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Transition: Primary to Secondary

Year Six into Year Seven

Every secondary school runs a year 6 to year 7 transition programme of some sort, comprising a few visits, summer holiday events and open evenings. Children with EHCPs and on the SEN register generally get something extra. Fran from Square Peg shares her thoughts and led an SENexchange discussion.

The extent to which information from primary school is disseminated to secondary staff will vary. Many secondaries take the view that they want to make their own judgements about their new Yr 7s (this inevitably starts with a series of baseline tests to establish their current level of skills/knowledge). I’m interested in schools that go the extra mile & ideas that push the boundaries & challenge convention. Please share this article if you think it will be useful to someone.

A better transition plan

Social story book transition SEND
Great book for preparing children for transition.

There are SO many differences between primary and secondary. We have to start from a point where ALL children and their parents need a better transition programme (and a consistent baseline – there’s no guidance at all ATM). The end benefits would be huge:

  • more trust (between child, parent & school)
  • reduced anxiety (child & parent),
  • fewer attendance issues,
  • clearer lines of communication,
  • less staff time spent sorting issues

Discussion on Year 6-7 Transition

In February 2020 #SENexchange hosted by Fran from @TeamSquarePeg hosted a further discussion on this topic. We asked 6 questions about transition. Read below or download the PDF transition discussion here.

What more could be offered to ALL upcoming Yr 7s to acknowledge & reduce potential anxiety?

The timing of transition activities is an important issue to get right. It should be the first thing that you decide and informs the rest of the planning for the year 6-7 transition. Generally, the earlier transition starts for students and families the better. However when working with humans generally will not fit all cases. Not starting transition work too early. Important to remain settled in y6 for as long as is required, based on individual needs. Indeed. It can be really unsettling, especially for our learners who find the concept of time really challenging. This doesn’t mean that settings can’t start dialogue though.

Films being used to support transition seem increasingly popular. Derby Opportunity Area are currently making transition mini-films for mainstream secondary schools. From the perspective of a student with additional needs, these are accessible at any time for student/families to review.

Virtual Tours and School Videos

It would be great to see all school websites offer a virtual tour of the school, so pupils and their parents can take a “walk” around the key locations. This would make the new environment more predictable. The benefit of a video is it can be reinforced over the summer months. Schools will be operating as usual and shot from the perspective of students. These could show what the differences are between primary/secondary environments are. They could outline what dinner/break times look like and capture any specialist lessons. One school photographed their school empty for orientation and then realised that they need people in the video to make it appear like a genuine experience. In the end they photographed the school with teachers only. 

Click here for an example transition video. It can be beneficial for children with autism and those who experience anxiety & hyper-vigilance in unfamiliar surroundings 

Other ideas include an activity were children write and post postcards to the Year 6 teachers when children start an extended transition. Utilising the skills of current year 7s is a popular strategy. One school as part of their transition plan have a buddy system where yr 8 pupils are paired up with a yr7 pupil and get them to show year 7’s around the school so they can see it through the child’s eyes. Ask year 8 what they would like to have known when they first moved up. Throughout year 6, regular workshops in understanding what anxiety is, how it can present and strategies on how to manage it if they notice any of the symptoms. 

So finally some “don’t dos” Many children will need A longer transition period once at secondary; one that lasts as long as the individual needs it to so don’t limit the amount of time a child needs to familiarise themselves with the new school. Don’t withdraw support at the time they need it most. Don’t scare year 6’s with stories of what year 7 will be like. particularly around behaviour. 

Top 14 Tips for moving from Primary to Secondary School

  1. Familiarisation with environment
  2. Early transition planning
  3. Phased transition
  4. Transition films
  5. Meeting key members of staff
  6. Photos of the school
  7. A transition book (staff pictures, environment) 
  8. School day plan 
  9. School map with images of key places
  10. A buddy system
  11. Gain the authentic views of the child
  12. Co-produce plans with families
  13. Provide opportunities to ask questions
  14. Let the child document/photograph what they want to remember 

How can secondaries build trust and a good relationship with ALL parents from the outset?

Building the trust of parents is down to honesty. The transition to yr 7 means a huge increase in the number of adults responsible for a child. This means there is a requirement for schools to make communication easier. To do this a school could provide a contact person who can be available for parents (and children) to discuss any concerns and answer queries. Seek their expertise & find creative ways to work together – keep in mind that RAs aren’t only necessary to consider for children & many SEND parents also need reasonable adjustments

St Martins & St Andrew’s Teaching Schools are introducing a pledge across the city (Derby) that all schools will sign up to. It outlines a positive ethos and approach around transition and includes advice / guidance / timelines etc

Parents and carers should have ample opportunity to put faces and names together early as part of a good, open communication plan. It’s always easier to pick up the phone for a quick chat if you know who you are speaking to. Parents will want to discuss as much information about their child as possible. The school can then plan how they can best support the child.


Clear and consistent communication, maybe home visits to build relationships as is done in primary schools at nursery stage to understand the needs of the student. Informal regular coffee mornings, parent to parent support groups (like PTA in primary schools)

By listening to them and understand they know their child better than the school as well as being truthful with parents on every level the worst thing is palming a parent off and they know you are. One of the main concerns for parents is whether the support & strategies their child needs will be implemented from day 1.

Secondaries need to ensure they communicate with parents about this so trust is established. One school runs entry plan meetings that have been effective for this. Particularly in managing and understanding expectations. We also emphasise who the key adults are and how they can be contacted as it is a big difference not having just one class teacher to talk to. Parents need to know their child is a priority and you will work together for the child’s best interests/wellbeing.

Top 10 tips for working with parents during transition

  1. Listen to parental concerns
  2. Prove strategies that worked in primary are transferred
  3. Have a familiar member of staff for parents to speak to
  4. Make sure parents know what the SENCO does
  5. Make sure teachers understand this too (and pupils) and exam officers too 
  6. Refer parents to published examples board regulations if they want to read them
  7. Include SENCO on plans at parents’ evening
  8. Clear and honest communication at all times
  9. Opportunities for informal meetings with key staff
  10. Signpost parent support groups/PTFA

In what way could Yr 7 be run differently to ease the transition?

The main focus of this answer is around timetabling and the internal transitions within the school day. A timetable that doesn’t really involve moving classrooms too much would reduce a lot of stress and anxiety. The much bigger secondary schools can result in children getting lost. This is turn can lead to lateness and sanctions. Unexpected room changes cause anxiety. Reducing movement around the school, so they are not overwhelmed by the need to process multiple environments. Staggering lesson finish times for year 7’s. Maybe the introduction of their own break time, separate from the rest of the school, as large crowds of older children can be scary and lead to an increased likelihood of bullying.

Relationships and Trust

I have heard of some schools that have a year 7 that stay in one class and teachers come to them.

Giving more opportunities for kids to build friendships in autumn term year 6. Friendships are a protective factor over feeling isolated and lonely and happy kids will be better learners.

Making sure everyone has a trusted adult they feel safe and secure with and ensure opportunities for catch up/problem solving/empathic listening. This is often the role of the form tutor but time is limited. Is there potential for a pastoral team member to talk to at break times?

5 ways to adapt year 7 provision to reduce transition anxiety

  1. Provide opportunities to develop friendships between children from different feeder schools in year 6
  2. Tutor/Pastoral team available at break/lunch times
  3. Timetable lessons in one room/limited area
  4. Reduce in school transitions
  5. Clear guides/signage within school

What school-wide systems would help identify a child who might struggle to attend school? 

This is heavily reliant on time and the level of understanding of school staff. Daily tutor time would be a good way to do this, the child’s form tutor is a person that the child is likely to look up to and open up so they will be able to determine whether they will struggle or not. However, with limited form tutor contact, it’s so easy to miss the signs of crisis.

This really needs to include the family, and time to understand the parents perspective. Where attendance is reducing, a home visit to meet with and build relationships with parents, then linking to other agencies that can support the young person.

Constant ‘scanning’ of the cohort to consider who could potentially be an undiagnosed Autistic Girl. Many SLCN and language difficulties can be picked up during the transition to year 7. The Year 7 experience has proved catastrophic for some children.

What school-wide systems could better support a child who is already struggling to attend, and their family?

Making parents feel welcome really key, some may have negative school experiences themselves. Informal events such as Coffee mornings can support families to be comfortable. This is a good starting point before more formal meetings.

A home visit from a key adult in the school, rather than just sending work home. A flexible timetable, prioritising subjects which are motivating and allow the child to experience success. Arranging small-group activities to build friendships.

Effective communication between teaching staff. Make sure all staff are aware every day of students in their classes who are struggling. Teachers also need to be aware of any reasonable adjustments that have been agreed.

It is so important to make genuine attempts to get to know families as well as possible and to listen carefully to their concerns and fears. Also to understand strengths and talents. Build trust through actions not words.

A “passport” that is sent to all teachers so approach is consistent. Things like “I struggle when you give direct instructions”/”Please understand that I process things better visually”. CATCH sessions for all teachers involved – (Coffee and Tea Chat and Help)

Tutors that come out & build bridges back to school. Reduced timetables often fail because the expectation of getting in at a certain time is too demanding for some. Schools need to work on who/how child will be greeted, get that right

In what way could we improve the transition of a child with known SEND?

A child with SEND may need a longer transition and familiarisation period. Sometimes a TA will support visits from the autumn term in year 6. With more frequent visits to the school and/or visits by staff from the new school who will be in contact with the child.

Explore the views of the child – their strengths, interests, hopes and fears. schools also need to liaise with their most recent teacher and other key adults about successful strategies & resources to implement in order to provide consistent support for the child’s needs.

Make sure you pass information about each child from SENDCo to SENDCo and the new school take notice, rather than saying “we will see how they get on and then make our own decisions and assessments”. If the current school has developed personalised visual strategies for the child, perhaps they could make a copy of these or pass on the originals to the next school? Consistency is so important and the use of familiar resources could be very grounding & regulating. The resource below from Chatter Pack meets the need to share information on Transition.

Transition resources SEND

Relationship building with the SENCO or one of their team to begin towards the end of year 6. In these sessions, they could answer any questions, limit fears & anxieties so there is a clear plan. Now & Next boards / daily check lists / understanding their worries

Better awareness of sensory difficulties and the way they are experienced in the secondary school environment – crowded corridors, noisy bells at the end of lessons, busy lunch halls, etc, can be significant barriers.

Differences between primary and secondary education.

Primary6 week Summer HolidaySecondary
average 281 pupils (SchoolsWeek 28.06.18)
average 948 students
(SchoolsWeek 28.06.18) but can be much larger
one class teacher 90% of the time. possibly a teaching/learning support assistant? Lunchtime supervisors
one form tutor 45 mins pd? HOY occasionally plus approx. 13 teachers for different subjects
smaller building, same classroom
large, often complex estate of buildings
staff in the playground at break times
no staff around during break times
A yr 6 child is a big fish in a small pond
A yr 7 a child is a very small fish in a lake of much bigger (and scarier) fish
parents are encouraged to come in and help with reading, swimming, etc.
parents are often kept at arm’s length from Day One
school knows your child from age 4-5
school doesn’t know your child until age 10, so no first-hand knowledge of their earlier years
nurturing environment
more formal, academic environment
pedagogy ‘play-based’?
pedagogy more academic
parents of a child with SEND are often able to build strong relationships with class teacher & SENCO
parents of a child with SEND need to build a strong relationship with a bigger SEN team/related roles within the school and LA
for many parents, problems only develop once their child is in primary
for many parents, problems are already apparent, making them anxious about transition from the outset
if primary went well, there are seven years of familiarity & trust
secondary is all new, so this trust needs to be built/earnt

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