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Organised chaos helps ease the anxiety of first day fears

The idea of turning our junior school into a secondary for a day first occurred during a parents evening. An anxious Year 6 parent asked me how I was going to prepare the children for the organisational challenge of being a new pupil in a large secondary school.

The notion of planning a "chaos day" came after a meeting with our neighbouring secondary school. Although all Year 6 pupils attend an induction day in their chosen secondary, it did not address their anxieties.

The head of Year 7 at our main receiving school responded to our request for ideas about what we could do to make the transition to secondary school less traumatic. A circular to all heads of department revealed the key factors which prolonged the "settling in" period. These were pupils' difficulties with organising their books and stationery and their inability to read and understand a simple school map and timetable.

Armed with a full complement of willing colleagues we organised the chosen day with our own experiences of "first day fear" scenarios.

An agreed timetable of various subject specialities was released for staff to peruse and choose and the organisational work was complete; now for the fun!

Wednesday best suited our plan and each lesson was given a 40-minute session. My fellow Year 6 teacher, Bella Marshall, and I taught Years 3-5 for the day. In the meantime the other staff had prepared lessons in their chosen specialist subject (a whole class session complete with homework) to each of the two Year 6 classes.

As the morning progressed, breaktime allowed Year 6 to reflect on the day so far. Some had eased their anxiety with the notion of "collective responsibility" and either took to leading the class to where they thought they should be or followed behind. The main problem they confronted was, as predicted, in personal organisation of bags and their contents.

By lunchtime half of the staff had already played their role in the "secondary day" and returned to their own classes. The afternoon sessions were very similar to the morning. Those who had difficulties in their personal organisation had their fair share of problems. A panic run to find their group or last minute borrowing usually solved their predicament. By the end of the day everyone was back with their own teacher to express their thoughts on the day. A wide range of opinion circulated with the common cries of "too much homework", "having to carry all your books with you" and "it wasn't my fault we were late". The majority appeared to have enjoyed the variety of lessons and working with different staff.

The staff also had positive memories. Teaching in this way allowed them to get to know Year 6 better, added variety to their teaching routine and provided a chance to practice a specialist subject of their choice.

Children and staff hailed the day as a success. This has encouraged us to plan similar days on a term basis rather than leaving to the end of the summer term.

Richard Butler teaches at Lodge Farm Junior School, Stevenage, Herts

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