Resource of the week - Crossword books - At a crossroads
The arrival of a new cohort of children at secondary school is an exciting but testing time for everyone involved.
For the children, it means upheaval. They are moving from a school where they were the biggest and oldest, and where they knew all the other students and teachers by name, to new and more complex surroundings. Many will be anxious about the social side of their new environment and its greater educational demands.
For teachers, too, this can be a daunting time: every new student is an unknown quantity.
Of course, teachers and schools have a plethora of tools to aid transition. But among the most quirky and personal of these must be the Skips crossword books in mathematics and English, created by former property developer Ash Sharma for Year 7 students aged 11-12.
The books aim to remind the children of what they have learned at primary school and to prepare them for the challenges of secondary school learning.
Sharma began creating crosswords in 2011 to help his 10-year-old daughter Nicole with her homework - and to "avoid conflict and slamming doors" by making the process more fun.
He soon discovered that the struggles he had experienced were widespread. "Then," he says, "I was told by a friend in the industry that Nielsen BookScan data showed that 90 per cent of UK households have no educational books to support their children's learning."
Sharma filled the gap with a series of six Skips crossword books. These formed the basis of a new publishing company, Skips Educational, which hopes to provide every child in the UK with one of its books, helped by the sponsorship of local businesses. More titles are in the planning stages.
Sharma says that 70 per cent of teachers using the Skips crossword transition books in a pilot scheme run in 11 schools in Birmingham, England, reported that they had improved students' literacy and numeracy skills.
The books are written with teacher input and are designed to be taken home to help parents feel more involved in their child's learning. But Sharma says that they can also be used in one- to-one tuition sessions to help assess students' ability.
Anand Patel, an associate headteacher in Birmingham and author of the initial evaluation report on the pilot scheme, says: "They do seem to encourage youngsters to increase their out-of-hours learning. My daughter takes the books with her everywhere she goes. Suddenly revision is no longer a chore. The books have made a positive impact in the schools they have gone into."