EEF Blog: Getting transition right (part 1 of 2) – four practical, evidence-based strategies to support pupils moving from Year 6 to Year 7

In the first of this two-part blog focusing on primary-secondary transition, Kirsten Mould – a serving secondary school leader and SENCo on part-time secondment as the EEF content specialist for learning behaviours – looks at four key evidence-based principles her school is using to support pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as they move from Year 6 to Year 7…

Transition is a key issue for both primaries and secondaries as we plan the return to school for more children.

Most Year 6 pupils will not have had a chance to bring their primary years to a close as would usually happen: the sitting of formal exams, residential trips, visits to their new schools, leavers’ assemblies (and of course their leavers’ hoodies!). All that, combined with varied family experiences of lockdown, varied home routines and varied access to learning, means we need to think extra carefully about how we can best ease children’s move into Year 7.

Those children will, naturally, be experiencing the range of emotions which accompanies any big change: hopefully excitement and happiness, but maybe also anxiety and fear. Those of us leading transition are used to building resilience throughout this period of change. We need to prepare for the fact that positive learning behaviour for all may well be more of challenge this year.

Getting transition right requires focus. Even one broken thread can unravel the strand, disrupting a pupil’s learning journey. Those who do not make a successful transition can feel marginalized, unwelcome, and not respected or valued by others. Successful transition happens when there is effective communication with pupils (and their parents/carers), not just about pupils.

Transition is especially important for pupils with SEND and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The research is clear that these groups are most at-risk of a decline in educational outcomes following the transition to secondary school.

How, then, can we ensure a positive school transition for the 2020 cohort of Year 6? What does the evidence suggest will help us to keep children’s academic and social threads intact as we prepare them for secondary school?

Support resources for schools

Support resources for schools

Tools for schools to help support home learning and maximise the impact of work set.

The EEF’s recent rapid evidence assessment – Best evidence on supporting students to learn remotely – highlighted a handful of key considerations for schools as we respond to Covid-19 closures. I thought it would be useful to highlight here some of the provision we have put in place at my secondary school under four of these headings:

1) Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered

  • Locating Year 6 – pupils have been working at home and at school so establishing communication connections have been vital.
  • Providing online videos to explain their new school, as well as a video to introduce carefully chosen transition activities, such as:
  • Gifting Year 6 a reading book with associated prediction and vocabulary activities to question and clarify – this book will be the focus of work in English in Year 7;
  • A maths challenge booklet with mathematical language exemplified and with vocabulary pages for Year 6 to add definitions and examples to;
  • A diary to record some significant moments (with suggested sentence starters) encourages expanding their emotional language.

2) Ensuring access to technology is key, especially for disadvantaged pupils

  • During transition conversations, liaising with Year 6 teachers about what online platforms they are using and ensuring we can link into their work.
  • All resources are on our website and have been sent out on the primary school platform. In addition, these have been mailed in paper format to every child. All online materials are mobile friendly and PDFs for easy access.

3) Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve outcomes

  • We have decided on a transition week, a fully timetabled set of transition activities which has been sent to all Year 6, whether learning at home or at school. This week will be the same for all Year 6 to enhance collaboration within and between schools, with secondary teachers on hand too.
  • Collaborative song – contributions from all Year 6 pupils will be recorded, stitched together and shared with families and at the first assembly in the autumn term to help build a sense of identity and belonging.

Support resources to share with parents

Support resources to share with parents

Resources to share with parents on how to support home routines.

4) Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes

  • Alongside the activities sent out is a suggested timetable to help scaffold organisation of time during ‘transition week’ and a blank for those who want to design their own.
  • ‘Pack your bag’ checklist.
  • Summer challenges list – including how to tie your tie! We are encouraging Year 6 to decide on their own goals, too (eg, practising walking to their bus stop, talking to friends about starting, reading more, etc).
  • Learning Plan written by all – outlining things they enjoy, their aspirations, as well as things they do well and things they need support with – building their own awareness of their learning.

Making these pedagogic connections throughout transition are crucial. Wider evidence related to metacognition and self-regulation suggests disadvantaged pupils are likely to particularly benefit from explicit support to help them work independently.

This list of transition activities from my school is part of a process. If you’re interested, you can check out our Year 7 transition page here: https://www.marywebbschool.com/year-7-transition/.

Transition is a moment of school life when effective learning behaviours can be at risk. Attending to every thread, informed by the best available evidence, will, I hope, help other schools focus on the ‘best bets’ for maximum impact.

* Click here to read Getting transition right (part 2 of 2) – how my school is applying evidence to promote positive learning behaviours

Further reading:

Back to school: Using psychological perspectives to support re-engagement and recovery, The British Psychological Society, 28.05.2020 – this paper is very useful on the principles we need to retain in supporting transitions.

Van Rens et al. (2018) Facilitating a Successful Transition to Secondary School: (How) Does it Work? A Systematic Literature Review – this review gives the perspective of the child and highlights the importance of the pupil, the school and the parent – giving all stakeholders a voice.