Stepping Up
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The Stepping Up project tracked the lives of a group of young people in Weardale, County Durham, as they made the move from their small village primary schools to the large comprehensive (senior) school that serves the dale.

This web site tells that story in words and pictures, produced both by the young people and by two professionals, a writer and a photographer, who worked with them. You can visit the different parts of the site by clicking on the buttons which appear either in the left margin or at the top of each page. The Stepping Up button will always bring you back to this page. Two of the buttons Our pictures, our lives and Making the move take you to a sequence of photographs where you move from one to the next by clicking to the right (or left) of the picture.

One of the most memorable - and for some nerve-racking - experiences in childhood is our first day at school. But whilst the start of primary school is perhaps more of a distant memory, at a time when we were still a little too young to fully comprehend what was happening, many of us can easily remember our feelings during these first days at secondary school.

For many 11 year olds, the move from primary to secondary school holds little fear. Perhaps the school is just as close to home as the primary, within our everyday home patch. But for those living in rural areas, the experience is altogether different. Small primary schools, such as those that are found in villages around the country, offer a quality of homeliness and security which cannot be replicated within the framework of the secondary school system. Whilst many young people look forward to and enjoy the opportunities offered by a larger establishment, a significant number find the thought of such an institution overwhelming. It is widely recognised that it can be a time of great anxiety for many young people living in rural areas.

This project takes as its main focus this major event in a young person's life. lt is based in the North Pennine valley of Weardale in County Durham. All the primary schools, as well as the Wolsingham School, the local secondary school, have been acutely aware of this issue, and already have in place a number of initiatives which are designed to ease both pupil and parental anxiety. These include cluster projects between Year 6 pupils from several primary schools, a special camping holiday organised by Wolsingham School, and an introductory induction week at Wolsingham for all Year 6 pupils during the summer term.

However, many teachers and governors recognise that, for some young people, such initiatives might be insufficient or even inappropriate. It has been noted by the County Education Authority that Year 7 and 8 pupils are under-achieving in relation to their performance in primary schools. The effects of the move, it is thought, has much to do with this.

Of even more concern is the feeling that the young people themselves have not been able to openly explore their feelings about the move in a secure and safe context. Much of the knowledge about secondary school for Year 6 pupils comes via a well-oiled rumour machine, helped by small groups of older children who revel in scare-mongering and bullying. Adults recognise that often the best and most effective responses come from the young people themselves.

The Stepping Up Project followed a group of young people in 1997 through their last months at primary school and first months at secondary school. It aimed to explore, through the creative use of written and visual documents, ways in which the young people themselves could express their feelings and record their experiences during the transition from primary to secondary school.

The internet was used from the outset as a way of publishing the output from the project. Now, at its conclusion, a book has been produced as well and a publisher is being sought for it.