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Bridging the transition gap: the focus starts in year 5

Great-Torrington-1024-1This article is taken from the spring edition of the SSAT Journal – hard copies of which were distributed to SSAT member schools before the Easter break.

John Stanier, Assistant Headteacher at Great Torrington School, writes…

The ‘transition slump’ between primary and secondary schools continues to be one of those apparently intractable problems in education. At Great Torrington School we knew that if we were to achieve ever better outcomes for our pupils, we needed to ensure they learned at the same rapid rate at key stage 3 as they did in other key stages. We did realise that it would take a lot of work on many fronts to achieve this.

As Great Torrington is a very rural comprehensive secondary school, our challenge seemed even harder. Many of our 12 feeder primary schools are on the very edges of our catchment area, so some children have to spend a great deal of time getting to school and back.

And of course not all of the primaries were achieving consistently high outcomes for their pupils. How could we ensure a smooth academic and emotional journey from primary to secondary school with such a scattered group of children.

We started by ensuring that all primary school pupils had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the school, our pupils and our staff.

  • Each year, our PE staff organise sporting competitions for primary schools.
  • Primary classes are invited to the school to attend workshops run by our science staff; and are frequently a willing audience for a variety of performances that our pupils stage.
  • Our ‘literacy leaders’ (in year 7) visit many primary schools to read with pupils there.
  • At least once in the year, every department delivers a lesson to a primary school class.

With all of these opportunities, by the time pupils start with us in year 7 they know the buildings and are on familiar terms with a significant number of pupils and staff.

Tracking progress from Y5 to Y8

This process is also about us getting to know the pupils before they arrive at our school. One member of our senior leadership team, Helen, has the specific role of tracking pupils’ progress from year 5 (two years before they reach us) to year 8 (at the end of which they begin their GCSE courses).

Traditionally, high impact tracking and intervention tends to be reserved for GCSE pupils and few resources are available to have this intensity lower down the school. Yet, to us this seems irrational. The earlier we can offer interventions for underachievement, the greater long-term impact this action will have.

We all know that by year 10 or 11 it is often too late to change pupils’ learning behaviours or significantly boost their literacy or numeracy, so by then we can only make marginal gains to their outcomes. The earlier we can intervene, the greater the chance we have of moulding positive templates for learning.

Great-Torrington-1024-2Helen spends a significant proportion of her time visiting primary schools, getting to know the pupils and the teachers. She liaises with the schools so that we have the most useful information about the pupils who plan to come to Great Torrington. We can work alongside primaries and give additional support or intervention for a pupil who needs it.

Thanks to Helen’s work, we have a good knowledge of the real strengths and weaknesses of each pupil and are able to provide appropriate support from the child’s first day at school. Helen continues to monitor pupils’ progress throughout years 7 and 8, and ensures they have access to whatever literacy or numeracy intervention they require.

We have good knowledge of each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses and can provide appropriate support from their first day at school.

Helen also works closely with Andy, our pastoral member of the senior leadership team, to organise transition week for the year 6s in July. Pupils from all 12 feeder schools spend a week getting to know each other and the school. They spend three days camping together, challenging themselves on high ropes, Total Wipeout style assault courses, and climbing. School staff are given time to visit the camp and begin building those key relationships with our future pupils.

For the second half of transition week, pupils spend two days in school, further familiarising themselves with expectations and the school routine, and getting to know the other children in their tutor group and staff. All of these activities are fully supported by our ‘transition leaders’ – year 7s who went through transition the year before.

They are a friendly, guiding face for the leaders in our community, staging an exhibition about slavery in the local museum and putting Frankenstein’s monster on trial. In these challenges, pupils only have three teachers. They learn in a cross-curricular way that is familiar from their primary school. Pupils spend more time with fewer staff than the traditional model so relationships can be stronger.

Friendly and recognisable faces among the ‘big kids’ look out for the Y7s and show them the ropes.

Of course, our year 7s are nervous on their first day of school in September but they do not spend the summer fretting about who will be in their class, whether they will get lost or what their teachers will be like. Once pupils do start, we have a strong pastoral system to support them during this sensitive time.

Tutor groups are vertical – pupils range from year 7 through to year 11. This means the year 7 child has a small, manageable group of three or four peers to share experiences with while also having a few friendly and recognisable faces among the ‘big kids’, who look out for them and show them the ropes.

Great-Torrington-1024-3Talking to the new year 7 pupils, they tell us they never feel intimidated by the older children in school. We also have a house system that we strive to make feel like an extended family. Siblings are always placed in the same house, as are staff whose children attend the school. Each house has a head of house and a non-teaching pupil coach, so there is always immediate support and guidance for pupils at any point in the day.

Project based learning

We have designed the year 7 curriculum to aid transition. For three years now we have removed most separate subjects from the timetable in order to deliver the curriculum through project-based learning. Pupils work through a carousel of five challenges that last seven weeks: building an aeroplane (yes, a real one that a governor will fly), preventing a pandemic, publishing a book on leaders in our community, staging an exhibition about slavery in the local museum and putting Frankenstein’s monster on trial.

In these challenges, pupils only have three teachers. They learn in a cross-curricular way that is familiar from their primary school. Pupils spend more time with fewer staff than the traditional model so relationships can be stronger.

They learn in a cross-curricular way that is familiar from their primary school.

Due to the time teachers spend with each class, they can really focus on issues such as low levels of literacy; while higher achieving pupils are given time and space to show what they are capable of.

Our pupil tracking suggests that all of these efforts to ensure a smooth transition for our pupils are having a positive impact. Our GCSE results show an exceptional amount of pupils’ progress in the time they are with us. Our ‘value added’ score from Raiseonline is 1030 – placing us in the top 10% of schools nationally.

Our monitoring of year 7 shows that pupils make an average of 1.1 levels of progress in just one year, higher that the 0.8 levels of progress that a high performing school would be expected to make. Visitors have commented on how impressed they are by our pupils’ motivation to learn and how they are able to talk about their learning.

Data can only reveal so much but the faces of our key stage 3 pupils reveal so much more. They clearly feel happy, confident and safe in their school.


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This article is taken from the Spring edition of the SSAT Journal. A complimentary hard copy was sent to every SSAT member school, and the full PDF version is available to download from the member area of the website. Download your copy here.


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