WHEN A cohort of new Year 7s arrive at Ysgol Uwchradd Tregaron, they already feel at home - even though many live more than 20 miles away.
For the past three years, pupils in feeder primaries have been bussed every fortnight from their tiny schools in remote Ceredigion for a day at the 368-pupil school.
It has been done to ensure the move to key stage 3 in one of Wales's smallest secondaries does not come as a shock. The head says the transition scheme, also set up to provide continuity in learning and boost academic performance, has had an amazing knock-on effect on the school's latest KS3 Sats results. More than 70 per cent of the pupils recorded above the core subject indicator (CSI) - almost 20 percentage points higher than when the scheme began.
Gwenallt Llwyd Ifan devised the scheme after his experience travelling to the same school from a neighbouring village as a child.
"It was really frightening," he said. "Many of the children who come here are from schools that are tiny. One has fewer than 10 pupils. This way children get used to the school before they arrive and staff are prepared for the pupils' strengths and weaknesses before they come."
Mr Ifan said fitting classes into the timetable was not easy and that arranging transport was also a nightmare. But the benefits have been felt by both teachers and pupils. Primary teachers are able to introduce pupils to laboratories and specialist modern foreign language teaching for the first time, while secondary colleagues learn more about new pupils'
academic and pastoral needs.
"Many of the primary teachers felt isolated working in tiny schools with just one or two teachers where they had to do everything," said Mr Ifan, who chairs the Tregaron catchment area education steering group, which is looking at how standards can be improved across the area.
The group has pioneered a primary reading programme to combat low literacy levels among pupils entering secondaries. But the KS2 to KS3 transition programme is central to the developments.
The scheme is proving so successful that parents are applying to send their children to the school from outside the catchment area, which is approximately 350 square miles.
Last year, Welsh inspectorate Estyn said more needed to be done to improve transition schemes. The Assembly government's 2002 KS3 strategy document "Aiming for Excellence" advised schools to provide better continuity of education from primary to secondary school. All schools in Wales must have transition plans in place by this academic year.