Children arrive at secondary school with some idea of what it will be like. But because primary teachers are often dealing with many different secondary schools, giving specific information is tough.
This year, our Year 7s face further problems, as they are likely to have had transition events delayed or cancelled, so information may have been even less specific.
So how can we support them in the first stages of their secondary education?
1. Show compassion and empathy
Put yourselves in their shoes: understand and remember what it’s like to make such a big change. They may be concerned about getting lost, being late, having all the correct equipment, getting detention, reading a timetable, getting to know new friends and teachers, the size of the building, being the youngest in the school, learning being difficult; the list goes on. Talk to them about their daily experiences and don’t expect them to get it all at once.
By Aidan Severs: 13 books to take pupils out of their comfort zone
2. Get to know them
Relationships are key to children having a great move to secondary school. They are used to having deep relationships with a small number of staff members, so you may need to be ready to provide that first point of contact, to be the adult they know they can come to when they need. Try to find out everything there is to know: from their home situation, to their interests, to the fact they missed most of a year after being in hospital – incidental conversations can reveal so much, so try to find time for these. Ultimately, it is your job to make pupils feel like they belong in your school.
Look out especially for children with special educational needs and disability, or social, emotional and mental health needs, children with past low attainment or with safeguarding concerns, those with Covid-linked needs (for example, mental and physical health struggles), children who didn’t access remote learning and those who are new to the area, children new to English or who are coming alone from their primary school. But look out for all children, even those who have displayed no signs that transition might be hard.
3. Model everything
Model the school’s systems and routines down to the minutiae – it’s almost certain that these will be different from pupils’ primary school. Model these as many times as is needed – it’s unrealistic to expect them to get it straightaway. Use guided practice and remember that putting the effort in at the start will pay off in the long run.
4. Gradually release responsibility
As the months ago by, model less and begin to guide practice more. Think about the mantra “I do, we do, you do, you do alone” but remember to take a long-term view because transition should last at least a year. Even though you might be aiming for some semblance of independence, you shouldn’t be afraid to re-model – when children are anxious and overloaded, it is very likely that they will genuinely forget what, exactly, is expected of them.
5. Be patient – be very patient
Remember how different things are for them and continue to be empathetic. Continue to take the long-term view and remember that, if things appear to be going “wrong”, it is not your failing or theirs; if they are struggling with the newness, it is not a failing at all. In fact, this is just part of the learning process – your job is to guide them to effectively learn from their mistakes.
6. Identify newness throughout the year
Children may settle into the first half term, but the next half term brings its own "newnesses", as will the following ones. In fact, each new term is something new and there are mini transitions throughout the year. Try to be mindful of the specific newnesses they are facing at each point, informing children of how things might change and providing support for how they should approach these changes. And, at the risk of banging the same drum too often, be ready to get back to modelling and being empathetic.
7. Assess everything (not just assessments)
Formal assessments might not give an accurate picture if children are anxious about all the newness. Be ready to assess informally on a regular basis in order to get a more accurate picture of the children you teach. Use every piece of evidence available to you – attitude, demeanour, involvement, output – and use this information to inform you about how and what to teach them, and how to treat them. It’ll definitely help to keep notes as so many new children will come through your doors.
8. Aim high
Try to spend a bit of time getting to know the primary curriculum and the expectations that key stage 2 teachers have. If you are supporting pupils emotionally, they can cope with difficult work. Children will be used to doing more than just learning new facts, so don’t forget opportunities for using and applying.
9. Make the most of any reading time
Many primary schools are reading-rich environments and children are used to being around books. It is true that some children will need further reading development and it is really worth the investment, as reading is key to most other learning in secondary school. And don’t forget the fact that people who read for pleasure are more successful in life – surely this is something that it’s worth giving some time over to, so work out where you can make opportunities for reading and book talk in your lessons, regardless of subject.