Hitting the ground running" is the phrase Douglas Morgan keeps using. The depute head at Hermitage Academy in the Argyll town of Helensburgh knows it's a cliche, but there's no better phrase to describe the S1 pupils' approach to work since "Hooked on Hermitage" started three years ago.
The dip in learning that occurs in first-year classes around the country is well documented: a figure of 40 per cent is often quoted for the number of pupils who lose motivation and fail to progress in the year after transferring to secondary. Transition projects have become the norm, but these tend to focus on the emotional aspects of moving up to secondary.
"The aim of Hooked on Hermitage is to prepare them not just socially, but academically," says Mr Morgan. "When we were conducting a review of the transition process, it was really apparent that we did the pastoral side very well."
Taking the view that transition is a long-term process, the P6 pupils are also included where possible. Events kick off every year with Getting Hooked on Hermitage, the launch in April at a sports event in the academy.
"The P7s meet the S6s and they have a lesson together where they learn each other's likes and dislikes and share information," says Mr Morgan. "The S6s keep that information and pass it on to the tutors, so that when they do the `settling in' interview four weeks in, they have the information on hopes and worries and tutors can use this as an agenda."
From the start of the last term of P7, all children in the 11 feeder primaries focus on work that goes into a folder to be taken to the academy and continued there. This work is used as a benchmark by their secondary teachers, with the added advantage that they go into the first year knowing what they will be working on.
The "hook" is a coat hook, which the children design in primary school. One of the first things they do in secondary is make the coat hook in metalwork, using their designs.
The project is arranged so that children from other schools who have made placing requests can do it as a homework task with their parents. If there are children going on to other schools, they do the work too and the folder goes with them.
"It allows the teachers to say, `This is what you produced', and to expect the same," explains Mr Morgan.
"The folder has their best work in it (in the final term of primary school, it's hard to keep pupils on task). It also allows teachers to refer back to this and accept nothing less. The children see that they only have one chance to make a first impression and they want to make it a good one."
Fiona Hughes is P7 teacher at Rhu Primary, where Hooked on Hermitage has had a big impact. She says it has been great: "I've been a P7 teacher for a number of years and have seen different strategies applied to transition - some quite good, some not so good. But this is a fabulous initiative."
Most importantly, the pupils love it. "They feel valued and it rules out the question of what the work in the big school will be like," says Ms Hughes. "They all know that the work that goes into the folder has to be their best first draft and that the secondary school teachers will look at it to see what they are capable of. The feedback from the kids has been 100 per cent positive. It is absolutely amazing."
She loves it, too: "I can see that it can grow and that there is room to develop. The kids are more focused. They don't have the period of time they had in the past where, after Easter, they just thought, `Oh, we're going to secondary school soon', and there was a drop in enthusiasm. Now that enthusiasm is maintained."
Hermitage Primary teacher Wendy Robinson was part of the working group that developed the project. She says she has enjoyed mixing with other primary and secondary teachers and it has provided her with more of an insight into what goes on in secondary schools.
She has also noticed that the children's work improves: "It has been a good exercise in keeping standards up. The kids like the variety of tasks. They say they like the fact that they start the project in primary school and finish it in secondary."
Once they hit secondary, the school is seeing that they are engaged faster. They are more focused on work and more at ease, completing work more quickly and at a higher level.
Sarah McCasser, who teaches English at Hermitage Academy, says: "It upped the work rate. It is useful to see their best work so that they have no chance to hang back a bit. We make sure we work to that and beyond. We use it as a piece to identify their next step, even before they have done any work for us. So we may highlight punctuation or imagery."
The social aspects of moving school, although no longer the main focus, have not been forgotten and teachers find that the fact they have completed the same work in the last term of primary makes a difference.
"I have found that it unifies the class more," says Ms McCasser. "They have all completed the same work and so they see that they have a lot in common. They have gelled quicker and made friends more easily. And it's nice for me to be able to get to know them quicker, instead of taking time to get established.
"It takes time to find a comfortable level to work at. This makes it easier. And they like the fact that I know their primary teacher."
Twelve-year-old Oliver Beattie came from Colgrain Primary to Hermitage Academy. He says: "On the first day, I was more excited than nervous. If it wasn't for Hooked on Hermitage, I would have been more nervous and panicked. It made things much easier. The first day was much less difficult than I expected - by a long shot."
As the initial project was launched before Curriculum for Excellence, 5-14 assessments were used to monitor the pace of students and when they picked up each level in secondary school.
"Compared with other years, we very quickly saw an increase in when they were picking up levels in secondary school," recalls Mr Morgan.
"We are now looking at the new Curriculum for Excellence levels but it's very early days, so it's hard to analyse. We also want to add in numeracy and modern languages and this is in the planning stage."
While the children have benefited academically as well as socially, teachers have also benefited from working together, both in the working group planning the project and latterly from the increase in visits to the academy.
"The links we have created and the quality of relationships will stand us in good stead for anything that happens with Curriculum for Excellence in the future," says Mr Morgan.
"Relationships and partnerships have been forged. They can share best practice more regularly and they are always talking and sharing ideas. It is not just the pupils who benefit. The teachers do, too. We have created a set structure and format that we will use time and time again for work across sectors."
Open night with all P67 pupils invited.
P7 pupils begin working on Hooked on Hermitage.
Visit to primary school by PT guidance, accompanied by S1 pupils who came from that school.
Getting Hooked on Hermitage transition sports event.
Continuation of Hooked on Hermitage materials in secondary classes.
"Settling in" meeting with class tutor using information gathered with S6 buddies on induction days.
Totally Hooked on Hermitage day to celebrate end of the project. Fun run and buddy ball.
PROTEIN, POEMS AND POWERPOINT
The Hooked on Hermitage project currently has three strands:
This is introduced via a healthy snack competition. In P7 all the children divide into groups where they work on an idea for a healthy snack. The best one in each school is put forward for the competition. At the first induction day they are judged, and on the second induction day the winner is announced.
In primary school, children produce a piece of work describing their dream secondary school and a related poem. These are personal pieces on their thoughts about going to the academy. In secondary school, they write letters back to the P7s in their old school.
The first-year pupils have to set up an internet profile page all about themselves, with at least five pieces of information. They each use this information for their own PowerPoint presentation on their likes and dislikes, what they are interested in and what they have been doing in the academy.
`I COULDN'T WAIT TO START'
Louise Conlan-Jackson, age 12
"I went to Hermitage Primary and at the beginning of P7, I was nervous about going to the academy. I didn't know what we would do at secondary. But through Hooked on Hermitage I made new friends at the different events. By the summer, I was excited and couldn't wait to start.
"The S6 buddies are a lot of fun. The buddy is there whenever you need to talk or just need a friend, someone you feel comfortable speaking to about your problems. They then talk to the person causing it or to a teacher.
"For my dream school, I wrote that I wanted a massive school with a large ice rink, where all the teachers do all sorts of sums. I love maths. It's my favourite subject. As we are near Loch Lomond, we had professional divers teaching all the year groups how to dive.
"The poem was fun to write. We had to use similes and put in our emotions. Looking back, I thought, `Why did I think that?'
"All the teachers are nice here. They take you more seriously than in primary school. I have made tons of new friends. I know practically everyone in S1. I feel that I have walked into a new chapter of my life and into an adventure that will continue for the next six years."