How to make the transition to secondary an online hit

What’s the best way to support pupils who are transitioning between schools? Dan Du-Heaume looks at how taking things online can help you build your very own internet success story
25th August 2017, 12:00am
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How to make the transition to secondary an online hit

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/how-make-transition-secondary-online-hit

In the summer of 2015, I was offered the job as lead for transition at our large secondary comprehensive school and, to be brutally honest, I really wasn’t feeling it. Having spent a few years as a head of year in the upper school, holding mature and meaningful conversations on a daily basis, the thought of dealing with Year 6s really didn’t inspire me.

But when I started the job, I soon realised how much potential there was in the role and how much scope I had to change things for the better. Two years later, I hope the improvements we have made are starting to bear fruit.

When I took the role, there seemed little to do. Based on the feedback from the feeder schools and anecdotal evidence from my conversations with parents, everything seemed great. But over time, I dug a little deeper and could see that not only did we need to improve the way we told new students about us, but we were also failing to promote our school properly to prospective students who were deciding which secondary school they wanted to attend.

Analysing the problem, it was clear that to run an “outstanding” programme of transition I needed to be in the feeder primary schools, meeting the Year 6s, spending time with their teachers and collating as much information as possible so I could then pass it on to the colleagues at my school. But let’s be honest, submitting for cover at a time when teaching shortages were on the rise was never going to be a popular choice and trying to organise time out of school was tough - and rightfully so. What I needed was a way of supporting Year 6 transition without me physically going to the schools and talking to the pupils.

So I created our very first transition website. I say “I”, but I must take my hat off to our fantastic website administrator, Graham. Without his expertise and patience, we would not have been able to launch it at all.

So what did we do?

Making the transition

We already had a fully functioning virtual learning environment (VLE) that our pupils could log on to and complete homework, along with a multitude of other tasks. What we did first was copy the format of the students’ page for our transition website. I then had to decide what to put on that page to help the Year 6s.

I am lucky to chair a primary engagement working party, which helped to populate the website. Based on the topics highlighted, we were able to select tasks that were easy to complete and would be beneficial to both the new students and their teachers.

A good example of this was for the English team. The idea was to give a reading list of recommended age-appropriate books to the Year 6s, and get the students to upload a book review. When they had submitted their review to the website, it was emailed to the lead in English, who, in turn, published it in our bi-weekly newsletter (which gets sent back to the primary schools). We had so many reviews in our first weeks after the launch that we had to choose only the very best to be published.

Another great example - and success - was our expressive and performing arts task. Our fantastic Year 10 dancers choreographed a short dance that was filmed and uploaded to the website. The dancers went to our feeder schools to perform the dance to the Year 5 and 6 students. Each of the feeder schools was then set a challenge of organising a dance competition to choose the best four dancers, who would come to a workshop run by the Year 10 dancers at our secondary. The interest was huge and the website hits went through the roof. Having the site allowed us to work innovatively and really reduced the impact on cover, but maximised the interest in the school.

Aside from the tasks, I also wanted to make the information that we sent out to students more interactive. As part of the previous transition packs, which were physically sent out, there were maps, photos of key staff, introductions to current timetables and other “key” information. I really wanted to bring this into the digital age and have the information accessible online.

So we asked the senior prefect team to design and take the lead on an interactive map button. They jumped at the chance to help. We realised that having pictures available on an interactive map would support our more vulnerable students and help to reduce any anxieties they might have. Along with the map are introductions from key transition staff. These include our head of Year 7, Senco, parental support adviser and assistant head, with each introduction accompanied by their picture and a short description of their job role.

A whole-school effort

We are currently developing a short video introduction from our headteacher to add further weight and importance to the website.

What has been really fantastic about the whole experience is that current students have been at the heart of the work. Also, the buy-in from staff has been excellent. Rather than being just one person’s job, transition has become a team effort that includes everyone currently in the school shouting about how great it is.

Has it worked to smooth transition and increase applications to the school, though? Well, we launched the website just before the Easter holidays this year and the feedback we received was excellent. Our headteacher and head of Year 7 led assemblies in all the feeder primary schools, introducing key aspects of the website and directing the Year 6 and Year 5 pupils to log on. The feedback we received in the first few days was really positive and the website hits have been consistently good. We have seen a notable rise in intake from the previous year as well, with a 30 per cent rise in numbers. Whether those students will be more comfortable when they arrive, we will know in just a few weeks’ time.

Moving forward, there are plenty more ideas in the pipeline, most notably a question and answer blog. We’re envisioning an area where students can submit questions to the head of Year 7, have them verified and then answered in the public forum. If one Year 6 has a question, you can be sure 25 others will have the same one.


Dan Du-Heaume is a teacher and transition lead at Brighton Hill Community School in Basingstoke. He tweets @dan_duheaume

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