Transition: a bone of contention

Transition: A bone of contention 

In September the mud-slinging starts. Accusations that Year 7s arrive unable to count, read or write. Accusations that Year 7 is just Year 6 rehashed. National headlines about millions of illiterate Year 6s. Key Stage 3 is just coasting until GGSEs. 

None of the above is true. But from my perspective, it seems that the transition from Year 6-7 doesn't work. 

The main reasons? 
- Year 6 teachers are working towards SATs in May.
- High School curriculums are reverse-engineered from Year 11 downwards. 
- There is a lack of communication between settings.
- Year 6 children disperse to countless High schools. 

I personally think all of the above is a result of the culture in our schools, which is in turn driven by DfE policy. I also think this transition could be managed better by central government, but our School system seems to be becoming MORE fractured with Acadamies and the Grammar School push. 

Let's start with Year 6 SATs. Throughout Primary school, in my limited experience, each class works towards objectives laid out (in a vague, woolly way) in the NC2014. Years 2 and 6 have far more 'direction' and tests to work towards. Otherwise staff spend a whole year with their cohort and learning is more personalised. Year 6 staff spend the year training their children to represent themselves (or rather the school) as well as possible. May arrives, SATs completed, stress ended. At least until results day. The goal of staff is to achieve those results. Their work is so focussed on that task they have no space to prepare children for High School. Who could blame staff and pupils for spending the last 6-8 weeks in school on more 'fun' activities: residentials, shows, creative activities. The focus is on helping the child achieve, but also pressure to do well in SATs tests. 

My experience with KS3-4 is limited. From the outside, and based on conversations held with Secondary staff, the goal is Year 11 and GCSEs, much the same as SATs in Primary. Children are prepared for their final year of exams. Curriculums are geared to that aim. At one meeting I attended, Secondary KS3 staff confessed to having NEVER seen the NC2014 documents for their subject. Staff from a few schools concurred that they followed a curriculum designed to prepare for GCSEs, from Year 7 onwards. Not building from Year 6, but picking a point to begin preparations for Year 11. Doesn't sound like continuity to me. 

My next two points are linked. By March most pupils know what school they will be attending. But there is no time for KS3 staff to get to know their future charges. Partly this is due to Year 6 pupils dispersing to a variety of schools. Gone are the days when a whole cohort would move en-masse to their local Comprehensive. In my setting pupils usually move to one of the 3 local High Schools, or alternatively a choice of 5 Grammar Schools in the outlying areas. Upwards of 6 form tutors visit in the Summer term to discuss transition and meet the pupils. This situation is echoed elsewhere with cohorts dispersing in 2s and 3s to various schools. Faith Schools and Grammar Schools have particular entry requirements which provide pupils with a wide choice. A good thing? Certainly. But it provides a situation where a lack of communication arises. Time is scarce, Year 7 staff don't have the luxury of spending quality time with Year 6 pupils and staff, multiply that by the number of feeder schools and the lack of communication is understandable. There is also the historical 'us and them' attitude to factor in. 

So who is to blame? No-one I guess. This is the system, and culture, that our children and staff are presented with. Apart from 'all-through' Academies or Grammar Schools, children leave their Primary setting having spent 7 years preparing for SATs only to start afresh in Year 7: unknown apart from SATs results which are generally disregarded by Secondary staff. High schools often set their own tests to provide on-entry data. Year 6 staff are often baffled at how 'poor' their pupils perform in these tests and Year 7 staff bemoan the lack of Literacy skills in pupils fresh from gruelling SATs experiences. 

What solutions are there to this divide? Well unless the DfE provide a requirement for all schools to partake in a National Scheme (we all know how good they are at that) or OFSTED include transition practices in their inspections (unlikely, but probably most effective), it's up to individual schools, LEAs, the  Academy chains etc. to make this a priority. 

Pupils need to move from Year 6 to Year 7 and continue their development, not take a step back or coast. How do we achieve this? The solutions range from simple steps like improving communication between settings, providing staff (and pupils) from both years an opportunity to spend more time with their counterparts (maybe during that post-SATs period of frivolity), to drastic steps such as moving SATs to other year groups (Year 5 possibly) to allow Year 6 staff time to concentrate on the individual pupils and their transition.
There are other solutions but both of these provide TIME to make the transition more smooth and remove some of the roadblocks. Surely pupils continuing their development in this manner would result in better behaviour, higher engagement and ultimately better performance in GCSE exams in Year 11.


I'm lucky to be involved in planning #TMRochdaleTransition in June at Siddal Moor Sports College. A TeachMeet in Rochdale specifically focussed on Transition from Year 6 to Year 7. The intention of the TeachMeet is for Year 6 and KS3 staff to present on ways to smooth the transition period, whilst also providing an opportunity to network with colleagues from both settings. Communication is key.

Comments

  1. So true. This piece has struck a chord with me. As a secondary head, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the transition is vital for Y7 to get a good start in secondary school.

    Secondary school teachers who will teach Y7 need to visit children in Y5 and 6 settings so that they can get a good idea of the level of challenge of the work. Tony Rushworth

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  2. Thanks for your comment. I think we need cross-fertilisation in both directions. Hard when Year 6s move to different schools, needs to be led by LEAs/MATs. The half term after SATs and GCSEs should be used to phase transition before the 6 week break.

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