As Transition Days and Induction Days approach, Juliet Stafford, Evidence Lead in Education, outlines a case study for effective transition from Year 4.
They say that “a change is a good as a rest” and indeed change can be a very positive influence in our lives bringing with it many exciting new opportunities. However, change can also be unsettling and bring uncertainty and can be harder for some of us to deal with than others. All schools recognise this and proactively put in strategies to manage change for pupils particularly as children move from one school setting to another. Teachers are familiar with the transition from Year 6 to Year 7 and the activities that are planned to ease this movement for pupils – meetings with the Year 6 lead and SENDCO, induction days, information evening for parents as well as summer schools and holiday transition projects. At Etone College, as all schools do, we place huge importance on managing this pastoral transition of pupils into our care but have also looked at transition through a different lens– one that has taken a slightly more extended and broader look.
Several years ago, we started to reach out to our local primary feeder schools to engage them in curriculum projects. Initially, this was in subject areas where we had staffing capacity, namely MFL and PE. Not only did we offer activities to Year 6 pupils but also engaged with younger pupils in Years 4 and 5. We were delighted to host pupils for PE taster lessons where they were able to try out sports and use facilities not available in primary schools. We also delivered language lessons in German, French and Spanish as well as offering pupils a Modern Language Experience Day at our school. These projects provided specialist teachers and enhanced the KS2 curriculum whilst, at the same time, offered fun and exciting opportunities in a secondary school setting, helping to reduce some of the anxiety that pupils might have been feeling around the move up to “big school”.
Creating memorable experiences
We were keen to make these secondary school visits really positive so took time to think about how we could make the experience a really memorable one. All pupils were greeted and given a warm welcome by a member of Leadership and often Etone pupil ambassadors. We planned for them a relevant and fun session with lots of opportunities for hands on learning often supported by older pupils. We also provided a drink and a snack as well as a certificate and a takeaway learning resource that pupils could use when they were back at school. We recognised that when pupils visited Etone just how important it was to provide warm, friendly and positive experience for them to help ease transition at a later date.
Our Primary Offer
Delighted by the success of our initial projects and the very positive evaluations that we received, we were keen to expand our offer to include a greater range of subjects and work with a larger number of primary schools. I have been really privileged during the development of these curriculum projects to work alongside primary colleagues who have given up their time to support our joint working. Out of these meetings and discussions with staff at Etone came lots of amazing ideas which has shaped our primary transition programme that we are very proud to be able to offer to our local primary schools.
Setting up transition projects such as these does, however, require effective organisation and it is crucial to work alongside primary colleagues to overcome any potential barriers. Where pupils were close enough to walk, transport was not an issue but where they were not, we would offer transport by picking pupils up in our minibus. Time is always a constraint and I was always very mindful of taking the time of my primary colleagues for face to face meetings. Whilst Covid did not bring us many benefits, one thing that I am thankful for was TEAMS which has really helped to facilitate meetings in the last couple of years. Other things to consider are ensuring that you have parent consent for visits, are aware of any medical considerations whilst pupils are on your site and have completed age appropriate risk assessments for all activities. Finally, there is the challenge of releasing staff to lead on these projects and I was very fortunate to be able to draw on both the expertise and goodwill of my colleagues at Etone to offer this provision. However, planning projects once Year 11 and 13 have left or using any staff under allocation can really help.
So what have the benefits been of these projects?
Firstly, they have allowed for curriculum continuity. We have been able to deliver some of the KS2 content in specialist equipped rooms with specialist staff and delight at the pupil awe and wonder displayed as the Elephant’s Toothpaste shot towards the ceiling of the Science Lab or they were greeted by our very own Miss Potter! We have also been able to bridge some of the most common gaps that we find when pupils arrive in Year 7. A great example of this is in Science where we have offered primary school based investigations to strengthen pupil skills in working scientifically – whether this be looking at seed dispersal or circuits – activities have planned to meet the needs of the KS2 curriculum whilst also better preparing our learners for KS3. Finally, as part of continuity, we started to think about how we could best use the time we have with Year 6 learners on Induction Day. Not only did we include a PSHE style lesson which focused on the move up to secondary school and how to cope with the emotions that pupils might be feeling but also planned induction day lessons that focused deliberately on bridging any curriculum gaps. For example, pupils may arrive at secondary school with different expertise in map skills so why not use the time on induction day to tackle this and plan activities to bridge the gap.
As well as the obvious curriculum benefits, these visits to Etone or visits from our staff to primary schools have really helped to dispel some of the myths around secondary school for primary pupils. Getting to meet staff, see inside the school, work alongside older pupils as well as have memorable experiences all builds confidence at an early stage for both pupils and parents alike.
Strengthening relationships and partnerships
As I have already mentioned, I have been delighted to be able to develop some very strong working relationships with primary colleagues. Not only have we supported primary schools but we have truly benefitted from their expertise. This venture really has been a partnership and we have been delighted to benefit from a whole host of opportunities as a result. We have welcomed primary colleagues to provide CPD for staff around the Year 6 curriculum so we can ensure that we provide appropriate challenge at the start of KS3. Schools have kindly hosted SCITT trainees for their primary placements, provided opportunities for our KS3 leads to observe Year 6 lessons as well as host planning meetings to review Y6 schemes of leaning to aid curriculum transition. This has provided invaluable professional development for Etone staff which has then positively impacted on our curriculum intent and implementation.
Part of forging these working relationships and as a follow on from our offer for pupils, Etone also hosted CPD for primary colleagues. This was usually at the request of primary colleagues and bespoke to each school but has again evolved into a package that we can offer for CPD. Whether this be providing training in MFL teaching and learning strategies or how to plan and execute a practical lesson in DT, this professional development has enhanced our primary joint working still further.
Reflecting on the journey
I feel very proud of what we have collectively achieved. Not only have we broadened transition to include Years 4, 5 and 6 but we have done so in a way that supports both the academic and pastoral needs of pupils. We have developed really strong working partnerships cross phase by offering a bespoke package for primary schools to meet their needs whilst being lucky enough to benefit from their expertise. We truly believe that this is a pupil centred approach which aids transition on all fronts.
So, where are we heading next?
For us, we would like to be able to host subject based forums where we can invite several primary schools for curriculum conversations around transition to provide a really powerful opportunity to examine and align our curriculums still further. Also, whilst we inform parents of our events and celebrate them through our website and social media, we are considering ways to involve primary parents more fully in our events and activities. There is much that has been achieved but still places that we can go on this journey. I hope that this article has provided some insight into a slightly different approach to transition to ensure that it is as beneficial as possible for pupils and to ensure that a “change really is as good as a rest”!
The EEF School Transition Tool can be found here