Now I had managed to communicate with the primary schools and agree to work with them, what did I actually do?
As I have already said, the main reason my job existed was to push our school and make it a more attractive proposition for Year 7. I may have managed to soften this objective for my own sense of well-being into one that was primarily about helping students, but I still had to deliver for the powers-that-be. This meant that any time working with Year 6 was essentially time wasted, as they had already made their minds up. Far better to work with Years 4 and 5, as the decision was still pending for them, and therefore there was plenty of opportunity to get them to consider our little school. The trouble was, the primaries were very keen indeed for me to work with their Year 6s - the looming SATs were clearly on their minds, and my offer of helping with 'reading and writing' was very attractive. For the first two terms of this outreach (Christmas and January terms), Year 6 was all I was offered.
Aware that it was unhelpful to my main objective, I took the work anyway. I reasoned that many of the students I was going to work with were to end up at my school anyway, so it would aid transition (especially useful now I am Head of English, so quite a useful 'familiar face' for them to have - though I didn't know this at the time). It was probably going to help raise my profile within the schools too - allowing me to work with the Year 4 and 5 students later on in the year. So I planned some a detailed writing unit for these Year 6 classes. I had them once a week, for around an hour, for a whole term. This meant I needed seven full lessons that really engaged them with writing (the skill their teachers had identified as being weaker). I created a unit based loosely on The Demon Headmaster and Boy, by Roald Dahl: the concept was a short story, with character development and clear structuring, about a new headteacher who turned out to be 'odd' in some way. Each week focused on a different skill, utilising 'slow writing' techniques a great deal: cohesion one week, detail and imagery the next, punctuation a third and so on, until the students were ready to create their delightful little tales. With a clutch of level 5 and 6 workunder their belts, the students were happy to have made progress, and the primaries were more willing to let me work with students from further down the school.
I did some reading work, again based on Boy, with some Year 5s, focusing on the skill of inference and evidence gathering. Year 4 students worked with me on a writing topic based on the Titanic, focused on finding the 'joy' in writing and developing vocabulary and simile creation. Some Year 3 students, and goodness me they were tiny and quite frightening at times (they are so very different even to Year 7s), worked on a speaking and listening topic, again based on the Titanic (stick with what you know, that's my motto!) where they created really quite startlingly professional TV news reports on the sinking. Jabberwocky was a focus for another group of Year 5s, where we worked on creating meaning through language, ensuring every word counted. All of these units were around one hour a week for about a term, and I think in total I must have worked with over one hundred students from around the town.
However, there was a problem. I was able to collect work, mark it and share it with them, but I had no idea about progress over time. It was difficult to liaise with their class teachers, so by the end of the year I was aware that I had no idea - really no idea at all - whether I had had a positive impact on their progress. It dawns on me that this is likely the biggest downfall to the programme. As a teacher who is very much led by marking and then developing work, this was hard to handle; in the end I had to content myself with the fact that I was very unlikely to be doing educational harm to these students, and to liaise with the primaries over their SATs results whenever I could. As these things should always end with an evaluative note, checking progress would be an area of development for the next time I make it to the primaries.
So, my year was over. I had managed to get myself promoted to Head of Department by May, so it is clear to me that I will be spending far less time in the primary schools in 2014-15. Cross-phase standardisation, moderation and joint planning had taken baby steps, but were by no means fully implemented, and I had worked with more Year 6s than I'd wanted to. On the other hand, the units of work had been enthusiastically received, and communication routes had been set up between the schools, and we saw a raise of around 25 students entering for Year 7, so all in all, it wasn't a bad year.