Transition: A bridging project to tackle a trio of challenges

In my time as a Year 6 teacher, I’ve used the phrase ‘secondary ready’ on many occasions. Some children love to hear it while others get very anxious about the move to the ‘big school’. Parents follow a similar pattern: excitement mixed in with anxiety.

In finding the smoothest path to ‘big’ school, I look for every opportunity to weave the two worlds of primary and secondary together.

For example, PE lessons in secondary school are often a source of real excitement and trepidation. How many primary-aged children have to worry about finding changing rooms (and not losing their socks in them)? To support that, we aim to spend time getting to know the exciting new world of secondary PE facilities.

The challenges we face as we prepare children for transition from primary to secondary school are certainly familiar, and often similar patterns replay each year.

The evidence on how transitions impact upon pupils is varied. However, there are many useful points around the factors most likely to contribute to a successful transition. For example, a bridging project can be useful.

Bridging Project: An example from a North East primary school

For our transition project, we worked closely with Year 7 English teachers on a shared book project that would bridge the transition gap. We put reading at the heart of the project to send a clear message about its continued importance beyond primary school.

Our first decision was the book to use, with the promise of individual copies provided by our feeder secondary school. The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce is directly relevant, as the main characters share end of Year 6 moments. The book skilfully addresses many familiar friendship issues, whilst initiating discussion around the mature themes of asylum and illegal immigration. Trusting children to sensitively respond to these issues conveys a powerful message about readiness for secondary school too.

Curriculum continuity is at the heart of the project. Essentially, we recognised that good communication across schools can help foster this, and so, from the earliest planning stage, we asked Years 6 and 7 teachers to work closely together. We planned to deliver lessons in both the primary and secondary classrooms. The children saw the book in the hands of their current teachers, and their new ones. They listened as the book was read aloud to them across the divide of primary and secondary too.

We planned activities which brought the book to life in such a way that, on Transition Day, the children were full of ideas to discuss in their new classes, with peers from schools across the town. In preparing them in this way, we were able to ensure that every experience, including the high-stakes Transition Day, was supported in every sense to be successful.

Before we set up this project, I’d never taught in a secondary school before, but I was very happy and willing to undertake the challenge. We wanted to give a sense of fluidity between the settings, so, we looked for opportunities to move between schools where possible. The school routines and expectations quickly became familiar to us all. Even the strangeness of the bell wore off fairly quickly!

Becoming increasingly familiar with the movement between lessons provided an important advantage too. How quickly our ‘grown-up’ Year 6 children looked very small, when they were moving amongst Year 7 and 8 students between classes. Those first wide-eyed moments of realisation of the enormity of the new setting, are most certainly helped when experienced for the first time with their familiar Year 6 class teacher.

One of the biggest worries associated with transition, for children and their families, is how quickly they will make new friends; which class they’ll be in, and who they will be with. This can be a real source of anxiety, which is why one of the key aims of the project is to bring new classes together as quickly as possible. Connecting with other feeder primary schools through the bridging project was planned from the start. The author visits in the Years 7 and 8 library were also all the more exciting as we joined the colourful audience for the author with the various reds, blues and greens of our primary school sweatshirts. Building healthy peer networks before transition has certainly supported our children to approach transition with optimism and enthusiasm.

The trio of challenges is one we are all working hard to address in this time of preparation. By anticipating the risk points around times of transition, whilst working together with families, we can carefully and deliberately build the support to set every child up for success.