Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

Lucy Flower

Lucy Flower is a secondary music teacher from Leeds having stepped down from SLT following her return from maternity leave. Lucy is a regional advocate for WomenEd and the MTPT Project, and believes passionately in the power of ethical leadership. Lucy tweets and blogs about leadership and parenthood, and can be found on twitter @MrsLFlower, on her blog at Recently she spoke on the subject of leading after a setback at #BrewEdIsolation, and her presentation can be found here:

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As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

Transition from Year 6 into Year 7 has always been a vulnerable point in our school system, with some studies suggesting that the success of this transition greatly impacts the likelihood of those students not only achieving well, but also leading happy and fulfilled lives. This year, ensuring a smooth transition is more important than ever, yet conditions are more against us than they ever have been. 

Transition has long been my passion – I know that face-to-face contact with primary colleagues is the best practise to build lasting relationships with them, and obtain nuanced information about our incoming students and their families. Sitting on tiny primary school chairs that surely won’t withstand my weight, receiving an unsolicited cuddle from a wandering snotty-nosed but adorable Year 1 child, and sweating profusely in the world’s hottest library area, all whilst trying to remain professional, has been the highlight of my summer months for the last 9 years. Speaking to the new students, and answering endless questions (yes, yes I do know your older brother…and yes, this does explain a lot about the information I’ve just received about you from your teacher…) and seeing the hope, excitement, and joy in their eyes, then feeling like a celebrity when they all wave and bellow ‘HELLO MRS FLOWER’ when they join us in September is heady stuff. 

This year, how can we still support these students and their families during the restrictions of lockdown? And more importantly, how can we recreate the joy and excitement?

More than ever, personalised contact is so important, and as a minimum I would strongly recommend the following:

With primary colleagues:

  • Holding phone calls with their teachers and support staff
  • Holding zoom meetings with vulnerable students, their families and other agencies
  • Inform them of the plans for transition, so that they can use this to reassure anxious parents and students
  • Keep in touch, and ask for regular updates if a student or family is of concern or particularly vulnerable

With parents and carers:

  • Send out a video introducing key staff with warm welcome messages
  • Enable them to contact someone if they have any questions or worries
  • Keep them updated – even if the information on transition is ‘tbc’, let them know that you’re thinking of them and working on plans
  • Provide them with the logistical information they would have received at events such as Transition Evening – uniform, school rules, how to register with ParentPay etc

With students:

  • Send a video virtual tour of the school
  • Ask parents to share the video introducing key staff
  • Provide fun activities for a virtual transition day
  • Contact them – yes all of them – to welcome them to the school
  • Reassure them

With your own colleagues:

  • Keep them updated – they are aware plans are ever changing, but having some sort of idea what will be happening is useful
  • If they are going to be year 7 form tutors, let them know. I’m sure they will be delighted to film a welcome to their new students, or even contact them themselves

Once they start, presumably at some point in September, avoid the temptation to go straight into timetabled lessons and baseline testing. Students, particularly ones that are new to your school, will need a gradual induction process. This is more important than ever this year. The importance of getting the Transition Mission right this year cannot be overstated. As I sit sadly at home in my cape, emblazoned ‘Captain Transition’ (yes really – a parting gift from my old school) I mourn the loss of perching my not inconsiderable behind on those tiny plastic chairs this year. But in my own small way, I hope I can support colleagues to continue the Transition Mission in this most difficult and different of years.

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