Transitioning the body and soul – from primary to secondary school

I was at my son’s first ‘high school’ parents evening last night.  After talking to his tutor and the experience of supporting him in his first few months I wanted to share a couple of things that I’ve been thinking about, related to my own research on school ethos (see Bragg and Manchester, 2011).

There is a total disregard for the ‘body’ (and soul) at his new high school.  They start school at 8.20am, groggy eyed and unable to face breakfast he trudges out of the house at 7.55 (soon it will be incredibly dark as well as cold as he goes), with a huge backpack full of an often soggy PE kit, books and various homework sheets that may or may not be due in that day but he carries in case he’s forgotten something.  He has to wear a shirt, tie and blazer so opts not to wear a coat even when it’s raining as it would involve having to carry the blazer and there is no room in the bag for that.  On arrival at school there is little time to go to the toilet and in fact he has to wait for two hours before he can do so as toilets are locked and only opened up at break and lunchtime.  At least they provide snacks for them at break time which is lucky as lunchtime only lasts for 30 minutes and older students push the smaller ones out of the queue so they have few lunch options and no time to eat it anyway.  The only alternative to eating at lunchtime is to congregate in the year 7 ‘quad’ a small outside area which you are not allowed to leave once you enter.

Our research suggested that schools should consider the 3 C’s of school ethos – considerate, convivial and capacious.  Thinking about my son’s experience in relation to our research it appears that his new school is not considerate of his bodily or soulful needs, he doesn’t feel cared for or considered in this new environment.  Nor is there any opportunity for convivial behaviours – a chance to chat to and meet new friends, or to make connections with others (teachers or other students) outside of the structures of the timetable.  What’s more the locked toilets and short lunchtimes, justified as ‘anti bullying measures’ rather serve to suggest to young people that they are not to be trusted to look after each other and co-exist in relations of care.  In such a space it would seem that opportunities for the school to work in capacious ways – offering young people range and room for manoeuvre in the school and in their learning, being flexible and valuing different kinds of responses, ‘holding’ difficult emotions which are often evoked in learning – seem unlikely to happen.

I overheard another parent at the parents evening last night saying to a friend that it felt like her son was no longer seen as a person but rather ‘a piece of data’- now that could spawn a whole other blog post…

Helen Manchester

5 thoughts on “Transitioning the body and soul – from primary to secondary school

  1. This makes shocking reading: is this really the best we can do for young people? We KNOW that this wouldn’t be seen as acceptable in many workplaces or in most primary schools (the ones that I know, at least). You don’t say what the status of his ‘high’ school (when did this americanism become so widespread btw?) is in Ofsted terms – although the fact that you mention blazers makes me think it’s probably seen as doing all the ‘right’ things by today’s lamentable priorities – but it makes me wonder what Ofsted miss when they visit…

  2. Thanks for this response – it’s a ‘good with some outstanding features’ school according to OFSTED – aiming for ‘successful, creative, happy’ learners. Economies of scale play a part here I think – the school has 1500 students.

    • Thanks for this Harry – parent-teacher meetings are always odd occasions indeed but fascinating for an educational researcher I find! Talking of skirmishes…my son’s form teacher described him as being ‘like a stone that gathers no moss’ – I couldn’t think of a description that would describe him less well (and told his tutor as much).

  3. Pingback: Thinking about equality, diversity and teacher professionalism | ESRI Blog

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