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Transition to secondary school – How to make it smooth this year

How can we make the transition to secondary smooth after such a turbulent year? Transition specialist Emily Weston shares her thoughts...

  • Transition to secondary school – How to make it smooth this year

Transition from Y6 to secondary is a rite of passage which, last year, many children missed out on.

By June 2020 we were still finding our feet with online learning, which meant that many of the transition activities we usually run didn’t translate into virtual learning or were done in a way which didn’t quite have the desired outcome or prepare children as well as they might have done.

It was something which I know a lot of educators felt disappointed in; everyone had done their absolute best under the circumstances, but it was clear that a lot of pupils found the move a difficult one.

Although this year we’ve been given a roadmap out of lockdown to guide us towards the summer, it’s by no means set in stone. We expect our Y6 students will be able to transition to secondary in the traditional way, but this is still a tentative guideline.

We’re going to have to be flexible, while still providing a transition which allows children to understand their next educational step, feel comfortable taking it and remain fully engaged throughout the process.

As a transition teacher at a secondary school, the move from Y6 to Y7 is something I’m really passionate about as I think it’s important that all children feel prepared, academically, emotionally and socially. Transition shouldn’t be something that is only a focus in the summer term either.

If we begin the process at the start of Y6, children will settle quicker when they enter Y7. Rules and routines should start shifting to those of their next classrooms in order to allow familiarity.

In a recent transition talk I had with a Y6 class, they couldn’t believe that they would need to prepare their own equipment for each lesson!

Of course, there are lots of ways that both primary and secondary schools can ease this process for children. However, I find there are three overarching themes to remember: communication, collaboration and creativity.

Communication with secondary schools

This year, communication needs to be even more key than ever before. Usually there’s a focus on SEN register children or those with SEMH. Understandably, all children this year will benefit from a stronger focus on their wellbeing and mental health needs.

Children who would usually find transition an easy process may be feeling more anxious. It’s really important that we transfer information about all children effectively, but also that secondaries trust and use the information that has been provided.

Providing additional activities is also really important. Relying solely on ‘move up’ days this year is not likely to make children feel secure or ready for the next step in their schooling. After a year where they’ve had constant change, it’s likely that moving to a new school setting needs to be introduced before the summer term.

Communication with children’s new schools and between teachers is important, but communication with pupils themselves needs to be open so they can feel confident.

One way of doing this is with a secondary-style lesson which introduces pupils to what high school will be like. A ‘frequently asked questions’ session is always useful. If possible, inviting a Y7 pupil in to talk to Y6 about how they found the move can also be very reassuring.

This needn’t be done in person – it adapts excellently to a virtual lesson if necessary. If your local secondary isn’t providing a session like this yet, it’s the perfect way to start building stronger links with them.

Most high schools will be pleased to accommodate sessions which not only help Y6 pupils transition, but market their school to Y5 too!

Collaboration with secondary schools

While teaching Y6, one of the most valuable things I did was go to my local secondary for two mornings and observe Y7 lessons. Often I was talking to Y6 about the next step of transition without entirely knowing myself what they were going into – it had been a while since I’d been in secondary school!

I focused on English and maths lessons as I wanted to see how they fitted in with SATs knowledge and understanding. Not only did I get to see secondary lessons in action, but I also got to see behaviour expectations, speak to teachers and even look over schemes of work.

It meant I was much more confident in making my classroom a perfect overlap of primary and secondary.

Alongside this, I worked with the school to find out what personal qualities they felt Y7 needed to start school with in order to be ‘secondary ready’. From this, we collaborated on a series of lessons that focused on skills such as respect, independence and organisation.

It’s just as important to prepare children for these challenges, as well as ensuring they’re academically on track.

Now I’ve moved to secondary teaching I can also see that secondaries are very willing to work with local primaries, but unless there are established links this can be tricky. There’s also a focus on larger feeder schools which shouldn’t always be the case.

Reach out to your local secondary schools and ask what they can provide, not only in June and July, but in the months leading up to the summer too.

Creative transition activities

There are so many fantastic activities children can take part in leading up to their secondary ‘move up’ days. I love asking children to create a ‘this is me’ pack.

This involves writing a letter introducing themselves to their new tutor, a ‘quick glance’ outline filled with their likes and dislikes and finally, a self-portrait to show their art skills. These packs really allowed children to present to their new schools what they are like as individuals; not just through their teacher’s eyes.

There are some other really creative ways you can introduce transition to Y6 children. Why not try a ‘secondary week’, where children are on a secondary-style timetable? Ask different teachers or TAs to take classes.

This is also another fantastic way to collaborate with your local secondary – why not ask them to take one or more of the sessions as an extra taster?

By combining these three areas effectively, you can ensure that, even after a confusing year of in-school learning and remote teaching, children are given a smooth transition and feel confident, safe and, most importantly of all, happy.

Emily Weston worked in KS2 for six years and is now an English and transition teacher at a secondary school in Swindon. Follow her on Twitter at @primaryteachew. Visit her website at teachingisntbw.home.blog.

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