Virtual transition: how we’re welcoming Year 7 remotely

How do you introduce new students to a school during closures? One school in Wales has found a digital solution
5th June 2020, 12:01pm

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Virtual transition: how we’re welcoming Year 7 remotely

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/virtual-transition-how-were-welcoming-year-7-remotely
St Davids School, Pembrokeshire

During school closures, there are many things that leaders have successfully managed to recreate in a virtual environment. Lessons have been reimagined and job interviews have been conducted via Zoom. 

Giving Year 6 students a real taste of how their new school looks and feels isn't something that easily translates, on the other hand.

And yet the move the move between primary and secondary is a vital time, both in terms of wellbeing and educational development. That's why Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi, the St Davids Peninsular All Age School in Pembrokeshire have turned their Year 6 transition experience digital.

Year 6 transition a 'rite of passage'

"The summer term is absolutely key for transition," says headteacher David Haynes. "It's a rite of passage that every Year 6 child is entitled to. It's a stage in their lives that they remember.

"I don't want to use the word anxiety, but they'll have questions and they'll be thinking about things."

Haynes and his team are looking forward to welcoming 87 new students to their secondary school in September. While 36 of these will come through from their own primary, the rest will come from further afield, including two feeder primaries and 15 others across the county.

This year's transition began as usual, with an initial day in school before Christmas. But when UK schools closed their doors to the majority of students back in March, the plan for transitioning Year 6 students was no longer viable.

"In the summer term students would normally come in for a transition day," says Haynes. "They'd be involved in taster lessons, they may be in their form groups, they may meet their form tutor. We also have a summer concert which would normally be held at the cathedral, where primary children come in during the morning and work with the music department and then put on a concert that evening."

Not wanting to leave this years' cohort in limbo, Haynes and his team looked to find a solution.  

Creating a virtual transition 

"We didn't want the children who are coming to us to feel as though they'd missed out," says Haynes, "in fact we want to make sure they feel special as if they're part of something really special."

To make this happen, Haynes got in touch with a local media company and asked them to come in to film a virtual tour of the school during closure.

"We filmed me welcoming them in to the building," he explains, "showing students where they'll get out of the car or off the bus on their first day.

"We got the receptionist, Mrs Styles, in on the day and she spoke to the children. They then followed me on a tour around the building and we met key staff, such as the youth worker and the HLTA that works in the student support centre."

Even with all of this accomplished, Haynes and his team aren't finished yet.

"We're also in the process now of interviewing the bus drivers and are looking at going on virtual bus journey, because these are the sorts of things that worry children on the first day," he says.

Alleviating first-day worries

As well as the staff and the building, Haynes has found ways to help students feel part of the community at St Davids, with some high-profile ex-students such as as musician David Gray and 'Game of Thrones' actor Jerome Flynn all recording messages for the students.  

As for how they are communicating all of this information, St Davids has used a platform called Spongy Elephant, which is used across the Pembrokeshire local authority, to pull everything together and share it with students.

Head of phase Chris Butcher, who alongside assistant headteacher Rachel Thomas, has overseen most of the project, explains how using the interactive tool has helped make the sharing of this information more engaging.

"For children who struggle to access a lot of text, having short little videos is easier and it keeps them entertained and engaged as well," he says.  

The staff are also in the process of launching their annual transition project through this tool, and have kicked off plans to run a live virtual transition day.

It's still not clear exactly what return to school will look like in Wales, says Haynes, although it has recently been announced that pupils will return on 29 June. 

"[But] whatever it looks like, we're able to begin the process with a virtual tour on a platform that is available to all of our new students," he says.

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