In theory, your Year 6 children won’t be starting their transition for another year. However, it is a process that should begin from the moment they walk into the classroom in September.
To give them the best start in the next phase of their education, we need to give them a secure foundation during their last year at primary.
By creating an atmosphere that has similarities to secondary, we are creating a more horizontal move for the children, which is much less daunting than a vertical one. I like to think of my class as being Year 6.5 where I can give them the best of both worlds.
There are a number of low-effort, high-impact ways we can enrich the transition process for our children. I’ve discovered that these sit under three main areas: curriculum, community and collaboration - all of which are vital.
This is probably the area which needs the most planning and input before it can be successfully delivered to the children, with events put into the calendar ahead of time and - where possible - visitors invited to join the process.
The curriculum we provide during the summer term allows children to get a secondary experience before they reach the school itself, and can be delivered through a number of sessions including a ‘secondary week’, ‘careers week’ and ‘Year 7 ready’ lessons.
The ‘secondary week’ is very adaptable, depending on the setting of your school. In a small school, this may be a single ‘secondary timetable’ day, whereas larger primary schools can accommodate up to a fortnight.
Not only does it provide the children with an experience that has similarities to their transition days, but it does so in a safe environment with familiar faces and therefore limits the cognitive overload they will experience when the official move up days arrive.
To make it even more beneficial, you could speak to one – or all - of your feeder secondaries and invite them to send a teacher to complete a lesson in a more specialist subject.
Pupils will benefit from an authentic secondary lesson whilst getting to know a familiar face for September. We were lucky to also have a local dance company complete a taster session as part of this timetabled week.
When my first class had been in Year 7 for a few months, I received letters to say how helpful they found this process and that they felt they were more prepared than their peers during the transition days and their initial few weeks in September, which let me know that all the hard work was worthwhile.
When our pupils move to a new school, we often focus on the needs within the classroom or academic achievements.
However, one of the biggest changes for the children is moving from a school where they often know the familiar adult faces around them, and could draw a map of the grounds from memory, to a large unknown space where the staff and pupil cohort has tripled.
Often, they can find it difficult to feel immediately part of the community and this can have the biggest impact on their transition.
A lot of transition activities happen at the end of the year, but one of the most beneficial sessions our local secondary held happened in October. I asked our largest feeder secondary to give our Year 6 cohort a taster secondary session; the deputy head came and he was fantastic.
The session focused on what secondary is like, including the equipment pupils need, taking the bus to school and how to be an independent learner.
Some past pupils, who were now attending the feeder secondary, also attended the session; often, asking their peers questions can make the answers feel more personal and their attendance enhanced the experience for my class.
Holding this event towards the start of the year was a huge benefit as it allowed the students to see what they were aiming towards, both in lesson content and learning expectations.
The move to secondary can often feel like an abstract concept - it’s too far into the future for them to think about. But making it more tangible can minimise any anxiety they may feel. Their learning behaviour through the year was brilliant as they could visualise where they were heading - even in the summer term!
When I started to teach Year 6, I, like many other teachers in this position, had not experienced secondary school since my own time there.
Yes, there are some huge similarities but there are differences, too. In order to understand these better, my headteacher gave me release time to visit my local secondary and take the opportunity to understand exactly where my class were heading at the end of the year.
When I visited the local feeder secondary I watched sessions of maths and English. I found this to be hugely beneficial as I was able to see the structure of the lessons, behaviour management used by the teachers and how some of my past students had settled into their new school.
There were many similarities, but it was the subtle differences that I wanted to introduce into my classroom in order to create a Year 6.5 environment. This included having transition times when children could go to the toilet, more independence when accessing resources and using more ‘no hands up’ in class.
However, this wasn’t a one-way observation. I also had secondary staff visit my classroom to observe Year 6 lessons - it was safe to say they were shocked at the high level of challenge students were expected to, and could, complete.
Through our conversations, it led to me creating a transition pack (which consisted of a self-portrait, letter to staff and ‘I Am’ outline of each student) to forward to the pupils’ new school in order to demonstrate their artistic and academic ability and to set a clearer baseline.
This was a really important CPD experience for not only myself, but the secondary teachers, too. Now, having also taught a year of secondary, I am even more certain that collaboration between phases needs to be encouraged in order to allow children access to the best transition possible.
By beginning transition early in the year and focusing on curriculum, community and collaboration to enhance the experience for the children, we are ensuring that we are not only allowing them to survive their transition - we are giving them the tools to thrive.
Consider what the children want
When planning transition, it is so important that we include pupil voice in our decisions.
What do the pupils think will help them best?
By asking children at the start of the year, you can begin to factor in transition activities which are not only useful in our eyes, but in those of the class, too.
The activities with the biggest impact are the ones which have the most meaningful learning point - such as a secondary week - and allow children to have an insight into what they can expect in the future.
Furthermore, giving children a voice to speak to staff and pupils at their new school allows them to feel some ownership of their transition. For example, what do they think their new teachers will want to know? This could be their favourite subject or sport; what subject they feel most challenged by, and why; and what their hobbies and interests are.
Supplying photographs in advance – putting a face to a name – can make the transition process smoother for both staff and new students.
Emily Weston is a Year 6 teacher at Lea & Garsdon CE School, Malmesbury, and has experience as a ‘Transition Teacher’ in a secondary school.