Making transition a positive experience
It is that time of year again when Year 6 pupils begin to display stroppy behaviour, which is really a way of masking fears about the uncertainties of secondary school. It is also the time when schools implement strategies to prepare these pupils for transition. However, don't forget that, lower down the school, children are worrying about moving up too. In this brief article we look at some of the big issues about transition in general and secondary transfer in particular.
As a general rule, the younger the children, the more they accept that ‘stuff happens'. They lack the sophisticated emotional anticipation that makes change scary and tend to regard their new class as a wonderful new experience to be embraced. Until we spoil it for them. I have lost count of the times when, in various schools, I have seen a new teacher - themselves anxious about change - take an excessively controlling approach to children joining them in September. Of course, children need to know new routines and keep themselves safe, but most nurseries will have worked hard to develop children's independence, only for the Reception teacher to take it all away again. And this is often repeated when children leave Reception and transfer to Key Stage 1. It is a small thing - but it is important. Do make sure that we are building on children's social and emotional development and not burying it only to start again.
Checklist for ensuring wellbeing during transition
This is perhaps the vital ingredient to successful transition across all the primary years. We have become very good at monitoring academic progression but we sometimes neglect social and emotional development. Here is a short checklist for ensuring that children's emotional wellbeing and development are safeguarded as they move into their new class:
- Meet the new teacher before the end of the summer term.
- If possible, experience a taster session in the new class.
- If transferring to a new school, make a tour as soon as possible.
- Tell the child who to go to for help and how to tell them.
- Find out something they enjoy and ask them about it on the first day.
- Have a piece of work that starts in one year and ends in the next.
The transfer from KS1 to KS2 potentially contains even more emotional tripwires, and this is particularly true when pupils are changing schools. In a single-form entry setting friendship groups are largely unbroken, teachers are familiar faces and the work seems to just carry through. Obviously the bigger the school, the greater the need to make transition a positive experience. And don't forget that, while we work hard to ensure that our children will be settled quickly, there are a few parents who have told their children ‘just wait til you get to the juniors!' And some of their older siblings will doubtless have filled them with mythical stories of what might happen to them when they move up.
We will never know the hidden and subversive side of transition. The key points are broadly the same as for the younger children: let them become familiar with the teacher before they make the transition; reassure them that they will be looked after and that any worries can be shared. It is good to allocate them a buddy from Year 5 or 6 who can look out for them, be a familiar face and a perceived protector. Let them visit their new classroom and, even if the transition means a new school, give them a taster session, with their new classmates and new teacher. If possible give them a reading book, or a summer project, or both, to be the link between the old and the new.
Of course, transition does not mean that friendship groups have to stay together. On the contrary, transition offers an important opportunity to break some of those ‘unholy alliances' that may have developed. But do ensure, in your scrupulous massaging of groupings, that even the most troublesome child has at least one close and trusted friend to be moral support for the change. Loneliness is very isolating.
Revealing new classes
Headteachers struggle with when to break the news about new classes. There seems to be an excessive fear that parents will complain. Face it, whenever you tell them, some will complain. It's just that by telling them at the last knockings they don't get much of an opportunity to ‘come down the school'. So, why not keep this all in the open; the sooner the child - and its parents - know which class they are going into, the more time they all have to get used to the idea. If a parent is really convinced their child will never settle, give them the assurance that you will review it at half term and may move the child then. You won't - the child will be as happy as Larry by half term although, if you have kept this flexibility, you do have an opportunity to make some strategic changes if they are in everyone's best interests.
Transition to Year 7 is the big one! In 1990 the TES published my article suggesting that secondary schools should aid transition by drawing on the primary model. Now, 20 years on, most secondary schools have some sort of organisational arrangement that does just that - and many primary-trained teachers are finding work as Year 7 form tutors, using their primary expertise in the secondary context.
So, how can we primary specialists support transition? Of course, the principles outlined above are all equally applicable and generally better developed than transition within the primary phase. The missing link is frequently what happens between home and school. Year 7 is a peak for children to die or suffer injury on the roads. Travelling to secondary school is often a lot riskier than a stroll to the local primary, so make road safety a component of post-SATs work. Teach your Year 6 pupils how to keep safe by talking themselves out of trouble and avoiding arguments. Some city schools use police officers to give pupils strategies for avoiding becoming a gang ‘runner'. It's a big, bad, dangerous world out there. Preparing for transition should recognise this fact.