The move from primary to secondary school is a huge milestone in a child’s education. If managed well, this transition can be a positive step forwards in a pupil’s learning journey and the foundation for success throughout their schooling.
Successful transition has been a major focus for schools for many years - despite this, many children still get held back by the disruption caused when they move from Year 6 to Year 7, leaving children who thrive at primary school not going on to achieve their full potential in secondary education.
Any good headteacher knows this already and is working to resolve the issue. But which solutions work most effectively?
We asked primary and secondary school leaders for their views on what makes a successful transition at two workshops which we jointly hosted with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
Working in collaboration for a successful transition
Many schools are very good at managing transition from a pastoral perspective and making sure students are familiar with their new surroundings and teachers, but less emphasis has been put on how well academic data from the transfer is used and understood.
There are too many assumptions made, our delegates told us, and this can lead to issues. A belief that a cohort would have covered 3D shapes in detail when they have not can lead to children being left behind. Or more often than not, if a good transition programme is not in place, the early part of Key Stage 3 results in a repetition of what pupils have already covered in Year 6, meaning that progress gets off to a slow start.
The challenge is to work together in a more collaborative way so that the whole rich academic experience of transitioning pupils is understood, and information sharing is not limited to maths, science and literacy data. A pupil’s progress in the broader curriculum topics and details about their attitude to learning are just as important.
Our senior leaders discussed a range of ways for schools to work more collaboratively, such as using every opportunity to get together with your primary or secondary counterparts to discuss ways of teaching topics across Year 6 and Year 7 that build on existing knowledge, organising teacher swaps between primary and secondary schools, and sharing information that gives teachers a more rounded picture of their new arrivals at secondary school. One way to do this is to have pupil passports containing a range of information about a pupil’s achievements, attitudes and strengths.
The role of assessment in transitions
Schools recognise that clear and reliable assessment information from Key Stage 2 must be passed on to secondary schools to ensure a smooth transition, but heads agreed that getting it right can be a challenge in light of the removal of levels. In a post-levels world, the mix of assessment systems is causing some headaches, with one secondary school leader telling us that the main problem they faced was that the data from their feeder schools is not in the same format. This presents a challenge in understanding a pupil’s abilities and reporting on their progress in their first year at secondary school.
Schools discussed a range of assessment schemes for Key Stage 3 and explored some of the different approaches being used to measure assessment and evidence progress. These included giving pupils current and predicted GCSE grades right from Year 7 to inform expectations early. One advantage schools saw is that grades are easily understood by parents and pupils alike.
Another approach involved mapping pupil progress against the National Curriculum programmes of study across Year 6 and Year 7 using curriculum statements – such as emerging, secure and mastered – to show what pupils can do now, and where they are heading.
The role of technology
School leaders agreed that technology was key in supporting a good transition for pupils when transitioning from primary to secondary school. Some common themes emerged from discussions around what schools needed from their MIS to help the transition process, such as a system that supports consistency in assessment across schools, that is easy to use and will help reduce workload. Using an MIS has prompted a change in culture for one school, where teachers are encouraged to spot a lack of progress in children rather than feeling under the spotlight themselves when pupils don’t advance as well as they should.
A successful transition
A successful transition from primary into secondary education can only be achieved with a combination of strong collaboration between schools, a joined-up approach to assessment and a firm grip on effective data management.
Primary and secondary schools are already working together to help bridge differences in assessment systems or pupil tracking methodologies and support pupils in making good progress when they move on. With greater freedoms to adopt their own assessment systems, schools have the opportunity to develop the approach that works best for them.
When it comes to data, quality not quantity is the key to a good transition. Rather than adding to workloads, data should support school leaders and teachers in doing their jobs well. Schools want to explore how their data can better inform decisions being made, and ensure their MIS not only delivers the information they need on pupil progress, but also supports their chosen assessment model.
While each school may choose a different approach to supporting pupils’ learning, what matters is that their chosen pathway works well for teachers, pupils and parents so that the journey from primary to secondary school is a successful one for every child.