A collaborative effort to break down barriers between Welsh primary and secondary schools has helped anxious pupils embrace the move to Year 7 with enthusiasm, finds Teresa Saunders
A poll of 11-year-olds during their first months in secondary school, carried out by Estyn inspectors, revealed some surprising facts. The youngsters' greatest worries seemed to be about too much homework, too few lockers and long lunch queues, rather than bullying, unfamiliar lessons and strict teachers.
Such results are an endorsement of a new and exciting phase in Welsh education, triggered by the Welsh Assembly Government's commitment to a seamless transition for pupils from key stage 2 to key stage 3. The new ethos of collaboration between primary and secondary teachers has led to the creation of ground-breaking teaching and learning strategies that have had a positive impact on all aspects of education in Wales.
Gone are the days when Year 7 teachers repeated much of the work that had already been covered at the top of primary school. Gone are the days of Year 7 "fall-back" as children became bored with lessons and learning.
Gone, too, are the days when primary teachers insisted that they taught children, while secondary teachers declared that they taught subjects.
The last few days of May are particularly busy for Jane Dean, headteacher of Nantmel Church in Wales primary school. She's getting her 11-year-olds ready for an exciting week at nearby Llandrindod high school to start their Year 7 curriculum. Close liaison between the schools means that the children have already met many of their new teachers who, in turn, have received valuable information about pupils' abilities, achievements and problems.
In the classroom, the children are working on specially created Year 67 bridging units in all subjects. They have also been introduced to a common marking policy as well as a standard language of learning - covering technical, grammatical and numerical terms - to ensure consistency and understanding on their journey from one school to another.
"After their week at the high school, the children come back to primary school until the end of the summer term - but they continue working on the Year 7 element of their bridging units," explains Mrs Dean. "However, some of them have settled in so well at the high school, they would actually prefer to stay there," she adds.
Meanwhile, at Llandrindod high school, staff and pupils are gearing up for June 1. That is the first day of the primary pupils' induction week - and it now also marks the first day of the new school year for all the pupils when everyone moves up into their new year groups.
"This can be done because Year 11 pupils are out of school taking external examinations," explains Phil Thompson, Llandrindod high school's transition co-ordinator. "By moving everyone up at this time, Year 7 teachers become free to concentrate on the new intake. During their week, the children get to know the timetable, their new classmates, where each lesson is held and what homework to expect. It also means that children in Years 8 and 9 take on new curriculum challenges instead of winding down towards the summer holidays and GCSE classes have the benefit of valuable extra teaching time."
The new-style Year 67 bridging units are designed by teachers from both phases. Teaching strategies have been strengthened by primary and secondary teachers working together to ensure a challenging and motivating learning experience.
The abolition of Sats in Wales has helped these initiatives to flourish, freeing primary teachers and pupils to use the final primary school year in innovative ways. The new skills tests, starting in 2008, won't compromise this situation, either - they are to be taken in Year 5.
Further north, in Welshpool, meetings, inset and training days involve infant, primary and secondary teachers and play a vital part in breaking down transition barriers, maintaining continuity of teaching and learning and preventing damaging "fall-back" during Year 7.
Carol Howe, assistant headteacher of Welshpool high school, who is responsible for transition, stresses the need for cross-phase co-operation between teachers. Bridging units have been devised for each subject and the children start work at the beginning of Year 6 in books provided by the high school that will follow them through Year 7.
"The units must allow pupils to meet increasing challenges as they progress," she says, "and the Year 7 element must present new dimensions.
In maths, a study involving fractions and decimals moves into algebra; in literacy, the creation of a leaflet or pamphlet on a specific subject leads into work on presenting that information in different ways such as drama or speaking and listening; in science, investigations into living things develops into research into Welsh ecology."
At Trewern primary school, Year 6 children have a two-day induction at Welshpool high school.The first day is organised as a normal six-period teaching day to familiarise children with the school's timetable and organisation, while on the second, children spend more time getting to know teachers and new classmates by taking part in challenging science or technology events.
High school teachers as well as older pupils are regular visitors to the school. For headteacher Colin Jenkins, one of the most successful initiatives is that where sixth-formers following the Sports Leadership Course come to the school to help coach and train Year 6 pupils.
Mr Jenkins explains: "The relationship with our secondary school is extremely good. We feel very much at home in the high school - and they are always welcome here. Successful transition policies bring teachers and pupils from all phases together and create an atmosphere of trust and support which has a positive impact throughout the whole school system."
WALES EDUCATION 2005 ADDYSG CYMRU
Estyn inspectors will be presenting a session on key stage 23 transition in Wales with examples of successful initiatives and good practice on Friday, May 27 at 3pm.
Estyn, HM Inspectorate for Education in Wales, tracked Year 7 pupils through the transition in Powys and Pembrokeshire to discover their views on their experiences at high school.
Sport; Extra-curricular activities; New friends; Recognising teachers they have met in primary school; Art and music lessons; "Setting" so that work is pitched at the right level; Top dislikes
Moving about too much; Too much homework; Carrying heavy books around all day; Long lunch queues; Nothing to do during break; Welsh lessons; Most surprised by
Very long mornings; Not as much bullying as they had expected; Teachers mostly friendlier than they had imagined; Homework not spread evenly through the week; Better school meals than at primary school; Repetition of work in geography and IT - but not in other subjects; What would you tell your friends about moving to secondary school?
Not as bad as you think it is going to be.
What would you warn your friends about?
Too much homework
For further details:Aiming for Excellence in key stage 3 (published by EstynACCACWelsh Assembly Government 2002).Bridging the Gap: Developing and using bridging units to support effective transition from key stage 2 to key stage 3 (published by ACCAC EstynWelsh Assembly Government 2004).Websites Estyn: www.estyn.gov.uk ACCAC: www.accac.org.ukWelsh Assembly Government: www.wales.gov.uk