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18 June 2020
By Zoe Enser

Making Transition Work in English

Transition points across school year and phases are always a delicate point in a young person’s life. Moving from primary to secondary, Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4, Post 16, and, finally into the world of work or university, are all moments where we want to support students as carefully as possible to ensure that they have both the required knowledge and care in order to navigate these moments as smoothly and painlessly as possible.

There is a wealth of excellent transition practice already in existence across schools in Kent, but at these unusual times we have been forced to rethink some of this in terms of remote teaching and social distancing rules. As a result of the school closures there will of course be many students who are unable to return to school this side of September and therefore need a different approach to moving on or up.

This is why I decided to devote our last English Network Meeting to the topic of transition to support English leads and teachers to share good practice from their contexts and consider what elements need to be the focus as and when transitions happens in our schools.

As always, I began with examining the research from groups such as the Education Endowment Foundation and Department for Education on good transition practice and read through a number of case studies and materials from people such as Alex Quigley. This highlighted for me once again the importance of looking to our curriculum; if we want these transition points to be as seamless as possible and avoid learning loss, we need to look carefully again at our curriculum and work as closely as possible with the primary feeder schools to really build on what went before.

Start by Revisiting the Year 7 Curriculum

Consider what your topics are, where are the difficult ideas contained within and what are the threshold concepts students will need to navigate through. Explore with your teams how you will ensure careful teaching of these moments to support students’ understanding and lead them into the next stages. This presents a good opportunity regardless of the situation to really strengthen the focus of your curriculum and look at what pedagogies might ensure the concepts are fully understood and retained for later application, for example through using spaced retrieval practice.

Consider from a Wellbeing Perspective

Does the curriculum contain anything which we might need to approach differently or even potentially hold until later in the year once we have had time to get to know our students? How might you build students’ confidence on their arrival, especially if they were unable to return to school before the summer, by making clear links to the learning they encountered before lockdown? Activating prior learning is a powerful way to build schemas and to remind students of the steps they have already taken in their learning.

Identify Prior Learning and Utilize Pre Learning

We talked about ways to identify prior learning and utilise pre learning, with some schools already sending out books and materials to their new intake in order to prepare them for their first steps into secondary. There are many schools who have really built strong relationships with their feeder schools and already have a clear picture of what their students will have already explored before coming to them. As always it is important to gather as much information as possible about what our primary teams have and have not been able to teach over this last year. We don’t want to risk students spending hours overlearning things they may know. Equally though there may be different gaps to those which would have been present last year, including those created by missing topics in some of the foundation subjects. One school, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School has put together a simple spreadsheet in order to collate data from feeder schools, sharing the load across the team to support workload too. If we can utilise remote practices for data sharing, including seeing if zoom meetings might be a way to facilitate discussion, all the better.

Assessment - Determining Starting Points

We also discussed assessment, and how we can determine starting points without some of the usual opportunities we may have had to scrutinise SATs data or perform baseline assessments, including Reading Age tests and CATS which have increasingly been taking place before the summer break. It was generally agreed that we may not want to immediately introduce students to their next phase via a high stakes test, although some of these assessments will most certainly still go ahead in some form. Therefore, good quality formative assessment practices, which already exist in your schools and departments, will be even more essential. Revisit how you will ensure these are as effective as possible and provide you with important data about what your students know and can do.

Building on Relationships

In addition to our own conversations with the primary schools, we explored the way we can draw on the relationships our colleagues have built. For example, there is a wealth of expertise and knowledge which will be sitting with our SENCOs who may have been building up a picture of students for the last few terms. Your school may well also have others who been working with primaries for a number of years to support transition, including working with students from Year 5 onwards. Talk to these colleagues about what information they have gathered already or are in the process of doing. SEND, literacy and other issues of inclusion need to be planned carefully to support these key groups and individuals and this is something which we can all start to consider now.

The Importance of a Whole School Approach to Literacy

Of course looking at whole school literary, not just what happens in the English classroom, will never be more important as it is now.  There may be opportunities to look at the whole school approach with a literacy coordinator or CPD lead in your school in order to revisit or reconsider the ways we call support this across the school. The EEF report on Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools is a very useful document to begin with, providing some clear advice on the ways to tackle literacy within different subject disciplines and how to create a consistency of approach in the teaching of vocabulary. This is also really important in the teaching of reading strategies across the school and again something which it might be worth raising with literacy and CPD leads to ensure the approaches support the work that happens in the English classroom further. Some schools are also drawing on their libraries and librarians in order to promote continued engagement with reading and this could be something to consider over the summer period too, using reading lists, loans and discussions to raise the profile of reading.

As already mentioned, transition is not something only applicable to Year 6 into 7. There will be significant considerations for each year group, but especially Year 11 into 12 who may not have had much guidance over the last few months. Some schools have been sending out preparation work, but some students may still be uncertain of their choices, especially whilst still trying to navigate what the new exam system would look like.

Whatever year group you are looking at though, the same principles apply; look to your curriculum to ensure there is a clear focus, and use carefully planned formative assessment to guide your planning for your next steps.

Finally it is important to remember that, despite the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in, there are many of the same issues here which are presented to us every year: students with no data, students with a disparate learning experience and knowledge base, students with issues with literacy and students with social and emotional issues. Year after year we have planned how to address these successfully and this year, although it brings some new challenges, will really not be that much different. I know you’ve got this.

Thank you once again to those who have been involved in these discussions.

If you would like to explore any of the points here further, or would like to ask for support and advice on a different topic, do feel free to contact me.

zoe.enser@theeducationpeople.org