The benefits of a transition programme for literacy

  • The benefits of a transition programme for literacy

If students are to get from Y6 to Y7 and beyond without the dreaded achievement drop, secondary and primary teachers need to understand each other and work together, says Emma Kirby…

The gap.The jump.Transition. Whatever schools in your area call it, the leap from primary school to secondary is a journey fraught with tensions for the child: will I make friends? Will I get lost? Will I get my head flushed down the toilet? For the teachers waiting for their new Y7 students, the thoughts are largely along the lines of: how will I ensure they make progress from their KS2 levels?

The achievement drop is something that we all recognise, across the country. I do a lot of work with primary schools; I see how much effort and skill the teachers put in, and what the students can produce. Yes, there is the undoubted focus towards SATs and the additional interventions, but the bottom line is students ‘seem’ to be able to do things in year 6 that they conveniently ‘forget’ in year 7. It is our job as secondary school teachers to look at how we can help bridge this gap – particularly for English – by working together with primary colleagues.

I think I probably speak for many secondary school teachers when I say that I would struggle with the demands that come with working in a primary setting full time, marking and planning for different subjects and only teaching the same 30 students. I have a lot of respect for what primary colleagues do on a day to day basis, and have seen some fabulous teaching. It is recognising this, and sharing expertise, which will help develop improved student outcomes (whether through levels or age appropriate achievement or being secondary ready) - which after all, secondary or primary, is what we are all here to do.

Early connections

Working within a deprived area as I do, literacy levels in particular are low. This makes cooperation with our feeder schools even more important. To access the average GCSE exam you need a reading age of at least a 15 year old: it is important therefore that we support and work with primary schools to help students to develop these skills as soon as possible. From my work with our feeder schools, the most effective ways we have been able to help have been in discussion with them, rather than ‘doing to them’ – it’s about using the range of skills that both sets of staff have to achieve the best results: it will benefit the students; as if they can learn things sooner, they will be able to build and develop on this. And it benefits both schools too, as it leads to increased results and, hopefully, sustained improvements.

Over the last few years we have developed a number of interesting and innovative projects; these are shared either through discussions with primaries in terms of their need (Gifted and Talented intervention groups run by subject specialists; 3-4 intervention programmes); in terms of something they would like (science afternoons, art lessons…); or something we have developed that we think would be suitable (we have just launched our CCA School of Excellence, bringing together year 5 and 6 students to work on higher level skills – we even did some A level skills!) All of these projects are linked to the excellent relationships we have with our feeder schools, recognising the mutual benefits for both, and for the students we teach.

Inevitably, with the pressure of SATs, it is mainly numeracy and literacy that the primary schools request added capacity with. We have run several gifted and talented literacy and numeracy programmes – focusing on small groups to try and access the level 6 paper. All skills and questions are directed by the primary teacher, it is a collaborative process. I do some work on writing skills every year with one of our key feeder schools – directed to topics and ideas by the class teacher; I then go and help moderate the writing marks (on an informal basis) after school. This has built great relationships between our schools, and the more students I get to know prior to their arrival; the better we can plan to ensure their progress continues beyond KS2.

The summer term after SATs is a key time when primaries and secondaries can work together. The pressure from the SATs has eased, and everyone (or, so it seems because of the longer days), has more time. This is the prime time when we develop induction days for year 6 (as many schools do); but also begin working with year 5 on transition days. We are beginning to cultivate a writing project, where all students will then arrive to us in September with some examples of their best written work (the programme also involves some of our sixth form English students, going to work in the students’ schools). And this is also the time when we select students to take part in our wide range of summer schools – chosen using staff assessments of students.

Zombie attack

We went so far as to create a ‘one off’ programme for new Y7 students to tackle especially low literacy levels one year; with a four-week collapsed timetable, where students had maths, PE and then entirely literacy based lessons. This was linked to a specific thread: spies for top ability, zombies for mid and aliens for lower. A team of staff from across the curriculum created the resources, and the idea was not only would it improve literacy levels from a baseline test, but that it should make the transition for students easier. The results were impressive, with 19% of students making a whole level of progress. A huge range of people across the Academy were involved: from sixth formers marking the books, to support staff coming to work in costume; and the zombie and alien invasion nights will live on in my memory forever! There are even potential plans to take this idea ‘on the road’, with one of our feeders keen to host a zombie sleepover night – staffed with teachers from both schools.

The changes made by the government to the national curriculum (for example some of the language devices now to be understood at KS2 were only encountered before by our A level language students); the erasing of levels; and most importantly, the wellbeing of our students, make the transition process more important than ever. Opportunities to share pedagogy and practice need to be allowed within schools of both sectors – opening up the discussions about how students learn best, and ‘magpieing’ the ideas that work well. By supporting each other, and working together, we can ensure that we get the best outcomes and smoothest transition for all of our students.

The School of Excellence programme:

special features

1 Gives G and T students from all of our primaries the chance to come to the Academy and meet each other; getting them used to working with other people
2 Means we are able to do extended projects – we’ve written an anthology within English with our own ‘A level’ commentaries.
3 Allows for interactions between primary and secondary teachers – discussing what works best.
4 Develops skills students have learnt at primary and gives them the chance to go back with more.
5 Can really extend and push them, with GCSE, and even A level, style work.

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