Fixing Transition

L. Bryant, ‘I’m Wearing a Tie!’, from Flickr under Creative Commons license.

I am attempting to write a detailed, properly cited (!), policy document on transition between Year 6 and 7, aimed at senior leaders and MAT leaders. This has a truncated part of its introduction, and a list of recommendations (which I have begun to write out properly in the draft). Since it’s in very early days, I’d like any feedback from teachers across the country and across different schools. Feel free to tweet at me @jonbprimary.

I also strongly recommend reading Ofsted’s report on KS3.

For many children, transition from Year 6 to Year 7 is inadequate.

  • Pupils move from small schools, often having been taught by only one teacher a year, to a Secondary which may have thousands of pupils.
  • They move from a year group that has had the most amount of funding and school focus to the one that has the least. They often move from the most highly qualified teachers in their primary school, to the least qualified in Secondary. There is fault on both sides for this.
  • They move from playground peers usually aged from seven to ten, to peers aged 11 to 16. This has a wide range of social effects.

Most children ‘survive’ the move between Primary and Secondary. However, for a significant minority of pupils, moving from Year 6 to Year 7 results in ‘lower grades, poor attendance, increased anxiety and disruptive behaviour’.[1] This is due to a whole-range of issues, with significant failures committed by both Primaries and Secondaries, as well as a Key Stage system which targets the wrong year groups for key transition points.

This is particularly true for Year 6 to Year 7 – we ask children to make such a rapid change just as they are beginning their adolescence, with little to no accountability for schools to manage this change successfully.

Under the current system, primary practitioners look at secondary schools and see a school that is too large, where their children will be lost, where there is little support, and where their pupils move from teacher to teacher with little oversight. Secondary practitioners look at Primaries and see children taught to SATS tests, with too much support, not taught the skills required for the content-heavy Secondary curriculum, and ill-prepared in terms of independence.

The best Primary schools understand that good Year 6 SATS results begin from Reception, and the best Secondary schools understand that good Year 11 results begin from Year 7. By better improving transition, towards a longer-term, more holistic approach, results will improve.

[1] Anderson et al, 2000; Galton, Morrison & Pell, 2000, from ‘Identifying factors that predict successful and difficult transitions to secondary school’, Nuffield Foundation, 2014

List of recommendations:

Suggestions for Primary:

  • Send key staff to Secondary school, focused on understanding which skills need to be taught and encouraged in Primary. 
  • Consider different ways of organizing staff, particularly in Upper Key Stage 2. For instance, as some larger Primaries already do, employ dedicated subject teachers so that children can become more used to being taught by multiple teachers over a school day. Encourage subject specialism at this level.
  • Focus on increased independence in Upper Key Stage 2, including considering pedagogical processes more in line with Secondary teaching.
  • Segregate Upper Key Stage 2 children from Lower Key Stage 2 children more, so that pupils become more aware of their growing independence and responsibilities.

Suggestions for Secondary:

  • Appoint a Primary Lead (or multiple staff for very large schools), preferably trained within Primary teaching, to oversee transition, lead Year 7, and to facilitate CPD for staff across the school who teach children aged 11-13. This teacher should know every child in the year group, their background, and, where possible, should complete home visits for vulnerable families prior to Y7 entry (as a longer-term goal, staff should be completing home visits for all new entries).
  • Carefully consider staffing at Year 7 level, particularly remembering the high vulnerability of Year 7 pupils. Giving children the least qualified staff in a new environment is sometimes not helpful for behavioural and academic beginnings.
  • Reduce the quantity of teachers who teach KS3 children – children should be taught by as few different teachers as is feasible over the course of a school week. This would result in closer oversight of students, reducing many of the safeguarding concerns and the sense that children can get ‘lost’.
  • Particularly for core subjects with larger departments, encourage separating KS3 and KS4 teachers, so that teachers can specialise teaching their subject to specific key phases.
  • Segregate the lower school (particularly Years 7 and 8) from older year groups. Ideally, this would include separate break areas and separate school ‘blocks’, minimising the intimidating nature of mixed years and the social and behavioural problems this results in.
  • Consider different pedagogical approaches for Year 7 that aim to reduce the difference between Primary and Secondary teaching styles.

What Primaries and Secondaries should do together:

  • Increase quantity and quality of dialogue between schools.
  • Moderate marked material from Years 5-8 together. Consider ways to standardise ‘non-negotiables’ to minimize any differences in expectations between Primary and Secondary.
  • Give associate SLT status for specific transition-focused teachers, meaning that there is a Secondary teacher voice at Primary SLT meetings where appropriate and vice versa.
  • Form working groups across subjects and schools to share best practice. For instance, the Primary Head of Science and Secondary Head of KS3 Science could share books and show expected standards.
  • Discuss standardizing of curriculum content – there should be repeating links that build up towards the children’s GCSEs, starting from KS1. For more on this, see ‘What MATs and LEAs should do’.
  • Facilitate more exchange of pupils, particularly from Years 5-8, and sharing of facilities. This could include reading programmes and PSHE sessions partially led by Secondary pupils.
  • Visit all-through schools, particularly those that grouped their pupils in different phases (see main document). Also, where possible, form connections with middle schools to share best practice.

What MATs and LEAs should do:

  • Facilitiate the above Primary-Secondary exchange, appointing a Transition Lead to oversee transition and links between Primaries and Secondaries within their trust/LEA.
  • Take an all-through, holistic approach towards the child within the trust – consider a child joining the MAT from the very earliest ages, and focus on smoothing transition points within all aspects of a child’s education. This is perhaps the most important and most difficult suggestion – from entering the trust at Nursery or Reception, the trust and all schools within it should be considering the child at 16, 18, and beyond. Defeating any potential provincialism of schools within the trust must be a key objective for MATs – an issue at Nursery could have massive repercussions at Secondary, and should be considered from this viewpoint.
  • Review cross-school curriculum policy from a multi-phase approach. A common complaint at Secondary is that there is a huge amount of content to get through, and that the children often start from wildly different points – by ensuring that certain topics are completed at Primary and repeated, MATs are building a generation ready for their GCSEs from the earliest ages. This has been attempted at some all-through schools – for instance, see Reach Academy Feltham’s whole-school curriculum planning.
  • Reconsider the phase models within the MAT. As per the above table for curriculum, all-throughs often take different approaches when it comes to grouping children year group wise. The above model is one system, which would be widely feasible as it only requires one year group to change phase (Year 6 joining Year 7 and 8) – another system is following the three-tier First-Middle-High format. This would require widespread structural changes, linked to the last suggestion.
  • Consider grouping Primaries and Secondaries together. For instance, if a large primary school could be expanded to take Year 7, or a large Secondary school could be expanded to take from Year 5, it might be worth considering exchanging staff, rethinking how facilities are used, and consulting parents on what the appetite is like towards such an approach. Offering parents from multiple primary schools the prospect of their child beginning Year 5 in the main feeder Secondary within the trust would work as a form of trial.

Suggestions for Government:

  • Commission a review of current Key Stages, considering what is done internationally. Review the curriculum content in Year 6 and Year 7, and the relative lack of connection between the two.
  • Consider moving KS1 testing to Year 4, and KS2 testing to Year 8, removing the pressure on very young children, and discouraging the overtesting and overpreparation of pupils within Primaries, which distorts progress grades.
  • Review current phase training for ITT, considering a new ‘Middle Years’ phase. This could mean that R-Y6 training would include some Year 7-8 experience, that Secondary training would include some Year 5 and 6 training, and Middle School training would specialize in Years 5-8.
  • Encourage the construction of all-through schools and Secondaries that open admissions from Year 5 through the Free Schools programme.
  • Involve Secondaries in the moderation process of current SATS, and Primaries in reviewing GCSE content.

First post: Primary History, Primary Identity

I thought I’d begin with an edited version of a speech I made at Teach First Summer Institute 2015 on my ‘vision’ – it’s focused on my class in Newcastle and what it is I want them to achieve, and the broad ideas will hopefully inform the next year or so.

We all aspire for children to succeed. We all want them to fulfil their potential. We all want them to be able to do everything the ambitious national curriculum wants them to do. We all want them to go on and become dancers, artists, singers, academics, teachers, footballers.

This is the bare minimum. My Teach First vision, which I admit is probably different from many people here, is that alongside all this they form an identity.

That that identity is formed firstly in the classroom. Amongst their peers.

So take my class. I walked in yesterday and, stealing my mentor’s idea, told them how there’s a mythical board in the headteacher’s office with who is the best class. I said that at every school I’ve ever taught at (…), my class has always been the best. It’s partly behaviour management, but more importantly it’s that they identify as part of a smaller unit.

Then it’s formed in their school. This is covered by the usual inter-school events, particularly sports. Then the area the school is in. Sometimes, particularly if the area as a certain reputation, that can be extremely difficult, but overcoming that is essential.

Then the wider locale, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Football. To say to the child whose family have just moved here, that you are a Geordie – you can walk to St James’. That team is yours.

And all the history associated with Newcastle. To understand what that big monument in the centre of town is for, why it’s called ‘New-castle’, what makes this city different to Sunderland or Southampton or Swansea.

Then the North East. What makes this region unique? Hadrian’s Wall, the connections with Scotland, Viking raids. Why is the Geordie accent unique? Why is it similar to the Mackem, to the Boro, to the Hartlepool, what happens to the accent when you go south, north, east, west, why is that the case?

Then to England, with its unique history. Its long tale of rights long fought for – from north easterner St Bede writing the first history of the English people and the first translation of the Bible into a vernacular language (which took another millennium to happen properly), to Boudicca, whose statue stands proudly next to the Houses of Parliament.

And then to Britain. What joins four nations together, not always harmoniously. A constitution that has been fought for, slowly.

This view assumes that history is about what joins the past, the present, and future all together – that we inherit the past, and must look after it carefully for the future generations.

This view also assumes that history, like most of the curriculum, is fundamentally about teaching facts: not about ‘source analysis’ skills – that’s what English does. It’s not about getting children to guess what objects were for, or simply understanding that things were different ‘in the past’.

What matters is that children understand that their history is a part of who they are, and that learning who they are is one of the most important lessons they will ever learn – and will continue to learn throughout their whole lives.

Solving identity crises is a genuine panacea to societal ills. But the battle is getting schools to take the vague (if well-meaning) British Values guidance seriously, and not just as an Ofsted tick-box exercise.

Joining the nation together at primary level and beyond means explaining that their right to vote took a long time to happen. That the right even to be told what they were being arrested for had to be fought for, and has been passed around the world – this enfranchises the young.

It fights extremism – it explains that to all those who live here under our law that we are equal, whatever our colour or creed, and that we as a nation have inherited our rights from the past.

It gives community life back, which has been lost over the past half-century or so. Why is it that northern cities seem so much better at community than southern cities? Because identity is tied to certain values. These values are difficult to define but they are felt, and are associated with past generations.

It explains to children that we all have collective responsibility. This is ‘community cohesion’ but it requires us to proactively tell a national myth.

‘Our Island Story’.

Nationalism is not a nasty thing, it is not about defining yourself as better than other nations, it is about understanding that different cultures have different values and accepting those differences. That is the very definition of tolerance.

It’s saying that, values and beliefs aren’t plucked from thin air, they’re crafted slowly over time, using the past and the present and considering the future. Whilst intolerance to gay rights might sometimes come from religion, the very freedom of speech, the very notion of freedom of choice, ultimately comes from Western European Protestantism – that is an example of our history evolving over time.

It is about saying to children who come here from far afield: this country is yours, and you should learn about its history, so that you can fully participate in this society.

Part of this is that history isn’t just political facts: it’s Shakespeare, it’s Churchill, it’s the castles around you, it’s the art work in OUR galleries, this is ours. This is our cultural heritage. It’s stuff that schools are already doing, but are not consciously linking to identity.

It is essential we teach this to our children. If you make children proud to be from your class, proud to be from your school, proud to be from their neighbourhood, proud to be Geordie or wherever they are, proud to be from the north, and proud to be British.

That is what will make tomorrow’s citizens.