Ingredients for success

Success for this NLC has been achieved through having a clear focus and purpose, and the willingness and enthusiasm across all levels of the wider project schools. The commitment of the secondary school has been critical as has the work of the leadership team. The capacity of this leadership team to have rigorous debate and to challenge not only their own thinking but also that of the wider community is also a key enabler.

Other ingredients for success have been the opportunities provided for the teachers from the schools to be involved and to shape what is happening. The mix of internal and external professional development and the opportunities for reflection and review have also been important.


Published on: 17 May 2011