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Helping learners transition confidently to secondary school

Many pupils fall behind when they start secondary education. One innovative project has aimed to crack the transition conundrum

Posted by Hannah Vickers | July 06, 2017 | People, policy, politics

By Martina Veale, ASDAN Education Director

Making the transition from primary to secondary school is a momentous time in young people’s lives and it can leave children feeling vulnerable and afraid. Pupils have to get used to new teachers and subjects, cope with a bigger, more hectic school environment, and make new friends. Students who were recently the oldest in their school suddenly become the youngest.

Pupils from the poorest backgrounds are the most likely to struggle with the transition, meaning they can end up underperforming throughout their time at secondary school

A less successful transition to secondary school can lead to a dip in academic performance, as well as poor attendance and engagement. Evidence shows that pupils from the poorest backgrounds are the most likely to struggle with the transition, meaning they can end up underperforming throughout their time at secondary school. Learners who find it difficult to integrate into the ‘big school’ are also less likely to continue on to further and higher education, training and employment.

Pilot project

To address these problems and give young people the best chance of succeeding at secondary school, ASDAN led an 18-month project ‘Building for progression: a foot on the ladder’. With funding of £147,000 from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and support from The Progression Trust, the project aimed to create and trial new classroom activities to build self-esteem, resilience and personal skills in learners. 

The activities were piloted at a secondary school in Rugby, Warwickshire, and three feeder primary schools in the area. Learners participated in activities over the four terms prior to starting secondary school in September 2016. This was done in a cross-curricular approach, for example as part of English and PSHE lessons, or in discreet sessions, involving the whole year group.

Benefits for learners

The pilot, which was independently evaluated, showed that students who completed the activities ending up developing a more positive view of going to secondary school. The number of children who felt excited about the move to secondary education was 56% for the pupils who undertook the activities compared with 45% who hadn’t. The percentage of those who felt ‘confident and/or happy’ about the prospect of moving schools was 33% and 21% respectively.

 
Children who participated in the project were more likely to look forward to learning new things – 16% compared with 6% who hadn’t taken part. The percentage of those that said they were looking forward to making new friends was 18% and 0% respectively. When interviewed by researchers during their first term in secondary education, the learners who had participated in the pilot showed enjoyment and satisfaction from being at secondary school.

Successful transition

Natasha Bonehill, Assistant Head of Northlands Primary School, one of the schools involved in the pilot, said: “The pupils who participated in the project improved their confidence and self-esteem and ended up making a more successful transition to secondary school. Soon after starting Year 7, they came back to tell me about their experiences and they spoke about secondary education in such positive terms, saying they were really enjoying it.”

The pupils who participated in the project improved their confidence and self-esteem and ended up making a more successful transition to secondary school - Natasha Bonehill, Assistant Head of Northlands Primary School

The pilot project has culminated in a new primary to secondary school transition programme called Lift Off, which was launched earlier this year and is available for all schools to buy from the ASDAN website.

Lift Off is particularly relevant to MATs, given the emphasis on trust-wide school improvement, collaboration between primary and secondary schools and sharing of effective practice. Any queries about Lift Off and how it can be implemented in MATs can be directed to ASDAN Education Director Martina Veale on 0117 954 3952 or martinaveale@asdan.org.uk

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