The Transition Conversation: Top 10 tips for a smooth transition

By Helen Robinson, Head of Assessment Insights and Customer Training, GL Assessment

Transition is always a challenge for teachers and students, but it’s especially so this year as schools continue to manage the consequences of the pandemic. According to research GL Assessment commissioned from YouGov, teachers are under no illusions about how difficult they expect this year’s transition to be: 
  • 8 in 10 teachers fear incoming Year 7s could be unprepared academically, emotionally or socially for secondary school.
  • The majority are specifically worried about basic classroom skills, behaviour and reading and literacy.
  • 7 in 10 teachers say their schools are so worried they are laying on additional support.
  • Two-thirds of both primary and secondary teachers doubt the reliability of this year’s KS2 SATs.
This raises a number of questions. So much good work goes on in primary schools, how can secondary schools ensure that they aren’t going over the same ground? How can schools understand how children’s wellbeing has been affected by the events of the last two years? And how can they use baseline data effectively when the reliability of this year’s SATs data is in doubt? What, in short, can schools do to make a challenging transition a good deal less difficult?

I sat down with four experts in transition – Tiffnie Harris (ASCL Primary and Data Specialist), Mary Randolph (Project Manager of Right to Succeed’s Every Child Project), Janice Bluett-Duncan (Project Manager of Right to Succeed’s Cradle to Career project) and Vicky Merrick (Trust Lead – Assessment, Exams and Progression at Archway Learning Trust) – to ask their advice.  

The discussion was fascinating and is available here. But to provide a flavour of what we discussed, here are my top ten takeaways. 

Top ten transition tips for schools
  1. Build relationships. If primaries and secondaries don’t understand each other’s approaches to assessment, curriculum and behaviour, it can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings. Encourage colleagues to visit each other’s schools, share best practice and swap expertise. Alignment in key areas and the implementation of cross-phase activities will foster a shared sense of responsibility.
  2. Share information early and consistently. One of the chief bugbears of transition is inconsistent, incomplete or delayed information about students. If secondaries and their feeder primaries can agree on what information to share, when it should be shared by, in a common format, using terminology all schools understand, the easier it will be to identify and support students’ learning needs.
  3. Cascade information effectively. Ensure every person who will interact with incoming Year 7s knows the full picture. Has the SENCO been properly briefed, is the English department up to speed, and do other departments understand which children struggle with reading and will find it hard to access the curriculum? Also, don’t assume everyone understands what data is available or how to use it just because you have gone through the same exercise before. 
  4. Understand the importance of reading across the curriculum. As Alex Quigley has said (sign up and report), “Reading is the master skill of secondary school”. If a secondary school knows that a large proportion of its Year 7s have reading skills significantly below the national average, it should prompt a conversation across the whole school and galvanise colleagues to address literacy in every department.
  5. Agree a common assessment language. If primaries and secondaries can agree collectively to use a common assessment language – ‘xx % of pupils are on stanine 1; xx % on stanine 2…’ – the easier it is to develop compatible support structures, identify children who may need help and put in place the necessary interventions. A shared language also allows colleagues in different departments to understand, at a glance, the learning needs and potential of every child.
  6. Sweat the data. Robust, reliable data can summarise so much information about a student or a class or a school in just a few numbers. But it’s important to ask three key questions: What questions do you currently ask of your transition data, what more would you like to ask of it, and what is your top concern when it comes to reviewing, understanding and acting on your data? (On this point, if you need any help using GL Assessment data, contact our Assessment Insights team to make use of our free data consultation service.)
  7. Use data strategically. As well as extracting the right information, schools also need to use data strategically if it’s to be effective. How are you going to triangulate information from different datasets (SATs, CAT4, the New Group Reading Test, attendance data, etc)? Who is going to need it, can you use it to challenge assumptions or to spot anomalies, and how are you going to ensure it is acted on quickly and effectively?
  8. Learn the right lessons from the pandemic. Although the pandemic has made transition particularly fraught in the past two years, we shouldn’t need a national emergency to embed good practice, or to remind us that learning is often interrupted. Schools should be prepared to adapt their curriculum every year to best meet the needs of an incoming cohort. We will never know when some kind of disruption will occur – but schools can put in place strategies that will address, anticipate and mitigate that disruption.
  9. Don’t think you have to re-invent the wheel. Acknowledging that your transition programme can be improved shouldn’t mean ditching everything you currently do. Have faith in the elements that work well.
  10. It’s never too late to improve. Decide what’s important and what your school’s priorities are, then find the best match to meet those needs. Even if you implement transition changes late in the academic year, accept that not all will bear fruit for the incoming Year 7s but take comfort from the fact that they will be in place for subsequent intakes. 

Helen Robinson is Head of Assessment Insights and Customer Training at GL Assessment, an ASCL Premier Partner. 

Posted: 07/07/2022 10:51:05