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The transition to secondary school

by Cathy Duncan

Starting secondary school is a recognised milestone for every learner. An adventure, a challenge that can often be seen as a daunting prospect for many. Of course, there will always be an element of anxiety moving to secondary school but this year these will be magnified as a result of the pandemic and the uncertainty brought about by school closures.

The last few weeks of primary school should be fun and memorable. End of year assemblies celebrate successes and positive memories. Performances, videos and dances give pupils a much-needed final boost of confidence as they move forward to secondary school. Yet, this year many young people feel that they have been robbed of these experiences and their rite of passage moving forward to the next chapter of their education.

There is still so much uncertainty around school openings, but it does now look increasingly likely Year 6 and Primary 7 pupils across the UK will be spending some of their remaining weeks back at school.

Different celebrations

For some, physical visits to secondary school may still happen albeit in smaller groups. Most will get the chance to have some sort of closure and a chance to say goodbye to their teachers. However, while many schools are already planning some kind of celebration to mark their end of primary school it is important to remember, due to social distancing, these events will look very different to before.

Covid-19 will continue to present many challenges along with new opportunities for everyone. School leadership teams and teachers should be commended on the level of resilience, creativity and adaptability shown throughout this pandemic. They have faced challenges head on and looked for opportunities to improve and grow. They have been courageous and most importantly have always had the child at the centre of their thoughts when making any decision.

Why should transition be any different? Despite the current restrictions, the principles at the heart of successful transition remain constant: familiarisation, connections and relationships.

Leadership teams across the country are creatively rethinking the transition process at break neck speed to meet the new range of needs of the Covid-19 cohort. Before transition programmes are written and plans put in place we should remember the importance and value of pupil voice.

Safe space

Schools need to offer a safe space for their new recruits and families to voice their concerns and anxieties, explore their worries and help manage change. Only when schools really listen can they then produce creative transition programmes based around the needs of their learners rather than reworking existing programmes. More than ever, schools are focussing on the wellbeing of their children rather than their academic readiness. If children are to flourish and feel safe in their new environment during these uncertain times, then their social and emotional needs must be addressed initially.

Familiarity helps young people feel safe, yet this year many pupils will not be able to physically immerse themselves into their new school. Yes, transition will be very different, but we have a great opportunity to do something innovative online. Many schools are already setting up temporary transition websites offering pupils virtual tours of the building, demonstrating everyday routines. They are creating excitement for the range of subjects on offer through video and using virtual assemblies to share school values, their culture and ethos.

Disrupted networks

This pandemic has disrupted social networks and friendships. Children will need time to settle, rebuild these important friendships and establish new ones. Some schools are already beginning to support children by creating online opportunities to collaborate with peers and members of staff.

On return to school, structures may need to change to help children form stable relationships with peers and teachers. Relationships on all levels will be crucial in helping children thrive and may help act as a buffer for any negative challenges related to transition. onto secondary school.

Transitions this year have been more complicated than ever before. Already children have had to cope with the very sudden and abrupt transition to home learning. They, however, continue to surprise us with their capacity to adapt to change in their lives, particularly if they have support from their family and school.

This pandemic has given us the opportunity to reconnect as a community and we should continue to collaborate and strengthen these connections not just in August or September but throughout the school year as transition back to the classroom will continue for everyone in education.


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