Help your year 7 pupils to hit the ground running

Written by: Tiffnie Harris | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Starting at secondary school can be a stressful time for our youngest pupils. Tiffnie Harris looks at simple processes and ideas to help smooth the transition from year 6 to year 7

It is that time of year when secondary schools welcome the latest wave of anxious year 7 pupils. Schools will already have in place tried and tested systems to make sure the transition is as comfortable and reassuring as possible. However, this article provides a few tips you may find helpful.

Making year 7s feel at home

A stress-free start is usually rooted in good organisation and early preparation between the secondary school and feeder schools. Most new year 7 pupils will have met their form tutors towards the end of year 6, and many may have attended taster lessons. Despite this, the start of term will still be a worrying and stressful time for your new intake.

Being ready for year 7 pupils from the outset will put them at ease. Greeting them as they arrive sets the tone for a welcoming, caring ethos. Then having staff in key points around the school will also help to reassure new year 7s so they know where to find teachers who are able to answer their questions and provide directions.

Making every year 7 pupil feel valued and cared for will ease any sense of anxiety. Planners, diaries, and timetables, if not already handed out in advance of week one, should be ready and with form tutors to give to pupils. Key areas of the school can be made welcoming with bright, relevant posters and artwork.

One of the biggest fears of year 7 pupils is getting lost and subsequently arriving (embarrassingly) late for a lesson. Eradicate this by having colourful maps and signs around the school. Use school prefects (happy and smiling!) to stand at key points around the school in changeover periods to help guide and direct.

Allowing new starters to leave the pre-lunchtime lesson 15 minutes earlier in week one so they can be first in the lunch queue may also help to reduce anxieties and provide a little more time for them to find friends and learn lunchtime procedures.

Tutor groups

Give new tutor groups the task of designing their classroom notice board so that they feel a sense of belonging to a team. In this activity they could create “identity passports” showing likes, dislikes, hobbies and interests that can be viewed by others in their new form. This is also an excellent opportunity to support reading and literacy. Have students write a review based on a summer read, or their top five favourite books of all time. For pupils who are more difficult to engage, one effective activity I have seen involves giving them a mini-cereal box and asking them to paint it to resemble one of the English set texts.

Allow time for pupils to structure their week. Help them to plan for homework and extra-curricular activities. Identify pupils who struggle to find a space at home to study and tell them when homework clubs run. Have a timetable in place for every form group to visit the school library and register.

If you have a “Book on the Go” strategy (or similar) in place, make sure year 7 pupils have an early opportunity to choose their novel. Have a form group assembly rota and theme ready and set aside time for planning.

Anxious pupils

Some pupils will need more support than others. For these children, have a teacher – ideally their form tutor, a pastoral leader or relevant senior teacher – ready at the school gate on the first day to greet them personally and walk with them to their allocated area or form room. Arrange that they will be met at the end of each lesson on the first day and check in with them before they go home. For the rest of the week, “buddy” them up with another pupil so that they are not left on their own.

For the most vulnerable or anxious, a phone call home at the end of the school day would update and provide support to parents who may be worrying about their child.

Behaviour

There may be concerns over the previous behaviour of some pupils arriving in year 7. A new start could be just what they need, enabling them to move on and begin afresh. These pupils will need to be supported in a similar way to children who are particularly anxious. Know and understand their needs and history, and provide them with a caring environment free from any preconceptions.

Working with parents

The amount of support a parent gives at home plays a significant part in how well a child learns. Electronic newsletters, Twitter and Facebook can keep new parents up-to-date with secondary school life even before their child has left primary school and this will also help to establish a strong sense of community right from the off.

It is a good idea to check your school website is up-to-date with key information. Ask someone to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes to see how well it works for new parents. Making this a priority may save time later by reducing parental questions via the school office.

Send a welcome email to year 7 parents, reminding them how to manage school systems (reports, homework etc) and provide dates of assessments and when reports are issued. Share curriculum plans so that parents know what they can do to support learning at home. Provide reading lists and log-in details for online revision sites. Make your parents feel part of your learning community.

Any parental concerns that were not resolved by the end of the summer term need to be followed up. You may need to arrange for parents to come into school to discuss any outstanding concerns. Identify the issue that is the cause of concern before phone calls or meetings take place and have supporting documents available to provide information and ease any anxieties.

And finally...

Do not underestimate the importance of the role you play in the lives of your new starters in year 7.

We probably all remember this stage in our own childhoods, and likewise, the next few weeks will stay with your new pupils for life. Establishing caring and supportive relationships now will help get them off to a flying start at secondary school.

And enjoy the experience. Sharing in the key moments of the lives of the young people in our care is one of the aspects that makes teaching such a rewarding career.

  • Tiffnie Harris is primary specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders.


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