Failing to prepare…

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As our year 6 children find themselves in the last half term holiday as a primary school child, do we think that they are ready for the change? Every year we ask ourselves this question and of course the answer will differ from child to child. I do wonder though, if them actually being ready is the same as us thinking they are ready. It could well be that they have now ‘outgrown’ primary school, but does that really mean that they are ready for secondary school? We all know that moving from being the Big Fish to Little is a huge transition for children. There is so much preparation that needs to take place if this is going to be successful and like with all new habits, these take time to even identify let alone embed.

There have been so many posts on Twitter over the past few months, asking how we can get our year 6’s and in some cases year 5 children ready for the move the secondary school. Seeing the posts about preparing year 5 is an absolute joy to see. I have long been an advocate of longer term preparation for secondary school. So much so that along with Dr Charlotte Bagnall and the University of Keele, I have spent 2 years working with children from year 5, through to year 6 to help get them ready for some of the skills that they are going to need when they move schools, regardless of what secondary school each of these children are going to and as soon as that research is available I will be sharing it.

I truly believe that it does not matter what school the children are going to move to or from, preparation is key and needs to be much longer term than a few weeks after SATs or in the first few months of secondary school. There are so many skills that the children are going to need that have never really been considered before.

Here are just a few of the things I have found and how primary schools can begin to prepare their cohorts but also how secondary schools can keep them in mind when the children start their new school journey.

What we say to childrenWhy this can be problematic!
You will make lots of new friends. How and Why? Many children will have been with you in the primary setting since nursery or reception. Making friends is easy at that age. There are no social pressures to consider, no worries about saying the wrong things or making friends with the wrong people. This is a huge worry for children! Making a new friend is a skill that needs to be taught and explored long before the emotional upheaval of being in a new school.
Research has also shown that many children are actually less worried about making new friends as they are loosing old ones. This was a really interesting finding in the School Transition and Adjustment Research Study (STARS) completed by the University of Central London. This is definitely something that needs to be considered if we want to ensure our children’s are emotionally ready for the move or are being properly supported in September and beyond.
If you get lost just ask someone where to go. Is it that easy? Haven’t we spent all of the children’s lives up to this point encouraging them not to speak to strangers. In reality, almost everyone in their new school will be a stranger and even though we all (and deep down the children also) know that this is still a very safe space, the actual act of speaking to someone that you don’t know, for the first time is really tough for some children, not to mention a fair few adults. Being able to do this is a skill that most definitely needs to be taught. And In my experience, advising the children that they almost certainly WILL get lost has helped them when it happens as it became a “well I’m glad that first time is over with” situation rather than the panic of “Oh no I was hoping it wouldn’t happen to me” (quotes from Year 7 children)
You will have lots of new teachers. In my experience this can cause as many problems as it can help ease situations. I recently tweeted a section from Emma Turner’s latest book Simplicitus that summed this up beautifully, see below!
I often talk to pupils about how they should absolutely NOT change who they are. But in some circumstances they might need to find the appropriate version of themselves depending on the adult they are with. They already do this at school/home/family/ etc. and so this simply needs highlighting. Although secondary staff – this understanding is key for you! You may like the cheeky nature of Child A; but that same sense of humour would not be seen as appropriate in a colleagues class. Of course this is not an expectation that any member of staff should change their expectations, but please give the children more than one or 2 lessons to remember exactly what they are for each of the staff they are going to encounter!
You’ll be fineThis is the danger zone for me. The truth is that this may not be the case, and even if it is when has just saying ‘Calm down’ or, ‘you’ll be fine’ ever actually worked? Does it really serve as good enough advice for the anxiety facing these children when they move schools? Every concern the children have when moving schools is a valid one and deserves some support. We all get bogged down with 100’s of questions when we are discussing this move but isn’t this just more reason to begin the preparation earlier? More time spent on this means less panicked issues between May and July! It doesn’t need to be huge amounts of work, just some gentle reminders and some links to skill they are learning through the curriculum anyway. Reminders if how they can explicitly be used in everyday life!
Reflecting again on the number of teachers the children will now have, how on earth do they learn enough about them to decide who they trust enough to confide in? and if they don’t have that trusted adult in school, how on earth will they be fine?

These are just a few of the issues that I believe will help children feel truly prepared for secondary school but that will also help them settle in and be able to feel a part of their new surroundings much faster.

Even those children who in Year 6 seem completely ready and in fact desperate to get to secondary school are not always as successful as we would assume they would. I wholeheartedly believe this is down to the skill set and we as educators and the adults in their lives need to be making sure we are providing them with some of the generic skills they are going to need in the future. You can also read all about Anne in one of my earlier posts, highlighting how getting this wrong in year 5, 6 or 7 can have disastrous consequences for children.