Keep transition on track

For students due to join a new school or college next term, this is a time of change - and many will be finding it a daunting prospect. But you can help them prepare for the challenges ahead. Here, teachers share their tried-and-tested strategies

If someone dropped you into unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people, and asked you to take instructions from someone you had never met before, the chances are that you would struggle. Your usual confidence would be stifled, your friendly manner would falter and your ability to complete the simplest of tasks would be disrupted by your confusion about why this strange new person was talking to you in a way that you did not fully understand.

And we are adults: relatively stable and for the most part secure in our coping strategies. How do children and teenagers manage when they are going through so much change already?

We know that many do not cope well, yet we put students through this experience every few years, moving them from preschool to primary school, primary to secondary, secondary to college and college to university. Research shows that children struggle to adapt academically and socially at each stage, particularly in the move from primary to secondary.

Fortunately, these transition periods can be made easier. The focus is usually on settling students in when they arrive and these strategies have proven to be very successful. Here, however, experienced teachers reveal that the real key to successful transitions is what you do before the student even arrives.

reschool to primary

Starting school is truly a milestone, marking the beginning of a long educational journey. But there are ways to ease the move into full-time education, not only for children but for parents and teachers, too.

Organise a new parents' evening

This kind of event enables schools to provide curriculum information, allocate classes and share key facts. It also allows parents to ask questions and helps to alleviate their anxieties.

Give parents a `starting school' guide

Create a pack of essential information that can be sent out to families. This should include lunch arrangements and details of breakfast and after-school clubs, as well as some simple key words for parents to teach their children before they start school. Include a simple visual task for them to complete together - this can then be displayed in the classroom ready for when the child arrives.

Hold welcome sessions

Children will feel more comfortable starting school if they have already visited their classroom and met the teacher and teaching assistant. These sessions can be as simple as playtime in the class or as creative as a teddy bears' picnic. A mixture of events is ideal.

Visit the preschool

It is good practice for the teacher to visit the child in their preschool environment. This is an excellent opportunity to talk to their key worker and find out the child's strengths and weaknesses and to pre-empt any problems. Take some old school uniform, book bags and PE bags to offer as role-play items, especially to your feeder nurseries.

Invite nurseries in

If you are lucky enough to have a nursery on-site or close to your school, think about when you could invite them in to use your facilities, for example in weekly library sessions.

Consider the needs of the children

Parents and preschools should inform you of pupils' known medical and educational needs so you can work out how best to support these children. Also, consider keeping friendship groups from preschool together as this can be a great help during the settling-in period.

Alice Edgington teaches at St Stephen's Infant School in Canterbury, Kent. Find her on Twitter @aliceedgington


From writing their own peg labels to measuring how tall they've grown, this transition booklet is full of ideas for helping children to feel at home. bit.lyWorkThroughIt

Encourage your class to reflect on their first year of school with this activity which asks them to draw their favourite memory. bit.lyEarlyReview

This Teachers TV video aims to facilitate a smoother transition from nursery through to primary. bit.lyTransitionTalk

Primary to secondary

Secondary school is undoubtedly daunting. Everything is different, particularly the way that students are taught and the far larger social network that has to be negotiated. It's no wonder that new recruits can play up, go sick for days on end, display extreme extrovert behaviour or simply walk around in a daze brought on by a mixture of fear and awe. Fortunately, plenty of strategies can ease the transition.

Meet students

Teachers from different subjects and the head of pastoral care should visit primary feeder schools in June and July. Our head of pastoral care makes time to meet all the prospective students in their own space, while the subject teachers lead secondary school-style lessons so the students know what to expect.

Increase pre-start visits

Trips to the secondary school should not be confined to a single day. There are plenty of opportunities to get primary pupils involved in secondary school life: invite them to watch dress rehearsals of the school show, allow them to join their new school's choir, arrange meetings with their new tutor or organise an activity that brings tutor groups together. Parents can be invited to many of these events, too.

Differentiate beforehand

Catering to students' needs should not start in September. Children with additional support needs, looked-after students or those with other requirements should be given bespoke transition plans. Some may visit their new school up to four times before the autumn term, with their primary teaching assistant at first and then independently. A week of summer school can also be helpful preparation.

Be patient in September

Send out instructions before the first day to make expectations completely clear. In the first few weeks, be patient about enforcing the rules. At first, allow students to leave a few minutes early for their lessons so that they have time to get lost (and found again) between classes.

Don't stop

By December, it is easy to assume that the students know what they are doing. However, it is valuable to continue the transition with team-building sessions in tutor groups and PSHE lessons on how to be a good learner and manage your time effectively.

Katie White is an English teacher at Kingsbridge Community College in Devon


"Where are the toilets?" "Who do I tell if I'm being bullied?" Answer these questions and more by filling in this PowerPoint booklet for new students. bit.lyBookletBreakdown

These literacy and numeracy lessons aid transition while teaching useful skills. bit.lyInspiringIdeas

Find out what your new pupils really want to tell you by asking them to complete this passport about their time at primary. bit.lyReflectResource

Secondary to college

When September rolls round, further education staff sometimes forget that the new batch of students has been subject to a strict regime for more than a decade, with an organisational and social structure so ingrained that they relent to its will without even realising that they are doing so. We are reminded of this reality almost immediately, however, the first time a student calls us "Miss" or "Sir", or asks if they can go to the toilet or take their jumper off. Although this may be amusing, the sad truth is that adapting to FE can be a real struggle for students, even causing some to drop out of education altogether. Here's how to help.

Have a dedicated employee for transition

Colleges need to appoint school liaison staff who will manage this often-ignored transitional phase. They can act as the focal point for all strategies.

Make meaningful school connections

Contact curriculum leaders at schools directly and arrange meetings to discuss how you can help them to deliver lessons. Often they will be happy to discuss involvement from FE staff, which can include workshops, taster sessions or even coaching and mentoring.

Take responsibility for school lessons

Offer to deliver aspects of the school curriculum. This not only takes the strain off school teachers and resources but also enables learners to familiarise themselves with the college setting. One school we worked with didn't have the facilities to deliver dark-room photography, so the students came to our college and were taught by our team, using our resources. Consequently, we now have a strong relationship with the school and provide careers guidance to its pupils.

Get students to be your ambassadors

Current learners should be part of the process when connecting with schools. They can help to deliver lessons, undertake coaching and mentoring or simply give presentations about the college. In this way, current students can develop key skills in communication and consolidate their own learning, while future students have a first-hand account of, and contact point for, college life.

Make sure visits are not just for students

Invite teachers, parents and guardians into the college and department for a tour or taster session alongside your potential students. A young person's choice can be heavily influenced by these adults so you often need to promote the subject, its benefits and future prospects to them, too.

Natalie Jameson is head of art and design at Basingstoke College of Technology in Hampshire


College students will need to develop a new set of study skills. This booklet sets out expectations for written work. bit.lyStudySolutions

Decisions about post-16 education can affect a student's options later in life. This guide will help them to make choices. bit.lyLeavingLowdown

This report reveals how to help students with additional support needs as they enter college. bit.lySENProgress

College to university

The step up from further education to university can be problematic for a myriad of reasons. Students can be intimidated academically and socially, and some have the persistent feeling that university is "not for them". These problems can fester and lead to students dropping out, not reaching their full potential or failing to enjoy the experience. Even those who were previously full of confidence can struggle to adjust. Part of our role in FE is to ease this transition. Here's how.

Support students' planning

When it comes to higher education, students' biggest decisions are what course to study and where. They should be encouraged to attend university open days because only they can decide if they would feel comfortable living in a particular city or campus. Holding weekly workshops where students can work through each section of their university application forms with college staff is essential, as is support in the decision-making process.

Get them used to broader social experiences

The enrichment opportunities offered in FE should provide students with experiences that will not only broaden their skills but also encourage them to participate in new activities and give them confidence in expanding their friendship groups. University offers a plethora of social opportunities and FE should, too, whether it is travelling to Kenya to assist with the building of a school, chairing the college debating society or taking part in performing arts events.

Help them to become independent

FE has to teach students how to manage their own time and undertake independent study. They arrive fresh from the fully structured timetables of school. The free time they have in between lessons at college is therefore the testing ground for their ability to complete self-motivated academic tasks. Set regular homework and encourage an ethos of productive academic study. Spaces within the college dedicated to independent work are essential.

Call on universities to assist with transition

The support offered by HE institutions varies widely. Where it is effective, universities run subject taster days that include lectures, seminars, tours of the campus and the opportunity to meet current students. Some institutions also come into colleges to run workshops on finance, set up email links between FE students and undergraduates and offer mock entrance interviews. Through collaborative projects, academics can introduce students to undergraduate study, while simultaneously reassuring them that HE is accessible and a realistic plan for their future.

Hayley Ryan is head of humanities at Totton College in Southampton


This clip gives an overview of how to get the most out of a university open day. bit.lyOpenOpportunity

Give students the tools they need to make sense of their university offers with this quick video guide. bit.lyOfferOutline

This video covers everything students should know when embarking on university life, from what to pack to making the most of freshers' week. bit.lyHigherLife

Turning transition on its head

For the first eight years of my teaching career, I was making a huge mistake. I was presenting maths topics to my 11- and 12-year-olds as if they had never seen them before. Likewise, I had little knowledge of how they were taught at primary.

However, a detailed look at the curriculum showed me that about 80 per cent of the content we taught our students in their first two years of secondary school had already been encountered at primary. And my experience of visiting primaries around the country suggested that, in fact, the style of teaching there could be more suited to higher-level learning.

This made me look again at transition and I made two changes. The first was to flip the model that usually happens in the summer term. Instead of primary students coming into our school for taster lessons, we sent first-year secondary teachers into our feeder schools to observe what maths was really like there. They did not go to teach in a secondary style to get the kids used to it, they went to watch how things were done and to learn from that experience.

The second alteration was more significant. After studying the learning content at primary, we reworked the content we presented in the first years of secondary. And in terms of style, we adopted the primary approach of focusing on group work and investigations. This change required some additional training for staff.

Achievement levels are significantly higher for our current first years than the previous year's cohort at the same time. Lessons feel different. There is a buzz that was perhaps not there before. And behaviour has never been better.

So, is the secret to solving the problem of transition to make secondary more like primary? Possibly. But what is certain is that secondary teachers should be more aware of the experiences their students have encountered by the time they arrive in their classrooms in September, both in terms of content and style. This is a lesson that should be learned across all educational transitions: don't look down and impose - instead, reach down, learn and adopt.

Craig Barton is an advanced skills teacher at Thornleigh Salesian College in Bolton and is a TES secondary maths adviser. Find him on Twitter @TESMaths

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