Transition is a really important time.
Just as the nation’s pre-teens are hitting puberty and all that comes with it, they're uprooted from primary school and all they’ve ever known, and dropped into a secondary school about 10 times bigger, with hundreds of older students, a cast of teachers that changes every hour and mind-boggling processes such as using a fingerprint to buy lunch.
Last year’s transition was probably the hardest on record. Knee-deep in Covid restrictions, with very little idea of when or how things were going to change, schools did their best both to prepare children for what was to come and to settle them in once they arrived. Many innovative new practices sprung up out of necessity.
How to smooth students' transition into secondary schools this year
So what will smooth that journey this year? Here are the things we need to consider to ensure that transition in 2021 is as good as it can be:
1. Transition events will need to be innovative
Transition day, when Year 6 children get to visit their new school for a day, is still an uncertainty this year. The government guidance on transition days is inconclusive:
“You should complete thorough risk assessments before running transitional, taster and open days to ensure that they are run in line with your system of controls and align with the advice contained within this guidance and the roadmap out of lockdown.”
I suspect that many schools will not be able to risk-assess within the current guidelines to allow these to happen.
Instead, schools will need to think outside of the box, in many cases using online events and content alongside more individual visits, particularly for vulnerable children, including those who are coming on their own without a group of friends.
2. Primary schools need to prepare Year 6s better than ever
Teachers at primary school have the benefit of knowing the Year 6s well. This relationship is a safe starting point for discussing the emotional aspects, as well as some of the practical considerations, of moving onwards and upwards.
Once children get to secondary school and have to start forming new relationships, they may have missed the opportunity to ask a trusted person all the things they really want to know, and new bonds with secondary staff will take time, which could result in important questions going unanswered.
Therefore, primary teachers should take this chance to train children up in some important skills, such as asking an unknown adult for help, in advance of their move.
3. Be aware of the two disrupted years
The current Year 6 cohort have missed out on face-to-face teaching during Year 5 and Year 6.
This is a consideration that should be applied to every aspect of school life in Year 7. Academically, there is content that they’ve only covered via remote learning; socially, they haven’t had the best chance at developing mature relationships; emotionally, there are many potential issues that may be affecting them, from loss of a family member to increased anxiety.
4. Acknowledge hard work
The children have worked hard academically to switch to new models of learning, and they’ve worked hard mentally and emotionally to cope with months at a time spent in lockdown, amidst ever-changing rules.
While there has certainly been a negative impact on children’s lives, there have been positives, too – it’s not all doom and gloom. Many children have discovered new passions and learned new skills; some have enjoyed the increased family time and the slower pace of life.
It will be very easy, come September, for schools to assume the worst and run with a deficit model for learning, focusing on all the things that the new Year 7s can’t do. This will help no one.
Instead, planning and teaching should take into consideration the experience of the children over the past two years and make a sincere attempt at meeting the children where they are. Flexibility and an acceptance of reality will be key here as children coming from a range of feeder schools may have had different experiences.
5. It’s not too late to collaborate
Primary staff should ensure that they have had the chance to pass on all the information they think secondary schools will need to help to settle their new cohort of Year 7s.
Secondary schools should be seeking out this information, too. More than ever we need to take the opportunity to help secondary staff to get to know who will be walking through their doors in the autumn term.
Information about additional needs, safeguarding, academic achievements, friendships, personality, likes and dislikes should all be passed on. And if secondary staff can get into primaries, not only to meet children, but to see them in action in class, and to speak to teachers about the curriculum they’ve been taught, even better.
And, while handing over information, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think forward to next year and plan in some other even more collaborative activities in advance.
Aidan Severs is deputy head of a primary school in the North of England