There it sits in pride of place on every mantelpiece: the perennial snapshot of a nervous 11-year-old in an oversized uniform, smiling for the camera but not quite ready for their first day at secondary school.
It’s a huge responsibility for primary and secondary teachers, who must make sure the transition is as smooth as possible. As an assistant head in a secondary school and lead on transition, I’ve seen a lot of students go through it. So, as the new school year approaches and with many primary teachers getting their young charges ready for the next step, here are a few reflections on what works well:
Make contact with secondary schools
It is likely that all children will have heard from their respective secondary schools, but if not, primary and secondary teachers can make initial contact. At my school, all our new year 6 children join us for the last week of term for lessons, activities, assemblies and trips. The time we spend with them is invaluable, and any little niggles, such as being placed in a tutor group away from their friends, can be dealt with immediately.
There are other, less intensive, ways of giving primary students a flavour of what secondary school will be like. For example, year 6 primary teachers could invite ex-pupils back to give a talk or offer a Q&A session to current classes. Younger students could write letters or postcards to children in year 7, asking questions about what comes next for them. This makes a good literacy activity and can also give teachers an insight into the fears and worries of new starters.
From the perspective of the secondary school teacher, we want to know as much as possible about the new children – warts and all. The teachers doing liaison work – the head of year 7, for example – wouldn’t share this information with subject teachers but it would be known among the pastoral team. For example, we want to know about the child with a tendency to throw chairs and the ones who only eat Ready Brek or chocolate-spread sandwiches.
We host year 6 students at our sports day, where they have their own events and win points for what will be their house. Seeing children at sports day shows us a bit more about their characters – are they sitting back rather than getting involved? It’s a different kind of environment to that of the classroom, and how they react says a lot about their confidence levels.
Pupil passports, in which the year 6 students record their thoughts, feelings and ambitions, are another less work-intensive technique. These can be sent to the new secondary school, making it a handy literacy exercise and useful preparation for secondary teachers to see the kinds of issues they’re likely to face.