The information exchange between a current primary class teacher and the next year’s teacher at the end of July is a crucial one, and perhaps one that is – in some ways – alarmingly instrumental. It is a big deal to hand over the class, especially given that you are likely to have built up strong rapports and relationships within the class by this point, and the nature of information exchange is worth considering.
It would be foolish, it is worth saying right from the offset, if there was no exchange whatsoever. The strategies that a teacher knows are effective for given pupils in given contexts are the hard-won spoils of lengthy teaching endeavours. You can imagine how teachers could spend 8 months discovering effective strategies that their previous teacher could have told them in September. In this context, such information is worth handing over.
Assessment data is certainly worth handing over, but is more debatable. If the attainment levels of a child are significant enough to matter, then the data on which they are based ought to be replicable enough that the new teacher could administer their own assessment and uncover the same results, not really requiring the last year’s data. The cloudiness around assessment makes it tricky. Is the ‘dropped in the deep end’ test condition work a better reflection of a child’s ability than a considered Teacher Assessment of their classroom progress? When I think about the sets I teach, the information I need is more about the way that they learn in class rather than what they could or could not get down on paper in a test – again, as teachers we can imagine some poor kid who has an atrocious test which doesn’t convey their actual ability. If the assessment goes solely by the test, a kid who is otherwise very capable might be taught with a lower attainment expectation for the following year, in a lower group, just because of a bad day in the test.
In terms of ensuring I can teach to the best of my ability, I would be better off knowing the ‘soft data’ of which children need to be pushed harder to complete homeworks and which kids need to be encouraged to speak up more in lessons; things like this would be more useful than seeing they are a 3c, or whatever.
The most problematic element of information exchange relates to discussion of behaviour and character. I have passed on perfectly honest and truthful declarations about the excellent behaviour of a child, assuring a successor that there is nothing to worry about, only for this kid to become the most troublesome for their new teacher. Similarly, I have emphasised the difficulty of getting through to a child, only for them to instantly make accelerated progress as soon as they enter the new teacher’s class. This has worked the other way; I have had incoming children described as requiring firm unwavering strict discipline, to discover that in my own class, they pose no specific behavioural challenges.
Because in primary school we spend six hours with our kids, five days a week for the lion’s share of the year, we can make the mistake of forgetting that our children’s behaviours, actions and personalities are socially situated within the confines of our particular classroom. The fact that Esmerelda (?) might blush silently when asked to contribute could mean she is cripplingly shy, but it could just be that she does not feel comfortable with me as a teacher, and does not trust me enough to share her ideas with me. To give a more positive example, the fact that Dorian (?) is a confident happy and popular member of the class does not necessarily mean he is confident, happy and popular outside of it; back to school in September, with the same kids but a different teacher with a different ethos and a different form of classroom interaction, it could be a different Dorian in class, who is reticent, reserved and unsure of himself.
I don’t feel in a position to state that teachers should or shouldn’t share information like this, but I think it is so important that as teachers we remember to take even the wise words of respected colleagues with a pinch of salt – their perception of the children they are passing on to us, even if it is completely accurate, is a reflection of how things were in their class, and it would be a mistake to presume that we ‘know’ the child in total. Passing on our experience-informed perceptions could help the new teacher to get an immediate feel for the characters in the class, but it could just as easily shackle the child to the misconceptions we have had of him for another year.
Just something to think about.