Young Gavins brought on side when they join the big school

There was a time when moving to the "big school" was filled with playground horror stories of strange initiation ceremonies in the school toilet.

But first-day nerves appear to be consigned to history at Ebbw Vale comprehensive as it becomes more home from home for new arrivals.

A new plan aimed at easing the well-documented dip in academic achievement and behaviour when children move from primary to Year 7 has been drawn up by year tutor and primary liaison officer Sian Barrett.

Based on similar projects in other schools, it rests on the special relationship built up between young children and their primary teacher. It also acknowledges the role primary teaching has had in shaping young minds.

Under the project, children are not catapulted into a strange new world on entry to the south Wales valley school. Instead of having to get used to an array of new teaching styles and methods, they have a dedicated form tutor who takes one-third of their lessons, in English, humanities and skills for life.

They sit in groups on low level extended tables much like they did at primary.

Andrea John, one of a four-strong teaching team, already knows two of her pupils are into rugby. It may not be a revelation when they have spiked-up hairstyles modelled on Wales rugby hero Gavin Henson, but her personal insight could prove invaluable in getting them on side.

The plan means that teachers, who were at first sceptical, spent time in feeder primary schools observing the pupils and finding out more about how their new classes were taught, as well as taking courses in literacy and the use of critical skills.

Mrs Barrett said: "It's like bringing primary schools into secondary. It eases the children in so they feel comfortable in their new surroundings."

The head of year had been convinced that the new approach was the right thing to do after realising older pupils found their first day at the school daunting.

"They nearly all said they were nervous when I asked them to write about their most memorable experiences," she said.

At first staff were unsure about having to teach outside their comfort zone. They also had to work extra hours to achieve it. But Mrs Barrett says the biggest bonus for her teachers is getting to know their children's strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes.

It also helps teachers to tailor provision personally for different learners, knowing whether they respond better to visual, auditory or kinesthetic learning. This, it is hoped, will help to raise educational attainment.

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