Making the transition from primary or preparatory school to secondary school is always going to be a cause of anxiety to children. For many young people, the move to secondary school opens up huge opportunities and these are grasped with excitement and enthusiasm. However, we also need to remember that there are so many challenges to face: more teachers, more subjects, a bigger school to navigate, homework, the need to be organised and – perhaps most significantly – the need to make new friends. We can all remember that sinking feeling when entering a new school for the first time, wondering whether that sense of dread would ever dissipate.
It is important for us, as teachers in the secondary school system, to note the comment by The Good Schools Guide that “the best secondary schools … help prepare the youngsters for their transition/transfer”.So what can we do to ease that transition and enable the child to see their move to secondary school as a positive experience rather than one to be feared?
Research conducted by the University of London concluded that there are five aspects of a so-called successful transitionfrom the child’s point of view. These include:
- the ability to make new friendships
- settling into school so well that they caused no concern to their parents
- showing an increased interest in school and school work
- getting used to their new routines and school organisation with great ease
- experiencing curriculum continuity.
It is clear that secondary schools have an obligation to their future students to ensure that the progression to the next stage in their life is smooth. The research provides us with evidence that a negative experience of transition increases issues with poor self-esteem and confidence. Furthermore, problems with transition can result in a dip or even a reversal in academic progress, all issues which can cause devastating problems further on in school life.
The more opportunities, therefore, that a secondary school can offer year-six pupils to be involved in the life of their new school, the easier that transition will be. Familiarity with surroundings, routines and encouraging both students and parents to visit the school before the start of the new academic year will ease this difficult time. This is especially important for children with autistic spectrum conditions who are particularly vulnerable to bullying. At my school we work very hard with such children to ensure that they are familiar with school routines beforehand by exploring the homework diary, timetables, routes around the school and meeting their teachers.
The Good Schools Guide talks of the importance of staff from the senior school visiting feeder schools to aid this transfer. A year-six child feeling that there is a genuine interest in his/her concerns will help the child look forward in anticipation rather than trepidation. This can certainly help in avoiding the stereotypical view that the plethora of teachers and subjects studied in secondary school makes a secondary environment less child-centred than its primary counterpart.
Working with parents too is important. Do they know about the rules regarding school uniform? Are they aware of the extra-curricular programme so that they can encourage their child to take part in activities that might help forge new friendships? Have they prepared their child physically for the new term in September with early starts and lots of sleep? However, the process of a good transition does not stop on the first day in year seven, it continues throughout the year and even into year eight. A child needs to feel part of his/her new community and this can be achieved in many ways, but certainly not in a single day.
Only when both secondary and primary schools work in partnership can a child be helped to see the next stage of their education as the start of an amazing new opportunity and part of the continuing process of education, rather than a wasted year characterised by anxiety.
Helen Jeys is Deputy Headmistress at Manchester High School for Girls