I wonder how many of us can answer this question easily? How can we succinctly explain to an 11 year old just how their life is going to change? How do we prepare the parents and whose job is it to do any of this? Phew, that’s a lot to think about.
I often hear the phrase ‘It’ll be different at Big School’ or ‘You are at ‘Big School’ now. My issue here is, so what? The pupils are very aware that they have moved to a new school! From the safety of their small (yes, even a huge 3 or 4 entry school is small) primary school to their huge (yes even the 3 or 4 form entry schools are huge). What they don’t really know is, other than the sheer size of it and number of staff and pupils increasing, what that will look and and feel like. This is what I feel we need to get better at, both in year 6 and year 7. In an ideal world, even year 5 to year 8!
I once suggested to a group of teachers (friends I hasten to add!) that maybe for the first week, at least, of Year 7 that all of the pupils should have a ‘base classroom’ and all the staff go to them to teach. It was just an ‘off the cuff’ idea after a discussion around how many pupils were late to lessons in the first few weeks, even though they had had a tour (more on that later). My idea was met with a mix of laughter and pure horror, including some blood draining from their faces at the thought of it!
- ‘There’s no way I could carry everything I needed’
- ‘I’d never make it on time after teaching in my own room’
- ‘I wouldn’t know where any of the equipment would be kept in a new room’
- ‘Why would I want to wander around school from room to room?’
- ‘I don’t have time to pack up everything I need and get to a new classroom’
All valid points, and also all issues the children have too! But they are 11/12 and in a brand new school, full of strangers. My friends, on the other hand are adults and have worked in their respective schools for a number of years. Like I said, just a thought. The aim of my point was not to have teachers suggest this system to leaders and completely alter their timetabling. But maybe, albeit hypothetically, consider walking a mile in an 11 year old’s shoes. Are we asking these children to deal with things that horrify us as adults?
I said I would come back to the tours. How many tours does it take for a child to know where every classroom they will visit in a week is situated? I have no idea how to answer that, I still need to stop and think about where I am going a lot of the time and I’m 42! Do we give the pupils a map? Do they know how to read the map? Do we teach them how to if they don’t? Is that ever actually helpful? Whose job is it to teach them that skill? Maths teacher, Geography teacher, PE teacher, Form Tutor, Year 6 teacher………I know I am just throwing questions out there, and possibly many of you might be switching off, I do hope not though! I honestly think the only way we are going to make sure that more pupils have a successful transition is by questioning all of our current practice, not just how to navigate around school, and not just the big issues. How do we help the children and why? However I think all of this should to be questioned with the appropriate perspective, that of a child, not an adult! My little experiment with the room changes idea was a classic example of why this is important.
As with all my posts I am not talking about every child in school. I have known plenty of children that take all of this in their stride and are absolutely fine from day one, some even surprise us all. They are resilient creatures after all, who adapt to their new environments. What about those who don’t though? Should our systems support the lowest denominator or the highest? What about those who struggle so much with the change in systems that everything else falls behind. Academic success, relationships, self esteem the list is endless. With these children, who is best place to foresee these problems arising? The obvious answer is their year 6 teacher or of course, parents but it is the secondary schools who are the ones best placed to know what changes are coming! There is a wealth of soft intelligence and fantastic staff out there who work tirelessly to support transition. So why are these children still struggling? I fear it is because of my original question:
What does ‘big school’ look like? More importantly who is going to help me get used to the changes, how will they do that, and when should it start?