The Conversation: Secondary transition
A: I notice that transition is often "done to" primary schools, with the emphasis on the secondary school making demands. I believe that a partnership needs to be nurtured and that all my staff have a lot to learn from key stage 2 teachers. Last year, I sent all my teachers and assistants to spend a day in a Year 5 or 6 class, which was very fruitful.
Q:What was the thinking behind that?
A: Education is a continuum. The way a secondary school day is structured is very different from a primary school day, but the fundamentals of learning remain. In my experience, it is too easy for a secondary teacher to have little regard for the student's prior learning, other than as a set of KS2 scores. To experience a day in KS2 at first hand reveals things about much more than curriculum content. We could see the strength in the close relationship built up between the pupil and the class teacher; how much responsibility pupils were given; the quality of work produced; the work ethic in the KS2 classroom.
Q: It must have been a big commitment - was it worth it?
A: It was. I placed 70 members of staff in a KS2 class. It was well worth it. It created a talking point across the school long afterwards. The vast majority had really positive experiences and learnt a lot from it and it gave the leadership team a lot to work with for future planning.
Q: What difference has it made this September?
A: Many changes have taken place, although I couldn't be as radical as I would have hoped. We restructured our school day to reduce the number of teachers seen by pupils in a day and to remove one lesson changeover. We restructured the curriculum in Year 7 to reduce the number of teachers and lessons. Instead of having separate history, geography, RE and personal, social and health education teachers, we now have just one humanities teacher to cover those four subjects for each class. We also combined English and drama.
We set up a "competency"-based curriculum focusing on common skills used across the curriculum and we have planned curriculum enrichment weeks throughout the year.
In addition, to help make Year 7 feel like a "school within a school' we gave them their own toilets, locker space and social area for break and lunchtimes. The impact seems to be a smoother transition, with the students feeling very settled far more quickly than we have found in previous years.
Q: Would you do it again?
A: I would do it every year if I could afford the professional development days. I certainly plan to do it every three years or so.
Q: And what about the class you visited?
A: I gained a lot from my own day in a Year 6 class. Most of that was similar to what others noted, including the strength and depth of the relationship between the teacher and the class and how that was used as a mini-timeout when the class became restless after an hour of numeracy. I was also amazed at how they managed to stay focused for long periods on different activities.
Finally, the amount of independence and "freedom" to go off to various parts of the school to get on with work was revealing, especially when compared with the relatively little we used to give Year 7s.
Huw Thomas is headteacher of Emmaus Catholic and CofE Primary School in Sheffield.