When secondary school senior leader Joel Smith moved his family to the Isle of Man to take up an advisory role within the Department of Education and Children’s Education Improvement Service, he had no idea that he would end up overhauling primary-tosecondary transition for all of the schools on the island. But this is exactly what his One Island, One School project sets out to do.
After conducting an audit into how the 32 primaries and five secondary schools on the island managed transition, Smith was struck by the lack of consistency in approach.
He decided to develop a system that would ensure all children received the same transition experience regardless of which secondary they were moving to and which primary they were currently in.
“There was a focus on what primaries could do to prepare pupils to fit in at various secondary schools, but we wanted to flip this and to look at how secondary schools could support their feeder primaries to ease transition,” Smith explains.
“We also found there was a rather neurotic obsession with English and maths within the transition process at the expense of a focus on the wider learning powers of children.”
Smith wanted to move towards a through-learning model that bridged the gap between the more active, flexible primary curriculum and the rigid secondary approach that has strict time constraints for each subject.
Working with his team, Smith developed a Google document transition module, based on six learning dispositions (readiness, relationships, resilience, resourcefulness, remembering skills and reflectiveness) that all Year 6 pupils on the island would work through during their last year of primary, before revisiting the material in key stage 3.
Focus on core skills
By making time to focus on the core skills that apply to both primary and secondary, Smith believes that teachers can make it less daunting for pupils to jump from one curriculum to the next.
“Our motto is that learning should move with the child,” he explains.
The Isle of Man has a relatively autonomous education system and a small number of schools that are in close proximity, making it easy to trial a new approach to transition.
However, Smith believes that his methods could easily be applied to schools across the UK and that recent changes to the national curriculum offer a good opportunity for adopting new approaches.
According to Smith, it all starts with breaking down barriers, removing misconceptions and improving cross-phase communication. To support this process, his team has arranged “teacher swaps”, which give teachers a taste of working in different phases.
“Sometimes there is a kind of inferiority complex that occurs in primary teachers when they are dealing with colleagues who teach older pupils,” Smith says. “But if you take an early years teacher and put them in front of a Year 12 class for a lesson, they will soon find that their skills are transferable.
“Likewise, secondary teachers sometimes have the misconception that they need to ‘start again’ with new Year 7s and get the primary learning out of them before they can crack on with secondary learning, which is sad. We are trying to get rid of the idea of ‘big school’. We need to make it clear that when children move to secondary school, the building might be bigger, but the learning certainly isn’t.”
Helen Amass is editorial content manager for TES and a former teacher @Helen_Amass