Ready for the big league

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
The transition from primary to secondary can be tough. Susan Young discovers how Year 6 is being prepped for the next step
The transition from primary to secondary can be tough. Susan Young discovers how Year 6 is being prepped for the next step

There is a new subject on the curriculum for the nation's 11-year-olds now that the tests are over: acquiring the skills needed for secondary school. And some of them are not what you would expect.

"We'll be teaching the boys how to tie a tie," says Sue Seifert of Montem Primary in Islington, London. "It's part of the uniform at some secondary schools, but some of our boys have never worn one."

Small things like this, plus knowing what needs to go in your schoolbag, can make all the difference for children - easing a potentially scary adaptation to secondary school. And although the atmosphere may be more relaxed than before Sats week, Year 6 and their teachers are doing anything but coasting until the end of term.

"It's busier than the rest of the year," says Ruth Kirkup, assistant head and Year 6 teacher at Dallow Junior in Luton, Bedfordshire. "This idea that Sats have finished and that's it is wrong. But it is a good time."

Not only are primaries stepping up preparations for pupils to move to secondary school, but most are cramming in extra school trips, some kind of creative arts week, a show, a leavers' assembly, and, increasingly, a school prom.

And of course lessons go on, though approaches vary more than during the rest of the year. Some schools use transitional units that pupils complete early in Year 7, some continue themes from earlier in the year, while others do entirely new work or ensure any remaining gaps are plugged before the pupils move on.

Pupils often seem to develop faster during their last term in primary school and are clearly ready to move on by July. "When they start Year 6 they fit in a single row in the hall: by the end they need a row and a half. They've grown in all ways," says Ruth.

Taking responsibility Preparing pupils for a secondary school timetable is a popular activity, but few take it quite so far as Courthouse Green in Coventry during its Big School Week.

"All we do is give them a timetable," says teacher Vicky Bell. "They have to get themselves to the correct place with everything they need for the lesson, otherwise they get a 'detention'. The kids love it. They get a lot out of it because they have to get themselves properly organised."

Taking responsibility is also high on the agenda at tiny Kettleshulme St James Church of England primary in the High Peak of Cheshire. There, the 11 Year 6 pupils are responsible for the staging of the end-of-year production of Oliver! "This year we're doing it in the village hall so they will have to think about how to advertise it and the logistics of doing it there. They are going to have to do some problem-solving rather than just performing," says Paul Quirk, who is the head and a Year 6 teacher.

Boosting confidence

The school fete is where pupils at Little Common School in Bexhill on the south coast experiment with more responsibility. "We do a business enterprise-type task and give Year 6 the chance to run their own stall," says Louisa Michie, deputy head. "They do a bit of project managing, put a budget together and work out how they are going to make it work, and there's a small prize for the person who makes a profit."

Although curriculum work carries on, fun is high on the agenda as well. In London, the 60 pupils at Montem find that swimming lessons are back on the timetable, and rehearsals and scenery-painting for the production of Bugsy Malone are under way.

At Little Common, the children will be putting on a Shakespeare production, likely to be Hamlet, as a follow-on to work they did on the playwright earlier in the year.

As well as organising their production of Oliver!, the Kettleshulme pupils have been asked to make a life-sized Noah and some animals for exhibition in Chester Cathedral during the summer's cycle of Mystery Plays. "They will also be leaving us something to remember them by in the new school garden, like a ladybird box," says Paul.

And then there's the school prom. Little Common had one last year and isn't planning to repeat the experiment. "There will be a party for children. We called it a prom for the first time last year and we didn't like it - it was a bit of a mistake. Some of the children turned up in limos and we don't want that this year," says Louisa.

But at Montem, they love their prom. "The parents organise it with just a little help from me, and it is brilliant," says Sue Seifert. "The boys wear suits and shirts and it is a brilliant end of the year."


For some pupils, secondary school is a huge leap to make. Mary Farmer, who teaches Year 6 at The Cedars in Hounslow, a school for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, the curriculum continues with transitional literacy and maths, and a history unit on famous people. There will also be lots of fun activities such as making a go-kart.

But it is the emotional preparation that is vital, she says: "We do loads of talking about how to make them feel more secure going from a place that is known to them.

"In mainstream schools, most Year 6's are ready to move on. Some of ours are emotionally not ready to move on. It's a tough time for them in many ways and we try to make it as easy a journey as we can.

"We look at life skills, remind them of the successes they have had. It takes many of these children a long time to trust new people. We work on reminding them to give their next teacher a chance, like they did with me."

Mary says it is important to treat their fears seriously. Will they make friends, will their teachers understand them? "Going to the toilet in the new school is one. Will they be allowed to go when they need to? I often suggest taking a friend with them."

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