Making parting a sweeter sorrow

18th August 2006 at 01:00
In Edinburgh, a linked cluster of two high schools and eight primaries found a combined activities day on neutral ground eased the trauma of transition and leaving friends, Su Clark reports

Transition to secondary school can be traumatic for pupils and teachers. The tears and tantrums as children discover they are being wrenched away from their friends can be stressful.

The 450 children from the eight primary schools that feed into Boroughmuir High and James Gillespie's High in Edinburgh did not appear terribly traumatised as they competed in Highland games earlier this summer.

The pupils had just discovered who would be in their class for the next year and most seemed pretty relaxed about it. The tug-of-war ended with one team on the floor, but they picked themselves up and laughed it off. The girls waiting to throw the shot were not creeping into smaller groups with matching uniforms. They were all huddled together as one, chatting as they sheltered from the chilly wind sweeping across the Meadows, a large, open parkland near the high schools.

Of course there have been tears. When eight schools feed into two, it is impossible to keep all friends together. But to make it easier, the schools organised a day of activities for all the P7s together before the three-day induction at high school. That way the tears were shed in the open air, not in the confines of a class.

"It was the headteachers' idea," explains Avril Wilson, the depute head at South Morningside Primary, who organised the cluster activity day with Lynn Clark, the active schools co-ordinator.

"At a meeting of the cluster heads last February, it was suggested we have an activity day before induction so that the children could meet their other classmates for the first time in a more relaxed, informal manner, away from the high schools, which some children find intimidating on their first day."

The two high schools are linked as a double cluster, following changes to the catchment areas, which resulted in some primaries feeding into different high schools. Over the past two years, the schools have been working together and that will continue, especially with transition.

"When we went up to secondary, you just moved up," says David Dempster, the depute head at Boroughmuir High who is responsible for S1 and S2. "But now we are more sophisticated and recognise there can be difficulties, which means we have to be more and more inventive about how to ease those difficulties. This is a good way to lessen the trauma and prepare the youngsters for the move, as it is done outside school."

Mrs Wilson was allocated the job of organising the Highland games, with Ms Clark, as an enterprise project, with each school taking on a different job, such as publicising the event, recording it, laying on refreshments, liaising with S6s and providing name badges. Each primary and high school put money towards the project, but it was up to Mrs Wilson and Ms Clark to pull it all together.

"The biggest lesson I've learnt is that it needs a big organisational team," says Mrs Wilson. "It is difficult trying to liaise with everyone if there are just two of you.

"The hardest bit was trying to get the Meadows, trying to find the right person to say it would be OK to use. I couldn't book anything until I had that agreed."

Once she had promised that not a blade of grass would be damaged, Mrs Wilson and Ms Clark were free to get on with organising the activities.

As well as Highland games, they arranged art sessions, drumming workshops, fitness and dance sessions, bowling and human table football games in giant inflatables, so that even those not keen on sport would enjoy some activities.

The high schools provided lists of classes and recruited new S6 pupils to help on the day. There were lots of volunteers.

"I've found it really helpful being here," says Julia Rampen, a sixth-year pupil at James Gillespie's High, where S6s register with the younger classes so that they can buddy the new pupils. "I think it will make it easier to talk to them when they come into the school. We have to meet them as they arrive and now we know who to look for."

Following the event, Boroughmuir High has found its S6s are also keen to help with the new pupils. "We have been inundated with volunteers," says Mr Dempster. "We've got between 50 and 60 S6s who will buddy the P7s during their induction, which means one to every three pupils."

Most of the P7s have also been happier to find out about their S1 classes away from the school.

"I'm not in a class with any of my best friends," says Bethany Sikes from James Gillespie's Primary, "but it doesn't matter. I've met lots of new girls today and they seem really nice. It's easier making friends here than in a classroom."

Planning for a repeat event next year is already under way. There is even talk of it becoming an annual event. While it won't stop the tears, the organisers are confident it will help lessen the trauma of transition.

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