Published on: 26 Aug 2016

What if the first rule of transition was ‘don’t talk about transition’?

Top tips on transition

By Julie McCulloch, Primary and Governance Specialist, Association of School and College Leaders

Ofsted’s provocatively titled report, ‘Key Stage 3: the wasted years?’, was something of a wake-up call to many people that the thorny issue of transition hasn’t gone away. What might primary and secondary school leaders and teachers do to address this? 

1. Don’t talk about transition
What if the first rule of transition was ‘don’t talk about transition’? ‘Transition’ implies a change from one fixed state to another fixed state. How might our thinking change if we instead talk about ‘continuity of learning’ – about collaborating with other schools to develop a more joined-up approach to children’s learning from 3 to 19? 

2. Read the curriculum
How many primary heads and teachers have looked at the Key Stage 3 curriculum? And how many secondary heads and teachers have read the new primary curriculum? Anecdotal evidence suggests not very many. How can you effectively prepare children for the next stage of their journey, or build on what they’ve already learned, if you don’t know what that involves?

3. Take the SATs
Go on, secondary teachers – I dare you! You’ve no doubt heard some of the controversy around these. Are they too hard, too irrelevant, too middle class? Have a go and see what you think.

4. …but don’t assume they tell you everything
The detailed question level analysis now available to secondary teachers is enormously helpful at a cohort level in identifying areas of the curriculum in which your new Year 7s are strong, and areas in which they may struggle. I’m less convinced, though, that they’re as useful when thinking about individual children. The fact that Amir got a question on the passive voice wrong on a hot afternoon in May may mean he hasn’t properly grasped the concept – or it may just mean he lost concentration at that point. But if Amir’s Year 6 teacher assessment and any baseline assessment his secondary school does tell a similar story, then it’s a safe bet that you’re on to something.

5. ‘Bring your best work from primary’
Secondary teachers won’t magically know what their new pupils are capable of, and eleven year olds aren’t always comfortable blowing their own trumpets. How about asking Year 7s to bring their best pieces of work from primary school and stick them in the front of their exercise books? It’s hard to forget how brilliant you can be at fractions when the evidence is right there in front of you.

6.     Rethink induction days
Most secondary schools do a great job of inviting their upcoming Year 7s to spend a day at their new school, finding their way around and learning a bit more about what to expect in September. Understandably, such days rarely provide much opportunity to think in any great detail about academic transition. Might there be an opportunity to plan a different type of day, or series of days, for some pupils? Might those children who just missed the expected standard in their SATs, for example, benefit from spending a few days in the summer term with their new teachers to help them hit the ground running in September – especially if the proposed Year 7 resits are introduced? 

None of these ideas is a silver bullet, and genuine continuity of learning isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. But I’m heartened by the number of school leaders and teachers I come across who are exploring approaches like these, and learning a huge amount as part of the process.

Follow Julie on Twitter @juliecmcculloch

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