Why is transition to secondary school so important? This September, around 600,000 students will have moved from primary to secondary school. It’s an exciting time in their school life, but for many it can also be a very daunting prospect – and for their family too.
A review on this subject concluded that there was “fairly robust evidence that pupils' educational outcomes decline after they move to secondary school” (Jindal-Snape et al, 2019) and “evidence of a decline in pupils' motivation, school engagement and attitudes, and an increase in absence and dropping out”. It also found “evidence of a negative impact of transitions on wellbeing, a decline in feelings of school belongingness and connectedness, poorer social and emotional health, and higher levels of depression and anxiety”.
It's clear there is still work to be done on transition and ensuring students settle quickly into the routines for secondary school to help mitigate these factors, not just for academic loss but for the wellbeing of the children. Of course, the pandemic has also led to increased challenges.
Blainey & Hannay 2021 claimed that at the end of the autumn term there were measurable declines in attainment compared to the previous year - across virtually all subjects and year groups. The Year 6 Pupil Premium group was estimated to be around seven months behind the non-Pupil Premium group in maths. This will be similar for science if not greater. As well as knowledge gaps, Covid protocols have massively reduced the practical and investigation work happening in classrooms.
Children transitioning this year have also not completed their SATs which brings additional challenges. According to Matt Bromley April 2021 SecEd online, collaboration is key post lockdown, and not just in Year 6. Teachers will need to adopt new “markers of progress” to share with their Year 7 colleagues:
“Who has engaged in lockdown learning, and in what capacity?”
“How has/will progress be assessed in the absence of SATs?”
The more Year 6 teachers can identify where learning gaps might exist, the more Year 7 teachers can provide the right support in the critical month of September.
As well as anxiety about starting secondary school, the other big issue for students is learning loss. Primary and secondary teachers talking and sharing plans by mapping what is taught at primary to the Key Stage 3 curriculum ensures progress and cohesion across the subject.
Conversations between science leads in primary schools with Key Stage 3 coordinators will have a positive impact on the engagement and learning of students in the critical first few weeks at secondary school - and beyond. They could also ensure that the language of learning used in Years 6 and 7 is consistent – both in terms of the technical language pupils know and the language teachers use to describe aspects of pedagogy and practice. This focus on language is becoming more important, not only to aid transition, but to close some the communication gaps that have developed during the pandemic.
Many schools have found success in “bridging units” following the SATS in Year 6. Pupils could begin working on this unit during their last half term, continue working on it over the summer holidays and complete it at the start of Year 7. Bridging units enable pupils to produce good work to take with them to secondary school, showing their new teachers what they are capable of. Bridging units also help pupils to see the natural links between primary and secondary curricula, and to understand that secondary education is about progression, not starting again.
Transition days are also crucial. Again the pandemic has had a massive impact on how these are delivered. But whether they’re virtual or in person, they must deliver impact in settling children both academically and from a wellbeing perspective.
Transition from Year 6 to Year 7 is a very complex, multi stepped process and the most effective transition programmes will plan for this to happen over a greater period of time - ensuring that all aspects of pupil transition are catered for.
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