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Year 7 transition – the effects of lockdown will be felt starkly in maths lessons

Now is the time to engage parents and provide pupils with the encouragement needed to keep maths learning going over the summer, says Colin Hegarty

  • Year 7 transition – the effects of lockdown will be felt starkly in maths lessons

More than 600,000 students will be moving on from primary to secondary this September.

This is a milestone moment in their lives and is also very important for Y7 teachers planning to welcome their new cohort.

While many students are excited by this transition, it is almost always accompanied by palpable anxiety – exhibited by children and parents alike.

For this year’s cohort, there are even greater challenges and increased anxiety surrounding their preparedness for secondary school.

Just as day-to-day teaching has been upended by COVID-19, so have the detailed transition plans and activities which take place in the spring and summer terms before the new school year – visiting and speaking to Y6 students, meeting with primary teachers, planning and running school visits and face-to-face support for children with additional needs.

Transition to secondary school is a pivotal moment, but this year teachers are attempting to do it with their hands tied behind their backs.

Two-headed beast

The challenge of transition to secondary has always been a two-headed beast, namely anxiety about the prospect of secondary school and learning loss over the summer break.

This year, lockdown exacerbates the situation enormously. This is felt starkly in maths, given the hierarchical nature of the subject.

The combination of months of lockdown, learning loss and transition anxiety has the potential to massively stall maths progression for this year’s Y7 intake, and is likely to alter how secondary maths teachers plan the first half term.

From speaking with Y6 and Y7 teachers seeking support with remote-learning challenges, secondary transition preparation has become a sticking point. 

Is a whole new approach needed this year? It is easy to assume ‘yes’ when so much about our schools is different at the moment. However, when we step back, the core issues remain the same – my view is that answering them just needs adjustment.

Tackling transition anxiety

Transition anxiety can’t be wholly avoided, and the lack of face-to-face contact with new teachers and physical introductions to new spaces will exacerbate students’ worries.

The first step in alleviating any kind of anxiety is communication, and transition is no different. At this time, creative methods of communications are needed between schools, students and parents.

Charlotte Bagnall, a child development researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University with a focus on primary-secondary school transition, suggests that “Virtual transition work, from live tours of the secondary school and interactive maps of the building, to moderated discussions between pupils and primary and secondary school staff, could provide much needed transition exposure, and reassure all involved for when schools restart (hopefully) in September.”

Great efforts are being made by secondary schools to collaborate virtually with feeder schools. I’ve been impressed to hear about lots of virtual activities.

Y6 pupils have been encouraged to record video questions for current Y7s to answer; online mentorship programmes have been organised; secondary teachers have hosted and recorded sample lessons for Y6 students and set mini projects to acclimatise them to secondary learning.

Research from educational consultants Premier Advisory Group suggests that ‘buddy’ systems could help reduce anxiety of pupils and their parents/carers around transition. As they suggest, “…although ‘buddies’ will not be able to meet before September, there is the potential for secondary pupils who are not yet returning to school, for example those in Y7, to provide some form of support to current Y6 pupils remotely.”

As well as these novel approaches, probably one of the most useful things is to schedule a video call with the parents/carer and each student who will be starting in September. I appreciate this is time-consuming, but secondary school leaders should enable Y7 form tutors (or others) to have the time to speak directly with students.

Communication is key

Communication between teachers at KS2 and 3 is particularly critical over the next few weeks.

Y6 teachers will need to adopt new ‘markers of progress’ to share with their Y7 colleagues: ‘Who has engaged in lockdown learning and in what capacity?’ and ‘How has/will progress be assessed in the absence of SATs?’

The more Y6 teachers can identify where learning gaps might exist, the more Y7 teachers can provide the right support in September.

Communication is also important to help support curriculum continuity. This is particularly important in a foundation subject like maths.

Research from University College Cork in 2019 found that that teachers at both primary and secondary level identified similar issues with maths transition: “a lack of continuity between curricula, a lack of knowledge of each other’s curriculum and a lack of communication between both levels.”

Mitigating increased learning loss

As well as anxiety about starting secondary school, the other big issue is learning loss.

Research shows that the normal summer break can set back children’s maths by two months and that the subsequent move to secondary school can lead to a drop in maths attainment during Y7.

Although teachers and schools are working incredibly hard to ensure students are learning during lockdown, it is a worry what learning gaps might arise over this extended period; in particular, for students that have been harder to reach and motivate. 

There is an inevitable disparity between the amount of learning and progress children are making in lockdown. Some Y6s have been motivated and continued to work hard; others may have completed very little to no schoolwork.

Even those who have worked hard are doing so under challenging circumstances. A degree of learning loss is inevitable.

I believe that it is the setting and encouragement of a routine of ‘little and often’ learning that will be the most impactful for Y6 pupils between now and September.

Now is the time to engage parents and provide encouragement to keep going with maths learning through summer. Technology has made this easier, with numerous apps and platforms available to encourage bitesize maths practice.

At Sparx, where I’m education director, we’ve launched Numerise, an at home learning platform that incorporates a free online course – Secondary Ready – to support Y6 students to develop their core number skills and be better prepared for maths at secondary school in September.

If the response to coronavirus has shown us anything, it is that the vast majority of teachers are able to adapt with skill and resilience, creatively using all the tools at their disposal to support their students’ learning at home.

Although transition this year presents significant challenges for both primary and secondary schools, I am in no doubt that teachers will be able to ensure our new Y7 students are equipped for starting secondary school.

Colin Hegarty is founder of HegartyMaths and education director at Sparx. He tweets at @hegartymaths.

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