Getting transition right..it’s a risk-point for vulnerable learners

Getting transition right..it’s a risk-point for vulnerable learners

Trevor Sutcliffe put his thoughts to paper about transition and here they are:

As part of our work with schools to raise the attainment of disadvantaged youngsters (RADY) I recently presented my thoughts on transition as a key factor that can inhibit a pupil’s learning at one of our termly network meetings. Here is my attempt to put these ideas into a blog post.

‘The transition between phases of education – notably early years to primary, and primary to secondary – is a risk-point for vulnerable learners. Schools need to diagnose pupils’ needs as soon as possible in order to put in place effective support to help those falling behind to catch up.’

(The Attainment Gap Report 2017, EEF)

The information is out there to help overcome some of the risks surrounding transition in education. However, schools and professionals are not always utilising this information effectively enough to maximise the impact on all vulnerable children.

For example, how many secondary schools made effective use of the question level analysis available through ASP last year? This data has been available previously in RAISE, where, in my experience with schools, it was infrequently used and this has also been the case with the updated analysis tool. Taking this one stage further, how many schools seek to gain the attainment information from feeder schools to highlight the strengths and weaknesses for the children? On numerous occasions I have looked at Year 7 books with pupils who struggle to find me anything new that they have learnt over the course of the year. To what extent do we adjust the curriculum offer to meet the differing needs of the intake each year?

Stephen Tierney (@leadinglearner) has written about the need to know what a child can do in order to build on the prior learning and how assessment information should be used to inform this (see one of his blogs here). I cannot think of a primary, infant or first school that I have visited that doesn’t have detailed information outlining how well pupils are progressing in each of the aspects of the curriculum. Whether this is through a bought in tracking system or their own in-house system is irrelevant. The data is only valuable if it is used to inform learning so why do we start again when children move schools?

When it comes to vulnerable children the passing of information becomes even more important. Typically, I find that schools usually have robust systems for SEND pupils. Often there are multiple meetings, with the teachers, pupils and parents to ease the transition. There are also often more frequent opportunities for the pupils to visit their new school as part of a familiarisation process. In the DCSF 2008 research report into What Makes a Successful Transition from Primary to Secondary School, it is noted that ‘children with SEN and other health problems were experiencing greater curriculum continuity between Years 6 and 7’ and that maybe ‘the more individual transfer process that these children experience has prepared them better for the move’. My question would be how have we improved this approach in the last ten years?For me the obvious next step is to give greater consideration and transition opportunities for another group of vulnerable children; the disadvantaged.

We work with a lot of schools on Raising Attainment of Disadvantaged Youngsters (RADY) and one of the areas we consider when in schools is transition. It is pleasing to report the changed approach to transition for a number of the schools, where colleagues make more regular visits to their feeder schools and gather a wealth of pastoral and academic information in readiness for transition. They are starting to generate a clearer picture of the barriers to learning that exist for this vulnerable group of students, at individual level and not as a homogenous group (to understand the importance of this, see Professor Rebecca Allen’s blog posts on ‘The Pupil Premium is not Working’).

Some key transition questions to consider:

  • Who initiate and determines transition at your school?
  • What information gets passed on as a result of transition and for what pupil groups?
  • How does transition ensure that expectations in the new year group are high enough?
  • How does transition help us to know each disadvantaged student’s individual barriers to learning?
  • How do you tap into the wealth of knowledge that exists from the previous year group/school?
  • Do you know what the pupils are good at or enjoy doing so that you can celebrate and encourage this with them? (see The Only Fresh Air is Outside in the Yard, a video produced by Martin Illingworth)
  • What would/do parents of vulnerable children say about the transition process in your school?

And if you can’t get the information for all pupils then, at the very least, ensure that you have it for the most vulnerable, including those eligible for pupil premium funding.

Above anything else, teachers and leaders should consider their curriculum offer and ask the questionsdoes our Year 7 curriculum build on prior learning from Year 6 and how do we know? and are we tapping into the wealth of pastoral and academic knowledge that already exists in the system?