Statesman Robert Kocharian once observed that: “Working in transition period is an ungrateful job for any honest government.” Primary to secondary transition can be similarly gruelling without the right processes in place.
Like all school leaders, I believe it’s the inherent right of every student to receive the best education possible. Part of this process is understanding their abilities, potential and any barriers to learning they may have, and then tailoring our teaching to ensure we bring out the best in them all.
Logical, isn’t it? Except in practice, understanding our students from day one is not as straightforward as it could be. This is especially true this year given the new Key Stage 2 SATs data. We’re entering a world of the (almost) unknown.
So, what would be on my data wish list at transition?
Primary school data
I want to know where our new students are in terms of their achievement and get some additional information from their class teachers, using whichever assessment system they are using in place of levels. Some of our primary schools give us files of the children’s work; it all helps to paint a picture.
Some of our primaries also provide us with a simple A4 sheet with an at-a-glance overview of each student – their performance in English and Maths with one area of strength and one area for improvement in each. This is incredibly useful. The key here is not to give too much information otherwise it’s too onerous on both sides.
On the pastoral side, we also want to find out about the students themselves. We make every effort to meet them and their Year 6 teacher at their primary school. We have 180 students joining us this year from 53 feeder schools so it takes some organisation. But it’s important that our new students recognise a friendly face and get the chance to meet us on their own turf.
Key Stage 2 SATs
Of course, one of the key sources of information we receive is the KS2 SATs results. The results provide some useful insights into our new cohort’s attainment, however, we don’t want to base our decisions on one set of data alone.
13 years ago, we came up with a robust process that meant that as soon as a student started at the school, we could begin supporting them effectively. It has also provided us with a way of getting comparable results from one academic year to the next, and has meant that we have less of a traditional learning ‘blip’ when students make the transfer from primary to secondary.
Our own data
We want our Year 7s to recall their first day with a smile, so we invite all of our new starters to a three-day induction programme every July to get to know us before the beginning of term. It helps to get future students comfortable with the school and their new peers as they engage in team work exercises and experience a few preliminary lessons. It also provides us with an opportunity to get to know them a little better, too.
As part of the programme, we arrange for the students to sit some assessments of our own choosing, including a reading test and the Cognitive Abilities Test from GL Assessment. This data provides us with a comprehensive profile of each student’s abilities which can be used to identify their strengths, weaknesses and learning preferences from day one.
We highlight the students who score particularly highly on different sets of questions. If there are many learners with strong verbal abilities in one class, for instance, we will look at how they can be kept engaged during lessons.
The Head of Year 7 is then charged with comparing and contrasting all three sets of data – primary school data, SATs and our own assessment results – so they can get an indication of how this will impact on lesson planning for the year ahead.
Evidence of impact
The way we use these three sets of data has changed the teaching fabric of St Peter’s. It has made a significant difference in providing our strongest students with challenges, and the weakest with support. Using one set of data alone, you risk capturing just a snapshot of a child’s ability and you miss the full picture.
We have evidence that our approach is having a long term impact and also on a lesson-by-lesson basis. In our last Ofsted report, the inspector highlighted the planning of a Year 7 design technology class, noting that the teacher did not simply accept an adequate answer to a question. The teacher knew the ability of each individual student and so was able to understand just what the group was capable of. This allowed them to adapt lesson accordingly and get the students themselves to arrive at the right conclusion. This is exactly what we’re aiming for.
There’s another benefit, too. When I look at our new starters settling into the school, it’s clear that the induction days put down some other solid foundations for a successful Year 7. Not only do we have the information we need to give these students a good start, the children have had a chance to meet each other and create bonds before their first day at school.
Image provided by St Peter's Collegiate School, Wolverhampton