Turning transition on its head
For the first eight years of my teaching career, I was making a huge mistake. I was presenting maths topics to my Year 7s and 8s as if they had never seen them before. Likewise, I had little knowledge of how the students were taught in primary school.
However, a detailed look at the curriculum showed me that about 80 per cent of the content we taught our students in their first two years of secondary school had already been encountered at primary. And my experience of visiting primaries around the country suggested that, in fact, the style of teaching there could be more suited to higher-level learning.
This made me look again at transition and I made two changes. The first was to flip the model that usually happens in the summer term. Instead of Year 6 students coming into our school for taster lessons, we sent Year 7 teachers into our feeder primary schools to observe what maths was really like in Year 6. They did not go to teach in a secondary style to get the kids used to it, they went to watch how things were done and to learn from that experience.
The second alteration was more significant. After studying the learning content at primary, we reworked the content we presented in the first years of secondary. And in terms of style, we adopted the primary approach of focusing on group work and investigations. This change required some additional training for staff.
Achievement levels are significantly higher for our current Year 7 students than the previous year's cohort at the same time. Lessons feel different. There is a buzz that was perhaps not there before. And behaviour has never been better.
So, is the secret to solving the problem of transition to make secondary more like primary? Possibly. But what is certain is that secondary teachers should be more aware of the experiences their students have encountered by the time they arrive in their classrooms in September, both in terms of content and style. This is a lesson that should be learned across all educational transitions: don't look down and impose - instead, reach down, learn and adopt.
Craig Barton is an advanced skills teacher at Thornleigh Salesian College in Bolton and is a TES secondary maths adviser. Find him on Twitter @TESMaths