It’s a funny thing: change. There are the little, subtle changes that go unnoticed. These changes make little difference to our everyday routine. We amalgamate them into our lives with a degree of ease – aware of them, but not fully finding their presence threatening to who we are. In stark contrast there are the big changes; the changes that are an inevitable part of life, but which change life as we know it. These are the changes which, whether we see them coming or not, have an impact on who we are; they are the pebbles thrown into our life-puddles which create what can often be lasting ripples. Apprehension, anxiety and a fear of the unknown can be powerful emotions to handle, even for the strongest of adults and adapting to change under these circumstances can often be temporarily debilitating. So how then do we expect children to cope with the huge change that is going to secondary school?
This article originally appeared in the free June 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.
You can order printed editions of the UKEdMagazine by clicking here.
It’s an ongoing quest: finding the key to successful transition. Year after year, the solution evades many, despite the tireless efforts of primary and secondary colleagues to bridge the gap between Year 6 and 7. Many educators directly involved, strive to do the best to achieve success at their ‘end’ of the process. Interactions between teachers and future pupils and induction days offer the wide eyed Year 6 children to catch a glimpse of what their future holds; bus routes are practised and new friendships encouraged, but somehow, when it comes to it, the reality of secondary education is such a big leap from the safety of its younger relative, the children find adjusting difficult. Secondary teachers are left feeling disappointed with how little their new year 7’s can do. Primary teachers are left feeling as though their efforts have not been enough. Secondary assessments fail to see eye to with SATs results and Year 6 assessment data and before you know it, colleagues begin throwing doubt in the direction of each other’s professional judgment.
The question is then, is there an answer?
Can we finally begin to work together to ensure that not only the children are supported through this transition, but also those educators involved? Is it not a case of managing expectations and clarifying misconceptions; to find a way of closing the divide that exists?
The reality of the situation is that secondary education is a big leap from primary. Gone are the days of one classroom and one teacher. The velcro, whiteboard visual representation of lessons is replaced with a more complicated timetable of lessons, classrooms and teachers. Homework is set far more frequently than previously. Homework diaries become an essential tool or organisation but often, despite primary attempts, the children have not yet reached a level of maturity to understand how to make their use effective. Managing your own books, homework, location and timing are skills that need to be developed. They do not necessarily all come together overnight and as a result, it is the children who find themselves floundering in their new environment. The familiarity of well known faces is gone and instead they are faced with a sea of unchartered waters. Add these daily pressures to the anxiety of the change itself and you potentially have dynamite with confidence being the first casualty. Those with resilience cope; those with perseverance manage; those with anything less than this, struggle.
What strikes me most is that there is a genuine sense of wanting to find an effective way through the maze of transition from those involved in both secondary and primary. There are many primary teachers who welcome the opportunity to take the children on induction days, meet the new form tutors and encourage their much nurtured Year 6’s to spread their wings. I talk currently to my Year 5 and 6’s about what to expect at high school and I endeavour to foster resilience in them. I do not shy away from the fact that life is about to get more difficult and the challenges greater, but I do so with the approach that this is an exciting opportunity for them to explore. Likewise, there are many secondary teachers who ensure that they ease the children into their new school life with as much care as possible. They make the effort to communicate and get to know their children, make the effort to ensure that they feel safe and confident and above all make the effort to provide them with the best learning environment possible.
The sticking point, I feel, comes around the issue of progress and achievement. The meeting of minds when it comes to challenge and expectation is not always there. A child can go from having a Year 6 teacher who challenges them daily, to a Year 7 teacher who does not expect as much from them, or vice versa. We are all aware that if we do not set the bar high, we will never come anywhere near to reaching it. Is it then a case of becoming more familiar with where the children have genuinely come from as a point of learning and in turn for primary teachers to be more aware of where the children are expected to go? Rather than see Year 6 and 7 as a division of Key Stages, should we not endeavour to see them as a phase on their own: the transition phase. If primary and secondary colleagues were to collaborate and share their experiences, on a formal basis, would this not enable the children to experience a smoother journey?
There is no getting away from the fact that the transition is going to happen. We cannot escape the inevitability of what lies ahead. What we can do is take responsibility for making that less hazardous for all those involved, especially the children. Through working together, we could pave the way for a meeting of standards, learning and challenge. Risks will be necessary. Resilience will be essential. The children have to face this experience as the first of many in their adult lives.
Continuing professional development across the key stages would ensure a better understanding of expectations and in turn enable the children to be better prepared for what is coming. Bringing standards more in line would facilitate assessment processes to work together. Communication on a deeper level between old and new teachers would ease create a more nurturing scenario, allowing the children to feel more comfortable with the changes. It is not something that can happen overnight, but if we fail to take the opportunities to learn from each other and work together, we fail to make the period successful.
In the words of C S Lewis,
‘It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.’
We are part of the best profession in the world. Rather than cast blame on an inadequate system, talk tirelessly year after year about the gap that exists between primary and secondary, is it not time that we worked together, stood up to be counted and take responsibility to ensure that we make it a success? It only takes the first step and our journey begins. Imagine if everyone played their part to the full, how much easier it would be for our birds to fly…
Claire Bracher @cjabracher is a full time class teacher and an Assistant Headteacher at Huntingtree Primary School, Dudley. She leads whole school English and Upper KS2. Passionate about education, Claire is a big advocate of making education creative and memorable for those she teaches. View her blog at clairebracher.wordpress.com.