Moving to a new school can be a daunting prospect, whether at the usual time of transition from primary to secondary school or later, as a mid-year transfer.
In education it is acknowledged that a thriving child may lose potential during transition periods between nursery, primary, secondary and further education.
We run a well-established transition programme for our future year 7 students, developed through strong links with our feeder primaries. Our deputy principal has carried out this role for more than 10 years and more recently we appointed a year 7 head of student services.
They visit every pupil at their primary school to learn something about them, their friendship groups and their likes and dislikes. They also take this opportunity to speak in detail with the class teacher about every student who has been allocated a place.
This information is collated and then used to help place students in mixed-ability tutor groups, containing some of their friends from primary school, ready for when they start at our school. Students are also invited to a New In-take Day in June during which they visit our site to meet their tutor and fellow class mates, experience some lessons and familiarise themselves with their new surroundings. They really enjoy the map trail where they visit every part of the school answering questions.
Parents are also invited to a New In-take Evening when they too have the chance to meet their child’s tutor, guidance team leader, and senior staff. There is also a year 7 disco and social evening in September each year, during which parents can meet their child’s tutor informally to find out how well their child has settled in. Any issues can be addressed quickly as a result.
In October each year, we take all year 7 students for a three-day residential visit to North Wales where they have fun getting to know one another, learning new skills and doing team-building activities.
So what best practices can schools employ to help support children’s transition?
Primary visits and talks
Open days including tours of the school, talks by the headteacher and meetings with other teachers and children are essential – ideally after their primary teacher has talked to pupils about the differences at a secondary school, including having more than one teacher, different pupils in each lesson, changing rooms between lessons and behaviour and discipline.
Special lessons and evening meetings for parents and children can also prove helpful in removing the fear factor, as can the allocation of a secondary school pupil mentor assigned to a group of new starters.
A visit to the primary school by a year 7 teacher is also advisable and could include a talk in assembly, meetings with individual pupils/small groups/classes, and observation of the children working in class.
Ideally, the same team of staff should carry out the induction process every year so that the quality of the relationships with partner primary schools remains strong.
Help at secondary school
Effective help provided by the secondary school at the start of the new term can play a significant role in the success of the transition process. Recommended activities include:
Induction and taster days, supported by written information, to help new pupils find their way around the school.
Making sure pupils are prepared for the new level of work as they are challenged to build on progress at primary school.
Ensuring that pupils are offered adequate information, encouragement, support and assistance in lessons and with homework.
Commencing the new term with a learning to learn scheme of work delivered by form tutors to teach new pupils how to work independently and as part of a team, how to use reference sources, how to revise, how to make notes, and how to write an essay.
Other important factors/considerations
The friendliness of the older children at secondary school and those in their class.
Allocating older students to act as mentors for new students with similar interests.
Moving to the same secondary school as most of their primary school friends.
Having older siblings to offer advice and support.
Finding their new school work interesting.
Conclusion – the evidence
According to the Institute of Education, children who experience a successful transition typically greatly expand their friendships, and display higher levels of self-esteem and confidence once at secondary school.
They also settle well into school life, demonstrate greater levels of interest in school and work in comparison to primary school, find it easy to adopt new routines, and find work completed in year 6 to be very useful for the work they have to undertake in year 7.
A carefully coordinated plan, with the right leadership structure in place and strong partner relations with feeder primaries is the route to such a successful transition.
David Hermitt is executive principal of Congleton High School in Cheshire and chief executive officer of the Congleton Multi-Academy Trust.