Where do Transition issues hide?

A case study! Meet Anne, Anne is a year 9 girl, about to take her options ready for GCSE’s next year.

Anne has been in school since the start of year 7 along with the rest of her year group, she was the only child from her primary school, she came with Sat’s results of between 100-103 and she was a Greater Depth writer. By year 9, Anne is in the lower sets for all subjects, she has had several exclusions and she has lost count of the number of detentions she has been given! She has limited options, as she is in the lower sets. This means her choices are limited and do not give her the opportunity to follow her dreams and take the subjects she really wants. The consequences of this for Anne (and school) could be a whole other post!

So where did it all go wrong for Anne? If we look back over her record I would hazard a guess that things started going wrong for her just after she started in Year 7. Lets investigate!

There were no behaviour issues reported form primary school, so:

  • Question – Why on earth didn’t the primary school give us full details of Anne’s poor attitude and behaviour.
  • Answer – Probably because there weren’t any.
  • Explain– Take a look back at Anne’s context, she is a bright girl who just happens to be the only child joining your school from her primary school. The primary school did not report any behaviour issues because there were none. This means something about her current situation has sparked this new behaviour. Here is where the early days really matter. By no means am I suggesting that Anne does not need to suffer consequences for her actions, but alongside those consequences should be an explanation! Why is what she is doing so wrong? Maybe what she was doing was not wrong in her previous setting! I know this seems really obvious but context is key for young people. Remember this young lady came from a school with very different rules and expected behaviour and responsibilities. The problem Anne has, is that she has no one in school who understands the exact differences she is going through, no one to bounce the idea off and be able to help her contextualise things!
  • Possible solution – This very much depends on at what point you realise that the move to school has caused the problem. However, the fact that someone has taken the time to track back to where Anne’s issues started in a good place to begin. The harsh reality is that she is in year 9 now, so while as a school, you cannot brush away the past, as the adults in her life you can start to help her shape her future. Including, possibly, a complete attitude change towards her. She is a bright girl who fell by the wayside, this is totally fixable, but if you want Anne to have a new attitude, she has to be shown how to do that and what it will look like. She’s bright, but shes not an adult! Please don’t write her off.

Anne is a really cheeky girl who doesn’t know when to stop:

  • Question – Why she is being cheeky?
  • Answer – She probably doesn’t know she is!
  • Explain – Picture this – Anne is in Maths, she is having a laugh and a joke with her teacher. She is a little sarcastic in some of her comments (shes a bright girl remember) and the teacher responds with a witty reply or at the very least a smile, this is exactly how every day in year 6 went! Now she is in English, and almost word for word responds in the same way to a question, this time the member of staff does not respond as well as the previous. Anne is asked to move seats because she is being disruptive. ‘Why should I’? is her response. What follows is a battle of wills, Anne feels that she has done nothing wrong and wants an explanation, the teacher disagrees. How far this goes is anyone’s guess, it all depends on if either party is prepared to ‘back down’. Now this young girl has a number of consequences on her record and for this member of staff is now a ‘problem’. This is where things can spiral for Anne, the next time she is in English, while she has probably forgotten the whole incident, especially that the teacher is one of the ones she cant be herself with! (Key phrase – Anne was being herself, now it sounds awful doesn’t it!) the teacher may well not have. Anne could well have her cards marked now! So the whole situation ends up being repeated, this time its the second offence so things escalate and so on and so on. Before you know it Anne has a reputation for being a trouble maker and she has no children who know her from her previous school to ‘back up’ that she is not being cheeky, she is just being Anne!
  • Possible solution – I ask you, was she so in the wrong in that first lesson? The obvious solution here is to give her a bit of a break. Someone in school maybe needs to work with her to explain how and when things went wrong. Children do not naturally know how to ‘know their audience’ , they have to be taught that. I am sure that by the time Anne is in year 9 parents will have been contacted too. To ensure we are doing the best for Anne we have to bring them back in, it seems like there are some issues to be resolved and fixing them for Anne needs parental support too. Reflect on, but do not dwell on the past. Please don’t write her off.

Anne never does any homework:

  • Question – Why not?
  • Answer – There are so many reasons for this, the only one that deserves punishment is ‘she couldn’t be bothered’ BUT how often is that really true? Whatever the reason, she may not tell you the truth. Take a look at everything Anne has gone through to date, do you really think that the relationships she has with staff have created the safe space for her to be able to:
    • tell you she doesn’t understand it
    • tell you that she is afraid to get in wrong and get in trouble again so it is far safer to not even start at least she is control of the result
    • tell you that she doesn’t have time at home and provide an explanation
    • tell you that she doesn’t have access to what she needs to complete it
    • tell you that doesn’t have a space at home to work
    • the list goes on.
  • Possible solution – Low stakes homework, homework that doesn’t need to be handed in, homework that doesn’t involve any resources…….Of course these are short term solutions that might help Anne feel more comfortable about the work. However in order to solve the problem there must be a conversation between her and a member of staff. This needs to be a trusted adult and it needs to be a private discussion. We all know relationships are key in education, they have to be respected! Setting homework and punishing for non completion rarely works for repeat offenders, and of course often take up more HOD/HOY/SLT time than is really necessary! Please don’t write her off.

A whistle stop tour, but as always, I take you back to the original question. Where do transition issues hide? They hide in behaviours and in attitudes but they do not manifest themselves overnight and are almost never identified by the pupil. The adults must be the one to start the ball rolling to fix the problem and the earlier they are identified the easier that is. Left too long, a child’s whole future could be in jeopardy!

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