Group work as a form of collaborative learning has great potential, but is typically not well organised or operated in schools. The ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) Phase II project "Improving the Effectiveness of Pupil Groups in Classrooms" is exploring ways of improving impact. The associated highly successful Group Work Scotland project, also part of TLRP, has explored the benefits of Group Work in primary schools with reference to differences between urban and rural classes, single-age and mixed-age classes. The Groupwork Transition project extends the work of the Group Work Scotland project.



The Groupwork Transition Project

Pupils who participated in the previous project have been followed into secondary school. The project explores transfer to the secondary school environment of pupil domain-specific knowledge and skills (particularly in science), and general social, communication and teamwork skills.

The extent to which successful transfer is a function of the quality of group work in primary school and the quality of opportunities within the secondary school is explored. Necessary and sufficient conditions for transfer are identified. Strong implications for future research, policy and practice have unfolded.


Research Design

Research Questions

Research questions important for practice and policy remain to be answered, for example:

  1. In the ensuing academic years after involvement, do gains in science understanding and social relationships transfer and endure despite the changed context? How long do these gains endure, especially in secondary school, and are there signs of cumulative or sleeper effects?
  2. If gains do endure and transfer occurs, what are the necessary conditions for this to occur, in terms of teacher and pupil behaviour in the primary school and teacher and pupil behaviour and organisational restrictions and affordances in the secondary school? What is the minimal level of quality of process interaction in the classroom (implementation integrity) to yield gains?
  3. What relevant differences if any are evident between rural and urban schools?
  4. What cost-effective transitional arrangements might support successful transfer of learning? What combination of or balance between cooperative learning and peer tutoring might be most effective in different contexts?
  5. To what extent do sustained gains go beyond attainment gains and address the transferable skill aspects of schooling, i.e. the full spectrum of the National Priorities for Education? This will be set in the context of the ongoing Curriculum Review and moves toward curricular flexibility in Scotland, as well as addressing reported concerns about a narrow subject focus, didactic pedagogy and passive learning in some sectors of secondary education.
  6. What has been learned about strategies, organisation, delivery and professional development for teachers which would facilitate the development of practical resources and dissemination of more effective group work across Scotland (and indeed more widely), in both primary and secondary education? (In the latter case, in collaboration with the TLRP Key Stage 3 project at Cambridge).


To explore whether gains accruing from the development of high quality cooperative learning through group work (in attainment, understanding, transferable skills and socio-emotional aspects of learning, particularly in science):

  • Transfer at follow-up after transition from primary into secondary,
  • Transfer more or less as a function of quality of primary school group work experiences,
  • Transfer more or less as a function of quality of secondary school group work experiences,
  • Can be supported by Continuing Professional Development for secondary teachers,
  • Can be supported by the provision of appropriate resources and self-assessment protocols for secondary teachers and their pupils,

The intention is to embody the experience of the project and the answers to these research questions in a more developed suite of materials and resources, continuing professional development, and ongoing research and dissemination, to impact practice and policy for both primary and secondary education across Scotland, the UK (e.g. in collaboration with the TLRP Key Stage 3 project at Cambridge), and internationally.

Design and Procedure

The project is partly a follow-up study (project P6 pupils involved in 24 schools in the previous project followed into S1) and partly an intervention study (P7 pupils involved in the 24 schools in the previous project followed into S2). Some of these pupils were engaged in no group work, some were engaged in group work developed independently by the receiving secondary school, and some were engaged in group work initiated by project intervention. It was also be possible to follow control pupils in the 5 schools involved in the previous project into secondary schools but not intervene with them.

Of course, P7 pupils from one primary school may not all attend the same secondary school. The secondary school recruiting the majority of P7 pupils from each primary was the focus for intervention (and control follow-up). Key teachers from the receiving secondary schools were identified as leaders in the development of group work methods in their schools, and served as in-school coordinators, attending the project in-service days and receiving materials and consultation. Up to 24 teachers from several secondary schools balanced across east and west Scotland were engaged in the in-service days.

Data collection in the middle of the Autumn term 2005 explored whether any loss of relevant capabilities had already begun to occur, as well as providing a baseline for the post-test. Intervention by continuing professional development and introduction to relevant tools and materials for secondary school teachers came between points 1 and 2.

Follow-up measures included some but not all measures used in the original project, or adaptations thereof, together with some new measures. Particularly important were tests of science understanding in Forces and Evaporation, and the sociometric measure, which had already shown substantial pre-post gains in the original project. Follow-up measures of science understanding and process skills developed from those used in the previous project were used. Other attainment measures in other subjects were used as appropriate for relevant subgroups of pupils. Self-esteem measures used in the previous project were used together with the measure of attitudes to cooperative learning and group work used previously. An additional measure of motivation in science which had recently become available was introduced. Teacher assessment and pupil self-assessment of transferable skills in cooperative teamwork were used much more systematically than in the previous project. Broad-spectrum measures of overall attainment (such as PIPs) were not be used in the proposed project.

Researchers visited secondary schools at intermediate points to offer consultative support and assay implementation quality of group work. This involved direct observation in classrooms, in more than one subject. The researchers used an adaptation of the observation schedule utilised in the original project. The ecology of each classroom was mapped. Group work interactions were characterised as collaborative, cooperative learning, peer tutoring or a mixture. Additionally, researchers conducted interviews with secondary teachers using group work and with a sample of those hesitant about using group work, repeating these at intervals with key witnesses to track any development.

Analysis subsequently explored experimental/control differences, P6/P7 differences in maintenance of gains, and whether primary experience in rural or urban schools or in single-age or composite classes advantages or disadvantages pupils on transition to secondary. Most importantly, previous data on quality of interaction in group work in the primary school was related to outcomes in the secondary school, with new data on quality of interaction in group work in the secondary school. Comparison with the Cambridge SPRinG Key Stage 3 experimental and control results was made.

Additionally, teacher reflection and feedback was gathered in a half-day conference for key teachers in 24 receiving secondary schools after the third point of measurement.


The project enabled original P6 and P7 participants to be followed up for most of their S1 and S2 year respectively. Data gathering and analysis would conclude by the end of August 2006, but academic staff would continue to disseminate beyond this time.

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Professor K.J. Topping
School of Education, Social Work & Community Education
University of Dundee
Dundee DD1 4HN
tel +44 (0)1382 383000

Professor Donald Christie and Eleni Karagiannidou
Dept of Educational Studies
University of Strathclyde
Jordanhill Campus,
76 Southbrae Drive,
Glasgow G13 1PP
Tel: 0141 950 3220
tel 0141 950 3154