The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Charlie Roden

Ensuring successful transition from primary to secondary

Charlie Roden looks at ways in which schools can prepare and support their pupils through relationship building and becoming familiar with the new school layout.

The first few weeks of secondary school are crucial. A lack of support and poor preparation throughout transition can have negative consequences that can last throughout the rest of a child's school life.

It is therefore essential for schools to actively ensure that all pupils have a successful transition from primary to secondary, not only for educational outcomes but also for their emotional wellbeing and personal development. 

Maintaining and creating friendships

Good peer relationships contribute to more positive attitudes towards school, emotional engagement with teachers and higher academic outcomes. Regardless of whether children have had a positive experience of primary school or not, most worry about losing their friends when they come to secondary school.

What can schools do to help alleviate these fears?

Keep children with primary friends

When preparing for transition, primary schools should ask pupils to nominate two people they would like to be in a form with. It’s important to avoid placing all children from the same school or class in one form, as this can have a detrimental impact on the pupils’ ability to form relationships with children from other primary schools.

According to research by Amy G. Langenkamp, pupils who transitioned with some but not all classmates from primary were able to retain their previous friendships but also made new friends. On the other hand, children who moved with their entire class not only had fewer friends, but also had lower academic outcomes.

Open days for pupils coming on their own

But what about those individuals who aren’t coming from a feeder primary, where there may only be one or two other pupils that they know?

As well as ordinary open days, it may be worth organising a special open day or an additional taster day to invite pupils into the school who will be coming on their own. In many ways, these children are some of the most vulnerable as they don’t know anyone.

These pupils can then be put into the same form, giving them more confidence to build relationships with others.

Extracurricular activities

In large settings such as schools, friendships are made between people who have similar interests. It’s not always easy for children to discover who in their classroom has these similar interests, therefore extracurricular activities during lunch time and after school provide them with the perfect opportunity to meet people.

  • Activities outside the classroom not only allows pupils to meet children with different academic abilities but also those in older years – positive relationships with older pupils helps to build confidence.
  • Children can maintain relationships with friends from primary school if they don’t see them that much during lessons.
  • Many extracurricular activities help build relationships as they require teamwork.
  • Achieving success through activities pupils are passionate about leads to an improvement in self-esteem.
  • Participation in extracurricular activities improves academic performance.

Most schools only provide a handful of extracurricular activities to their pupils. See Testive for a list of creative extracurricular activities.  

Older peer support or buddy programme

Both pupils coming into school with or without friends from their primary school can benefit from having an older mentor or ‘buddy’ to support them during their transition period. Not only does an older pupil help younger ones feel safe, but mentoring gives older pupils a sense of responsibility. 

  • Being associated with an older pupil reduces bullying.
  • Having a mentor or buddy can alleviate fears around older pupils.
  • Younger pupils may feel more comfortable speaking to an older student about their problems.
  • Having an older friend improves social skills and builds confidence.
  • Older pupils can teach younger ones social skills to build relationships with children in their own year.

Getting used to a new environment

The change in the physical environment for pupils transitioning can be quite hard for some pupils, especially those with autism. The size of their new school, having more teachers and changing from being the oldest to the youngest can be incredibly daunting.

  • Give pupils opportunities to visit the school. This doesn't just have be done through open days, but social activities such as sports events and performances.
  • Invite secondary school pupils to primary schools – this gives primary pupils the chance to ask older pupils questions in an environment they're comfortable in.
  • In Year 5, ensure pupils are taught by more than one teacher to allow them to get used to a change of routine.
  • Provide tours of the school before pupils start and on their first day – this can be done by both teachers and older pupils.
  • During their first week, have older pupils standing around school during lesson changeovers to direct Year 7s to their next lessons.

BBC Education has recently released a new campaign, Starting Secondary School to help children during their last weeks of primary school and first half-term of secondary. 

Pupils from CBBC's Our School have provided advice on getting used to the new school layout and how to find your way around.

  • Always have your lesson timetable with you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help if you're lost.
  • Ask older pupils questions – they'll remember how you feel.
  • Don't worry about knowing everything on your first day.

Positive relationships between pupils and staff

Good relationships between pupils and staff are essential for a positive transition. It is generally easier for pupils to form a bond with their teacher in primary as classes are smaller and they are taught by fewer teachers.

Students are less likely to comply with school expectations when they have no relationship with their teacher, therefore it's important that a positive relationship is established and cemented as early as possible. 

Make your expectations of behaviour clear

During your first lesson with your new Year 7s, clearly outline your expectations of them. Even though it can be hard to be consistent all the time, stick to your class rules and follow boundaries when they are overstepped.

If pupils understand what is expected of them and they know sanctions are followed through, they are more likely to behave.

You should also ask them what they expect of you as a teacher, as this shows mutual respect. During this first lesson, it may be worth creating classroom rules for both teacher and pupils to follow.

Advice from current Year 7s

To primary pupils

  • Don't be afraid of asking questions – this is the best way to learn about your new school.
  • Keep a map with you.
  • Try all the different food at the canteen – it's so much nicer than primary dinners.
  • Speak to people that look like they need a friend.
  • Don't overthink things.

To teachers

  • Be consistent about your rules.
  • Don't get angry when we're late to our lessons during the first week.
  • Provide an anonymous question box for those who are too shy to ask for help.
  • Listen more.

Show pupils you care

Pupils who feel cared for are less likely to misbehave and will more likely enjoy coming to school.

Most teachers do care but won't always show it – this is especially important for children who may not have someone in their life who believes in them and gives them confidence. 

Students are less likely to comply with school expectations when they have no relationship with their teacher

There are many ways you can show pupils you care.

  • Show an interest in ther lives to let pupils know you care about more than just their academic success – try and incorporate any interests into lessons to increase classroom participation.
  • Speak to primary school teachers to find out at least one thing each student achieved in primary – talking about past successes builds confidence.
  • Greet each pupil individually as they enter your classroom – this is a positive way to start the day.
  • Give pupils praise.

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