Pioneering a new style of transition to high school

AT Micklehurst All Saints, summer term is a particularly busy and extremely important one for our Year 6 children, writes Joanne Harding.

Usually they have completed their SATs, enterprise projects are underway, residential trips provide many exciting yet daunting first-time experiences, and celebratory productions are being planned and rehearsed for an audience of a few hundred.

On top of this, Year 6 are also steered towards a major transitional step in their academic lives – the move from primary to secondary.Spending time at their new institutions across the whole of summer term form tremendously supportive environments for our young people to ensure this process is done so as smoothly as possible. Children are given the opportunity to be introduced to their schools slowly, they are taken for tours and meet their new teachers, alongside additional opportunities to see how their friendship groups might grow and change.

Behind the scenes, as part of the Mossley and Carrbrook Schools Partnership (MCSP) and spanning many months prior to the end of Key Stage Two, face to face meetings occur, programmes of work are carefully constructed with both primaries and secondaries including curriculum continuity to support the process for every child.

Successful transition should consist of many key factors and the MCSP does this extremely well.

The EPPSE project (Evangelou et al, 2008) highlights the need for children to adjust not just academically but socially too. Transition days allow our children to develop new friendships which leads to increased self-esteem and confidence and it also assists in getting them used to new routines and levels of organisation.

So what happens when a pandemic strikes and these well-established methods are rendered obsolete? Children starting Year 7 this September are likely to be worried about the impact of missed induction days, particularly after struggling with a disrupted ending at primary school.

At Micklehurst All Saints, throughout the transition process, meeting the emotional needs of our children will be critical. We know stress and anxiety impair the brain’s capacity for learning and so our children’s wellbeing must be at the forefront. As leaders and teachers, we must be clear about our desired outcomes to reassure pupils so they develop a sense of belonging ready for their move.

With the return of some Year 6 pupils to the classroom this month, the process can begin to an extent. For those who remain at home, adapted methods are being developed so they too can have a similar transition experience.

An overriding theme of any activity is to encouraging the children to ask questions so they may learn more about the differences between primary and secondary. In class, the teacher can deliver these conversations while at home, parents can engage with their children, writing a list of the key differences and going through each of the points recorded.

Organisation is often something primary school children struggle with at first, especially as they have so many other things to think about at the same time. By providing opportunities for our children to practise theses skills, we are equipping them with essential institutional know-how and informing them of expectation.

In school, regular small homework tasks can help, as can the use of a timetable – allowing the child to think ahead and plan what they may need. At home, this could be achieved by allowing your child to pack a bag or practise budgeting for a lunch or tea. Giving a child any additional responsibility will allow them to think for themselves and present a focussed opportunity to problem-solve.

Institutional adjustment is a major consideration for our children this year. In the absence of transition days, how can we best communicate what life will be like at secondary? The answer: virtually. Mossley Hollins High School, where the majority of our children continue to, have created a page for secondary transition on its website with plans in place to present information using available technology including drone footage of the school.

Secondary schools are meeting the needs of their new cohorts in imaginative ways to develop a sense of belonging and familiarity which include welcome presentations, virtual tours and sample lessons.

The hope is that, while full transition days are not possible, towards the end of the summer term, small groups of pupils can attend their new school with social distancing to allow those who are more anxious or SEND to meet their new tutors and mentors.

Other remote methods of transition being considered and planned are video clips of key staff introducing themselves, photos, and videos of where children will eat lunch and video calls to children identified as potentially vulnerable to begin to build support links.

As the partial re-opening of Micklehurst All Saints progresses, virtual links to curriculum continuity are crucial to those children who remain at home. We will also be instilling habits and designating valuable times for the children to reflect on their primary experience and also talk through how they feel about starting secondary school.

Whether this is done face to face, over the phone, via home visits or virtually, the objective remains the same: to make their transition a successful and fulfilling one and we are absolutely ready to support our children in taking this exciting step forwards in their educational lives.

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