Head to Head

STEM supporting transition

Transition from primary to secondary is important in the lives of children and their families and is recognised as one of the most challenging times in a child’s education – particularly regarding their academic achievement.   There are many significant factors that can impact (positively or negatively) a smooth and effective transition including: relationships with peers, relationships with teachers, physical environment, academic matters as well as engagement and motivation.  

In this article, the first of three  specifically  looking  at transition, we examine the role that the Primary Cluster Programme in STEM can have in supporting transition from primary to secondary education.

Between 2012 and 2018, SSERC designed the Primary Cluster Programme in Science and Technology (PCP). The aims of the PCP were to improve the confidence and expertise of all primary teachers in a participating cluster with their teaching of science and technology and to promote increased collegiality between cluster schools.  To facilitate success, the cluster comprises a secondary school associated with the participating primary schools.   

The PCP Model

The innovative PCP model involves centralised training in the form of two residential events designed to equip teachers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to become science and technology mentors. The role of the mentors is to promote science and technology activities within their cluster by sharing experiences and good practice, promoting collegiality, disseminating activities/information and providing support and guidance to their colleagues. During the 8-month interval between the two residentials, mentors are expected to liaise with their colleagues to identify their professional development needs and design and implement a relevant bespoke programme of Career Long Professional Learning (CLPL) to improve science and technology teaching of all teachers in their cluster. Progress is then shared at the second residential as a ‘showcase gap task’ where Headteachers and Local Authority representatives are invited.


The Numbers

Between 2012-2019, all 32 Scottish Local Authorities have been involved in the programme with 676 schools across 99 clusters taking part. 515 mentors have been trained with >480 face to face workshops and >110 interactive electronic workshops delivered to >6000 teachers with a total of >18000 attendances.

Evaluation Methodology

The PCP has been externally evaluated in order to gauge its effectiveness by looking at its impact from the perspective of mentors, headteachers, other staff members and pupils. Evaluation data was collected through surveys of mentors, headteachers, other teaching staff and pupils in addition to focus groups, reflective diaries and course observations.

Evaluation Findings

Survey respondents: 811 mentors, 218 headteachers, 275 other staff, 11793 pupils, 108 reflective diaries.

Mentors, Headteachers, other teaching staff, Local Authority Officers/QIOs reported that the programme has

  • Improved professional practice. There has been an increase in both quantity, quality and variety of science and technology teaching methods utilised in participating schools. This has greatly improved the capacity and capability of mentors and other teaching staff to deliver quality science and technology and goes some way toward the ideal that every learner should have an unbroken chain of high quality learning and teaching throughout their school lives
  • There has been improved levels of teacher confidence in the delivery of science and technology across all participating clusters
  • There has been an increase in collegiate working throughout participating clusters which has resulted in the development of a network for sharing good practice, encouraged professional dialogue and fostered a greater sense of community. In many cases this has included closer relationships between primary and secondary schools
  • Promoted a more coherent approach to delivering science across the cluster. There has been a more systematic approach to planning resulting in more consistency to teaching science and technology across clusters.
  • Raised the profile of science and technology across the cluster.
  • The pupil survey showed a positive association between SSERC CLPL impact rating and pupil enjoyment of science activities, confidence in conducting science tasks and the preservation of positive pupil attitudes towards science. Mentors and headteachers frequently reported on the positive impact the programme had on the engagement, motivation, skills and knowledge of their learners.
  • Had greater impact in schools recording higher levels of deprivation.
  • Been recognised in HMIe reports for the contribution and positive impact it has made in science and technology learning and teaching within participating schools.

These findings are particularly important as they align strongly with the Scottish Governments aims and aspirations of learning in sciences and technology. Some Local Authority Officers/QIOs also reported that they were looking to draw on the reflective collaborative model of the programme to inform their own plans for science and technology education.

 Key Success Factors

  • The mentor model – The mentor approach allowed for a rapid tailored response to the CLPL needs in each setting. It also provided a key staff member to offer support and guidance to other staff and facilitate links with other schools.
  • Support from school/cluster management and colleagues - Time given for regular meetings and professional dialogue were crucial to the success of the programme.
  • The design of the SSERC CLPL programme – There was evidence that the practical, residential nature of the SSERC CLPL and the collaborative developmental ‘gap task’ approach contributed greatly to the success of the programme. The enthusiasm and support of the Primary team at SSERC was also crucial.
  • A learner’s curricular interest and continuity have been identified as promoting successful transition.  Learners need be able to understand expectation from secondary school and should expect to be challenged and build on progress at primary school.  The PCP facilitated better information sharing and significantly increased awareness and understanding of the different approaches to teaching between primary and secondary schools.
  • Working with our strategic partner, the Primary Science Teaching Trust, we have remodelled the PCP to sustain, extend and expand the programme to increase the number and coverage of mentors.  
  • Moving forward we will use the model to enhance transition from early years to primary and primary to secondary and we plan to pilot an early years to primary transition model in partnership with one Local Authority
  • We plan to extend the model to other areas of the curriculum, particularly digital skills/computing science.

 What’s next ?

 In the next edition, we will provide you with a specific example of how this model was used to support primary/secondary transition in one Local Authority cluster.