Managing transition to secondary in the Covid-19 crisis

How do you ensure a smooth transition to secondary when the end of term has been interrupted? One head offers some ideas
19th June 2020, 3:01pm
Malcolm McKinlay


Managing transition to secondary in the Covid-19 crisis
Coronavirus: How Can Schools Manage Transition From Primary To Secondary?

"I wish I could stay at this school forever," Year 6 pupils sometimes tell me.

This is always lovely to hear. But, of course, the best thing for them is to move on to a new environment, which will help them to grow.

However, this year is a little bit different. It's the first time that it might actually be good to keep Year 6 pupils at school for a while in the autumn term, to provide them with the emotional stability and security they need before the transition to secondary school.

As things stand, many Year 6 pupils are able to spend some time at school between now and the summer holidays. But how do we best use the time we have left with them, either in school or remotely, to make up for the time that has been lost?

Coronavirus: The transition to secondary school

Here's my advice.

1. Talk it out

Firstly, give the pupils the chance to talk, to tell you how they are feeling and any anxieties they feel about having missed school.

It will be important to give all pupils this opportunity, as without helping them with underlying anxieties, some of the preparation work for senior school will go to waste. This will also help you gauge their state of mind and direct your work with them going forward.

2. Deal with their worries

The next thing to do is to lead a conversation about senior school and how pupils are feeling about moving on. While it will be important for pupils to feel they can share anything that is worrying them, it will also be important for the discussion to have a positive steer. Don't dwell too much on anxieties related to the pandemic.

Ask them: what are they looking forward to? What exciting opportunities are going to present themselves?

These pupils will be taking a step towards becoming more independent. Remind them that there will be new activities to try and new friends to meet.

3. Help them to see themselves fitting in

For those children who have a particular interest or talent, they will be able to meet other like-minded pupils. Where worries do exist around making friends, it might work well to use a group problem-solving exercise.

For example, ask children what someone could do if they were struggling to make new friends? Pupils are often more imaginative and able to come up with better solutions than we are to questions like these.

Of course, it will be important to have some ideas prepared in advance, such as joining a new club, having a different routine at lunch or speaking to your mentor and tutor about your difficulty making friends.

4. Cover the practicalities

Pupils will also need to know about practical matters, to help them feel prepared. For example, planning their route to school. What transport are they going to use? What time do they need to leave? What social distancing or safety measures will they need to follow?

Ask them to imagine it is the night before their first day at senior school and that they need to pack their bag. What must they remember to take? How can they ensure they are ready?

5. Involve parents

Communicating to parents what you are doing at school to help the pupils prepare is another important step. Encouraging the parents to take positive action at home will only help the pupils and ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Make yourself available to chat to parents, so they don't feel like they are bothering you and can share their worries. This will hopefully lessen the transfer of these anxieties to their child. Remember that, for parents, this will also be a stressful time. They may have worries around the safety of school in the current circumstances, so may feel even more anxious about the transition than pupils.

Guiding parents as to how they can increase their son's or daughter's independence over these next few weeks will also help. Does the child walk to school themselves? Are they responsible for organising and packing their belongings for school? Could they be sent to the shop to buy things and help? Each of these little steps can increase confidence and independence.

6. Secondary links

The next half of term will be a good time to contact the senior schools and find out their plans for when the pupils start in September, particularly any measures related to coronavirus that you won't have come across with transition groups in previous years.

What will be expected of these pupils in the first few weeks of senior school? Is there anything you can do to help pupils at your school be ready?

Working closely with senior schools at this time can only be of benefit to the pupils - they might need to discuss situations with you in the autumn term, too.

7. Support your staff

Finally, as a senior leader, remember to support the staff who are working with these pupils. They will also have been affected by the time away and may well be emotional about the pupils moving on.

Teachers care so much about the job they do, so it is crucial that we support them with their anxiety about the children and what they might have missed out on, as well as helping them to be positive role models moving forward.

Malcolm McKinlay is headteacher at Parkgate House School in south-west London

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