As we approach the midway point of a summer holiday filled with uncertainty about September what can teachers possibly do to help prepare future pupils before the term starts? The answer is, loads and this is not simply the job of the Transition Lead or Head of Year. At the end of the day if you have year 7 on your timetable (or even if you don’t) you have a responsibility to support the transition process! There are so many things that you can start to think about and prepare to ensure that your new students have the best start in your class, regardless of the circumstances. Ultimately, although the hows and whens about the new term are still up the air, a little like paying Tax, the certainty is that it will happen and they will start your school eventually!
This post will (hopefully) give some ideas about how to make sure that the pupils are made to feel safe, secure and as confident as can be. I know many people reading this post will have wide range of responsibility in school. For this reason I have separated the academic and the pastoral/Well-being into 2 easy to read sections. As with all of my posts these are simply food for thought. I am happy to spend time with anyone who would like to explore more details, as you can imagine, I could go on and on!
- First and foremost you must have at least a basic understanding of the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum. This is something I have advocated for years but this year more than any other it is vital that teachers have an understanding of what learning (should) have taken place prior to them joining your school. In order to fully support the pupils to ‘fill the gaps’, it is helpful to know what they may have missed out on. This doesn’t need to be an onerous task. You can find the documents here https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-curriculum. It is split into a number of formats, choose the one easiest for you to work with!
- Cross reference the Key Stage 2 and 3 NC documents for your subject area. Based on your new found understanding of the KS2 curriculum is there anything you can do to improve the KS3, not necessarily the content but the timing of delivery or referencing in your teaching. ‘I know you studied this in primary school. It might have been called ………..’ You’d be surprised how effective this strategy can be.
- Give pupils the opportunity to remember! Have plenty of activities ‘in the bag’ to support memory quizzing rather than testing. Give the children the chance to talk to each other, ask them a question, offer a topic of discussion, then give them time to talk. You’d be surprised what they can remember when the pressure is off and they are left to their own devices! Some simple examples: As a group, in 10 mins write/draw/make notes (let them choose the format, this will also tell you a lot about the child!) about everything you all know about Romans, The Water Cycle, Light, Fractions, Metaphors, Punctuation, Coding, the list is endless and can be as wide or as detailed as you like. You can save yourself an awful lot of time and effort if you start each new block of learning by giving the children the opportunity to share their knowledge/memories with each other informally, As we already know, if the pressure is off it helps children immensely. *More ideas to come in a future post – Quick wins for the class teacher.
- Safe spaces. For the last 6 years the children have been in a school where they have a safe space or safe person. Each child deserves the opportunity to find these in their new school. Of course for the majority of pupils this will be a place/person you provide. A form tutor/Head of Year/Head of House/ SEND base etc etc. However, this might not be the safe space or person of choice for all. You cannot expect the children to trust you because you tell them they can! Safeguarding training tells you that if the child discloses anything to you it is because they choose to and they trust you. The same can be said for basic and general well being. Do they ‘pop in’ to see you at break/lunch/before or after school? In a world of confusion and new experiences a child has chosen you or your base to be their safe space. Give it to them, they clearly need it. It doesn’t need to last for a long time, in fact it probably won’t but turning the child away can do more harm than good. How many times has ‘tough love’ worked? The early relationships the pupils choose to forge can be make or break for some!
- We all know it is important to get to know pupils, but are the first few days of a new school in ‘normal times’ let alone Covid times really the best times to ask them to pour their heart out? One of the hardest questions for some pupils to answer are about themselves. I have known so many children just freeze when they are asked about themselves. So many things could go wrong for her/him. What if someone/everyone laughs? What if the truth is painful for them? What if they are keeping secrets? If you are asking about hobbies what if a child doesn’t have any and what if you ask them why they don’t! The unfortunate truth is that some children have home lives that we could never comprehend. The last thing they want to do is talk about it. Instead, tell them about you!
- I play netball/drums/the harp, does anyone know anything about this? Note, I am not suggesting you ask if they play! You can hold down a pretty good conversation about something even if you don’t engage in it yourself. This gives you the opportunity to open a dialogue without any pressure for the pupil.
- My favourite subject at school was………. Can anyone guess why I enjoyed it so much? I ask this because I think its very difficult to pinpoint why you like something. This gives pupils the opportunity to think about the reasons why someone might enjoy a subject or activity. Its quite an abstract ask and yet its something we still use.
- The last book I read was…….. I enjoyed it because……. Has anyone else read it? For this question to work the teacher must have read a year 5/6/7 text. If we want to develop a culture of reading then leading by example and being able to talk about it is so important!
- The vast majority of the children in a school are well behaved. They choose to follow the rules and want to stay on your side. For too many though, this is more difficult because they are simply not used to the new rules and it takes a while for them to get used to them. In my many years as a pastoral lead for KS3 I have worked with (probably) hundreds of children who have had ‘black marks’ against them for not following some rules fully in the early days. Through conversation, and sometimes tears, I often discovered that the child simply did not understand the rule, had misinterpreted it or had even behaved in exactly the same way with a different member of staff and they had not been in trouble. The discussion about consistency aside, this is where, as teachers you need patience, understanding and to be prepared to explain (not shout) about the rule that had been broken, maybe even explaining why it is a rule in the first place! It could well be something the child has never come up against before! Give the child the opportunity to tell you what it was like in their old school, this context could be key to you understanding the child and their motivation. This conversation needs to only take a couple of minutes but it can be life changing for some pupils.This is not something to be passed onto pastoral leads immediately, that simply puts up a barrier for the child and then you are fighting an uphill battle.
The start of the new term is difficult for children and adults alike, this year more than any other. Most of the children due to start with you in September will not have been in school since March in fact, due to shielding, there may even be some staff who have not been in either. Without preparation to support both groups this could be a recipe for disaster. With so many uncertainties at this time in our lives, you still have the opportunity to take some control back in your classrooms. The ideas I have suggested here are just the tip of the iceberg, hopefully a catalyst to stop the head scratching and start the brainstorming. Nothing needs to be drastic or a big strategic change, nor does it need to take up a great deal of your well deserved summer holiday. What it does need is some thought and preparation though, all things needs to be considered with the best interest of all at the heart. I hope I have helped in some way to start the ball rolling.
If this post is to leave you with any message, it is that every member of staff in school has a part to plat in the transition process for children and there are some very quick wins to get it right.