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A Transition Like No Other

Ask any adult about their primary school and secondary school memories and there’s an incredibly high probability that they will remember the difference between being a child and being a young adult. That is in essence how we still perceive the transition from primary school to secondary school, the difference between being taught to enjoy learning for the sake of learning and being taught to begin being prepared for adult life. Of course that’s an incredibly simplistic viewpoint because the reverse is also true; children learn key life skills in primary school and gifted secondary school teachers can inspire a love of learning in older children.

Nonetheless, the transition from primary school to secondary school remains a significant rite of passage for our children and there’s been a huge overhaul of this process since the ‘sink or swim’ mentality that accompanied the ‘step up to big school’ in my distant youth. When I started secondary school in the mid 1970s (please don’t do the maths), I had never entered the school’s buildings before my first day as a ‘first year’ student and the only information I had revolved around what hideous experience to expect if you made the mistake of walking into older pupils in the school toilets. Even the phrase “first year” reflects an ancient way of thinking, as we now use the terms “Year 7” to recognise the continuum from “Year 6” whereas the phrase “first year” suggested that all that had happened before was less than relevant.

Thankfully, this is far different from the experience that today’s children have when transitioning from primary to secondary schools. Whereas I had never set foot in my secondary school before the first day of term, most children in Year 6 now get the opportunity to visit their new secondary school before the end of the summer term, typically spending one or two whole days on induction visits. During these visits, typical activities for Year 6 students include tours of the school, ‘taster’ subject lessons, lunch in the school’s dining areas, a welcome talk or presentation from the head teacher and an opportunity to meet their new tutor, teachers, peers and older students. The Open Days that secondary schools hold in the autumn term also provide an early opportunity for children and parents to look around the schools and meet subject teachers before making their choice of new school.

Secondary school staff also visit primary schools to speak to Year 6 students and their teachers and Year 6 teachers prepare secondary school styled lessons and even career days to help prepare Year 6 students for their transition. This takes an incredible amount of time and effort from all involved and has helped to replace the ‘sink or swim’ approach mentioned earlier with the equivalent of an ‘elevator’ approach that has smoothed the transition by a process of familiarisation.

Unfortunately, the present lockdown has jammed the ‘transition elevator’ between floors. The SATs exams have not taken place, denying children an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and depriving secondary schools of a useful, if sometimes controversial, dataset. The induction days have been replaced with Zoom meetings and virtual tours and many Year 6 students are spending their remaining days in primary school with different teachers and less classmates than they had before the school closures.

This is not the only change present Year 6 students will undergo. The recent guidelines issued to secondary schools for the return of all students in September will have a huge impact on the starting experience that our present Year 6 students will have this autumn. Secondary schools are now required and are presently frantically planning to create Year group ‘bubbles’ for the autumn term. To prevent the risk of cross-infection, schools are being advised to ‘house’ Year groups in separate sections of the school for their lessons. This will typically involve each Year group using a fixed set of classrooms for all their lessons with teachers moving between these ‘bubbles’ rather than the tradition of secondary school pupils moving around the school to the classrooms that subject teachers occupy.

This could involve some subjects not being taught in their established manner or even not at all. Practical subjects such as art, design, food technology, computing and music are usually taught in rooms with specialist equipment and used by all Year groups. Dance, drama and physical education also rely on the use of shared spaces and science experiments benefit from specialist environments. If these subject orientated rooms have to be contained within a Year group ‘bubble’ then the school’s senior staff will have to make very difficult decisions and it’s likely that the older Year groups sitting their GCSEs or A-Levels will take a higher priority when timetabling resources.

Year 7 students could be amongst those impacted hardest by these changes. If access to the specialist classrooms is limited to accommodate the government’s guidelines then Year 7 students could see many practical lessons replaced with paper based activities. Teachers and educators have the combined determination and imagination to try and make their lessons as interesting and accessible as they can but there’s no real substitute for using a computer to code, an instrument to produce music or a bunsen burner to create havoc.

This could lead to some parents considering employing tutors to assist their children’s progress in the months ahead. The lockdown has already encouraged many families to seek online tutorials and resources and teachers and tutors are becoming more skilled at teaching remotely by web-cam. Tutor Doctor already have online learning platforms in situ and are well placed to assist families seeking additional tutoring to make up for the learning lost through the closures. The spectre of further local lockdowns and school closures, as seen in Leicester and the mixed experiences of home-schooling may also encourage families to seek the help of tutors who can provide the specialist tuition not readily available elsewhere.

It’s time to make this transition count, a good start at Year 7 can lay the foundations for a great secondary school career. If you are interested in how Tutor Doctor can help, please get in touch.

Photograph courtesy of Juan Salamanca