Putting a Premium on smooth moves to and from secondary school

By Kerry Martin and Tami McCrone

Tuesday 29 October 2013

‘Parents’ greatest fears when their child starts secondary school are that they will be bullied or will not do well, rather than whether they will smoke, drink or use drugs, a survey has revealed. But their offspring’s number one concern is making the right sort of friends as they make the transition to their new environment, the same findings show.’

These concerns reported in the Guardian are common at this time of year. Every September thousands of young people move on to the next stage of their education or training – this can often cause anxiety and sometimes worse.

Recently, we carried out a workshop with staff from primary and secondary schools and academies and discussed some of our research findings on transitions. Feedback from teachers and support staff was that their schools had invariably developed strategies to support the social and emotional aspects of primary to secondary transfer, which included taster days and summer schools.

Taster visits for Year 6 pupils prior to transfer are a fairly typical and embedded form of practice in most secondary schools. The use of transition summer schools however, tends to be a more recent development which has grown in popularity since 2012, following the introduction of a new Government-funded scheme, as part of the Pupil Premium programme.

NFER evidence shows that transition summer schools help to ease the move from primary to secondary school among disadvantaged pupils. They also enable schools to offer a range of activities geared towards the needs of their incoming Year 7 students, which set them up for a positive start to their secondary schooling.

Our survey of over 21,000 Year 7 pupils shows that attending a Summer School is related to more positive pupil attitudes in their first term (including increased confidence, socialisation and school readiness scores). Our research suggests that successful transition summer schools take a ‘long term view’ of the summer school as part of the wider experience of transition for pupils, which might include integrating summer school strategies and activities within teaching and learning in Year 7. It is also important to design a high quality programme, which includes an inspiring mix of activities delivered in different locations and spaces. Our guide for planning and delivering transition summer schools provides some further top tips.

An ongoing concern around Year 6 to 7 transition, which was also echoed by some of the school staff attending our workshop, is the need to develop better curriculum links between the primary and secondary phases to improve academic outcomes. This can be achieved by accessing pupil data prior to transfer to identify support needs in specific subject areas and set individual targets early in the new term. The development of transition summer schools with a specific focus on numeracy and literacy, for example, can be used to provide catch-up support to build pupil confidence and increase engagement. Curriculum-bridging activities, which begin in primary and carry on into Year 7 also help to ensure greater continuity across subject areas.

Like their younger counterparts, young people making transitions post-14 and post-16 also have anxieties about transition. Although they make their own decisions about subjects, courses and the locations at which they want to learn, they need support and guidance to achieve successful transitions. A concern is that currently careers guidance is not adequately supporting all young people to make these transitions in a fully supported and informed way.  Young people like to receive up-to-date and impartial information about the options available to them from a range of informed, trusted adults. Adults such as careers advisers, representatives from alternative providers (for example FE colleges, UTCs and training providers), employers, subject and form teachers and informed parents are ideal. Moreover, peers from a year ahead, already experiencing the course or training that the young person is considering, are valued sources.

Our evidence suggests that, as with support strategies (such as transition summer schools) for younger pupils outlined above, partnership working, good communication, induction periods, peer support and the identification of, and additional support for, young people at risk of disengagement are crucial to ensure the smooth transition of young people post-14 and post-16.

Young people expect things to change; they see transition as an opportunity to grow in status and have new experiences. Successful change is about keeping all parties fully informed and valued and guiding young people on their journey. In order to allay the anxieties expressed by young people and parents in the ICM poll, it is vital that pupils’ social and emotional needs and their learning needs are identified and addressed.