Consider this a telling-off over our transition farrago

15th June 2018 at 00:00
When dealing with transition, secondary schools unnecessarily burden primaries – and vice-versa. Can’t we all just sort this out by talking more, asks Michael Tidd

Right, we need to talk honestly about transition.

Yes, I’m looking at you, secondary colleagues. But don’t think you can sit back too smugly if you’re on the primary side either.

This is one of the most important things that happens for our students, and we owe one another a duty to be the best that we can by them.

Let’s start with our secondary leaders. We get that you’re busy. We understand that transition isn’t the only thing on your long list of jobs. We realise that you might be dealing with tens of schools. We understand all that because it’s the same for us.

That’s why it’s not good enough to ring the day before you want to visit, and it’s not reasonable to send a five-page form to be filled in about each child. Especially not when you’re asking for information that will be transferred to your school electronically already.

And while we’re at it, if you are going to ask us to tell you about the children in our classes, then you need to be prepared to do something with the information we give you.

Neither of us looks good when, come October, parents are complaining about why teachers aren’t aware of needs that we have clearly shared.

When you come to meet with us, by all means write down the key points, but more importantly, think about who you need to share that information with. We know that secondary schools are big places, but we rely on you to get the information to the right places.

Now, primary colleagues, we need to bear all of that in mind.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

The person you meet for transition meetings won’t necessarily teach your pupils, and they won’t have the capacity to care for them like you do. And that’s fine: that’s part of growing up. But it also means that we need to do the job of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

The transition lead doesn’t need to know every child’s life story, and it doesn’t make any difference to them that they’ve made a lot of progress this year. They won’t be dealing with the child you had last September – they need to know about the one who’s leaving you now.

Sometimes that means being brief. Many of your children are happy, confident and well-prepared for secondary school. That’s a credit to you and the work you’ve put in all year. In cases like that, don’t give their full life history. Just tell them they should be fine, and move on.

Save your time – and their headspace – for the children who need more attention. That’s not to treat the others as if they’re unimportant, it’s just realism.

One secondary leader might be responsible for 300-400 new pupils; knowing that Sophie loves cats or that Jacob was a bit of a monkey on the Year 4 trip is never going to register as being important.

We also need to be realistic. Think about how difficult it is sometimes to organise a seating plan in your own classroom.

With some classes that I’ve taught, there were so many children that didn’t work well together that it began to feel like a logic puzzle.

Now imagine scaling that up tenfold. For every pairing you suggest – or every group you think should keep apart – it’s worth remembering that another 10 teachers will be giving a similar list over.

Soon enough, you are stuck with an impossibleto-solve conundrum.

Most children will cope fine with changes, especially if they’re moving with lots of peers. Focus on the really vulnerable – or the really problematic – and give the secondary schools fewer, but more important, challenges to solve.

And if we haven’t got it right between us this year, can we start talking a little bit sooner about doing it better next time? On both sides.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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