Pupils will no longer be left feeling lost in transition to secondary school under new policies. Felicity Waters reports
Projects to help primary school children at risk of disaffection to cope with the move to secondary school could lead the way for all schools across Wales by 2007.
Next month the Welsh Assembly will publish a consultation document setting out how all local education authorities will be required to have an official "transition" policy to help smooth the way for children going to secondary school.
But out-of-hours learning projects in 10 of the 22 Welsh education authorities, which brought together pupils and teachers from Years 6 and 7, have already shown results.
"Pupils' and parents' fears about transition are being allayed and there is a noticeable raising of pupils' self-confidence and self-esteem," according to a review of the Assembly-funded projects carried out by inspection agency Estyn earlier this year.
Activities like drama productions and outdoor adventure weekends had a positive effect on children's attitudes, according to inspectors, and also developed key skills such as speaking and listening to help them adapt to the key stage 3 curriculum.
Standards often slip as children move from primary to secondary school, and concerns remain about results in Wales at KS3.
But education officials from Torfaen, which took children on adventure activities, said their transition project - featured at a national out-of-hours learning conference in Cardiff earlier this month - had benefited both pupils and teachers. Torfaen deliberately targeted children who were at risk of disengaging from the learning process.
"We selected groups of children in Y6 and 7, trained the Y7 children in peer mentorship, and took them and all their teachers on a rock-climbing, canoeing and sailing weekend," said Janis Davies, of Torfaen LEA.
"Everyone worked together and got to know each other which meant it was less of an ordeal when they moved up to the big school."
The "Symud Ymlaen" out-of-hours transition projects were funded by the Assembly from 2002-3 to develop best practice and to encourage other schools to develop their own initiatives. But despite their success, Estyn raised concerns about how such projects would be run in the future without sustained funding.
It will be three years before transition initiatives are required in all schools. And this cannot be soon enough, according to Brian Harrison-Jennings, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, who described transition support as absolutely vital.
"A recent study showed that pupils in Y6 who were not prepared for the move demonstrated more anxiety than those who were given support," he said.
"They brought their fears and doubts to their new school and these feelings persisted well into the first term.
"It is essential to have some coherence between the last year of primary and the first year of secondary, otherwise the disruption can significantly affect attitudes well into school life."
A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly government said all LEAs will have to have transition plans in place by September 2007, ready for pupils moving to secondary schools the following autumn.
The long time-scale will allow the changes to dovetail with changes to KS2 and KS3 assessment proposed as a result of the Daugherty review of key stage tests.
Blaenau Gwent council already has a transition policy in place for all its schools which includes numeracy and literacy initiatives that run throughout the summer holiday and into the first term of secondary school.
"Secondary and primary school teachers have sat in on each other's classes and it gives them a much better idea of standards," said Marjorie Sheen, the council's primary school improvement adviser.
"And because children know what to expect in secondary schools they are less intimdated and far better prepared."
Lyn Clement, of the Welsh Secondary Schools' Association, said transition preparation was vital.
"The move from primary to secondary school is a significant one for children, who have to adapt from having one teacher to maybe 10 or 12.
"Schools must ensure that there is continuity in terms of learning experience and progression."
A spokesman for Estyn said: "Support for transition is all about improving the partnerships between secondary and primary schools. The idea is that children's learning is enhanced through sharing information about what pupils have already covered."