'Children struggle in Year 7 as no one in secondary knows a child as well as we do in primary'

Deputy headteacher Michael Tidd argues that we do not do enough around transition to ensure children are able to thrive in their new environment

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The last few weeks of primary schooling are a very strange time. With roughly five weeks for most schools until the final assembly arrives, structure starts to disintegrate, no week seems to pass without some event to celebrate, and the timetable for ownership of the hall space becomes a brutal battleground.

For all the appearance of “winding down”, the term can actually be more hectic than any other. Transition projects abound, play rehearsals dominate, maths lessons get pushed from pillar to post, and before you know it we’re days away from the big finish and everyone’s exhausted.

And then we send them off, never to be seen again.

The first few days of secondary school are always a joy to them: a late start on the first day, no big kids around, and for the first week at least all the teachers are pulling out the stops to present their "fun" lessons.

By the time reality has kicked in, primary school seems a long way away, and children do struggle. The thought will cross their mind that, maybe, they could report their troubles back to their old Year 6 teacher. But that must seem babyish. Not the thing to do at all.

But the trouble is: who do they tell?

Building up a relationship with your class is one of the joys of primary teaching. Even those classes from hell – because goodness knows they exist – somehow manage to work their way into your conscience by the year’s end. You know every foible, every whim… and every silent call for help imaginable among those souls.

Who knows them best at secondary school? Indeed, who knows them at all?

'Sent off into the wilds'

At best, they’ll have a common form teacher five times per week, for a brief and unplanned registration session, before being sent off into the wilds of subject departments.

Of course, it’s a necessary progression, but couldn’t we make handover better than it is? Is the best we can manage really a hastily arranged meeting in the summer term? The passing of brief notes, and a 30-minute lecture from the head of house about the acceptability of various types of footwear when they enter the hallowed halls of secondary education?

In many – maybe most – cases, a child will meet his new form tutor for a day before the summer holidays, often struggling to remember a name by the time the end of term comes.

Naturally, there are limitations. And secondary colleagues will be quick to point out that they might be receiving pupils from 10 different schools. But is that a good enough excuse?

Many Nursery or Reception class teachers will make a home visit to the family of every new starter as the new year dawns. And while it’s true that this transition is not quite the same, might it not be something secondary schools could learn from?

As for family links, yes, those children will only be hours into Year 7 before their parents are far too much of an embarrassment to be welcomed into school. But an invite extended to Year 6 colleagues from the feeder primaries could bring such a welcome connection to so many, particularly those who find it hard to find their feet.

We need to work harder at transition. Children are being left to struggle and there is so much we could do to help. But we don't.

Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire

The 1 July issue of TES is a transition special issue. There will be 18 pages of transition tips, strategies, analysis and a cover feature that asks whether secondaries need to adopt the primary model.

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