How are schools tackling transition in 2021?

Transition is always a challenging time for schools, and coronavirus has made it even harder. So how are schools reacting? We spoke to leaders about their approach

Grainne Hallahan

Transition to secondary school

Transitions are always an important part of the school calendar. The movement between key stages is a crucial changeover, with the baton of responsibility passed from one education establishment to another. 

But how effectively can we run this race when new hurdles are appearing all around us?

We spoke to leaders to hear how they’re making it work in their contexts.

The AP school

Terri Chard is assistant headteacher of Rowdeford School, a day special school in Wiltshire for students between the ages of 11 and 16 who have communication and interaction difficulties

“To prepare our incoming Year 7s, we have completed virtual tours via Zoom calls. We’ve also produced a weekly newsletter for all the incoming Year 6 families. We’ve found regular weekly contact with reduced information works better than a bombardment of information in one go.

“We have also organised five days of transition visits and these will take place in the evenings. We will invite five of the children plus parents to each evening and this means we can be socially distant. In these visits, the new students will meet the Year 7 tutor team and other key staff. We did this last year and it meant we could consider each child and then place them in the most appropriate tutor group. 

“For our Year 11 students, we are already completing travel training and life skills, as these are really important to prepare our students for life after Rowdeford. We will also start video calls with colleges as soon as they are ready. We have also decided to keep our Year 11 students until the summer holidays in July this year. 

“We will have a formal goodbye day where we will have all members of the tutor group on site. We’ve planned lots of amazing activities, such as writing letters to themselves and then burning them over a campfire, and planting a tree in the grounds, because all our tutor groups are named after native trees.

“We also have the traditional things planned, such as writing in leaver's books and getting shirts signed. Students will also have a chance to make their own artwork that will remain in the school. Oh, and according to the children, the best part is that we’ll be having pizza delivered!” 

The primary school

Sarah Watkins is an EYFS teacher at Ledbury Primary School in Herefordshire

“Transitions were already disrupted last year, so we made a video tour for parents and held a virtual meeting online to explain the routines and learning. This gave parents the opportunity to ask us questions, and gave us a chance to try and assuage some of their concerns before the term started. 

“This was all really successful, and come September the children settled in very well and there were very few tears. Parents seemed comforted by having all the information they needed and they were able to 'see' their children in class via Tapestry. All being well, we'll be taking the same approach this year.  

“Another adjustment that we will repeat will be in building the home-school partnership. In the summer term, we signed all the future foundation children up to Tapestry so that we could start to build a relationship, and they could get to know us and the classroom. Because we hadn't had the same school settling in sessions as normal, this was a way to allow the classroom to feel like a familiar place, even before they got there.

“The final piece in our transition plan took the form of a handwritten letter, which felt novel in these days of emails and Zoom meetings. We sent a letter to every family with some fun activities: it's always exciting for a child to receive post, and we had some lovely feedback about how much the children appreciated receiving them.”

The secondary school

Kate Drury is the Year 6 transition coordinator at Thurston Community College, an 11-18 split site secondary and sixth-form college in Suffolk 

“Thanks to the well-established links with our partnership primary schools, many of our Year 6 students have visited the school on numerous occasions over the past two to three years, beginning the transition journey early.

“The importance of face-to-face interaction continues to be a priority. We therefore delivered a live question-and-answer session into each of our Year 6 classrooms. Trying to enthuse students has been challenging, but we saw success when our performing arts team put together a Christmas Extravaganza, which was accessed by our Year 6 students. It involved a student-centred music and dance production, an interactive joke competition and classroom activities. 

“Following National Offer Day, students will receive a welcome pack in the post and preparations are already under way for our virtual welcome evening in a few weeks’ time.

“The next steps include the student passport (a document that allows Year 6 pupils to tell us all about themselves); an introduction to tutor groups on Google Meet; two intake days at the end of the summer term; as well as a parent information evening. 

“We have had to approach each step of the transition programme this year by simply being ready and willing to adapt to rapid changes. We know we can deliver what we have set out – we just have to be resilient and creative in the way we make it happen.” 

The sixth-form college

Shabnam Ahmed is head of Year 12 at Thurston Community College

“Our transition process for Year 11 began in September, offering Covid-safe tours after school and an informal chat with either the head of sixth form or the head of Year 12. Following this, we created several subject videos, sharing staff and student experiences. We shared an open evening video and a brilliant student-made tour recorded from their perspective. We’ve also kept the communication line strong through our monthly newsletter.  

“We are currently interviewing Year 11 – checking suitability of course choices, future aspirations and answering any questions – all conducted via Google Meet. Next term our Instagram page will post a question of the day from each subject, we will run induction lessons and set summer holiday transition work. 

“To prepare Year 13 for the next chapter, we will include tips to survive life after sixth form from ex-students in our weekly bulletins. Our academic tutoring programme will cover sessions on budgeting, alcohol awareness, living away from home and CV writing. 

“Working closely with our students' union, we will plan a well-deserved goodbye event, including an assembly and a montage of videos and photos to keep. We’ll be planning this with our students as we want to ensure they have the send-off they’ve earned.”

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Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan is Tes recruitment editor and senior content writer at Tes

Find me on Twitter @heymrshallahan

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