Effectively supporting primary to secondary transition

    Published: 21 May 2020

    For many of our pupils, transition between primary and secondary school can be difficult at the best of times, and, as we are all acutely aware, these times are certainly not that. In ‘normal’ years, we often see a regression in our pupils’ confidence and performance moving to a new environment following the long summer break, and we can expect that this is only going to have been exacerbated by the mental and emotional effects of school closures as well as the variation in learning experiences during this period. But this is not to say there is cause for despair. Rather, the situation we have found ourselves in this year may allow us opportunities to explore transition provision that could be helpful for our pupils this year but also assist in the future.

    Regardless of whether Year 6 pupils have returned to the classroom in June or not, it seems like the right time to consider how we can best support the transition to Year 7. The disruption to school-based learning and the greater social/emotional situation will have affected all of our pupils, but the variation in amounts of home-learning will mean that some of our pupils will need support more than ever if we are to avoid an even greater disadvantage gap than usual.  As we would expect, the Education Endowment Foundation is developing a response to this based on ‘Mitigation to limit the negative impact on disadvantaged pupils while schools are closed’ and ‘Compensation to support disadvantaged pupils to bounce back when schools re-open’. Please see their Chief Executive’s letter.

    Transition procedures vary from school to school, and the needs of your own pupils will guide how your school approaches this, but we are interested in opening up discussion and supporting however we can. Here, we’ve collated some thoughts and ideas that may be useful while we consider how to use the remainder of the summer term to consolidate learning and ease the move from primary to secondary, thinking ahead to how this could continue into the autumn term. Of course, many of the ideas could equally well be applied to any year group for passing information to the next teachers as a way of getting to know their new cohorts.  

    A good place for secondary schools to start may be using a checklist to explore the different elements to consider. This one from The Key is freely available without signing up and may help structure thinking about your own usual procedures and what could be adapted and changed.


    In all of this, meeting the emotional needs of our pupils will be critical. We know that stress and anxiety impairs the brain’s capacity for learning, but more importantly, pupil (and staff) well-being needs to be at the forefront of our considerations.

    Whilst not being specifically about the transition from primary to secondary, in this ‘think piece’, Evidence for Learning discuss what a recovery curriculum could look like taking into account the range of things lost to the pupil during this time in addition to the ‘academic’ learning. Hopefully it can inspire our preparations for all pupils returning to school. These resources made by Young Minds may also prove helpful for Year 6 and 7 teachers regarding supporting the emotional aspects of transition at this time.

    Primary and secondary schools may find this blog by Prof. Philippa Cordingley interesting. She suggests that the arts could be exceptionally helpful for vulnerable pupils at this time and also during the re-entry to school-based learning.


    Summer term ideas

    Whether Year 6 pupils are in school or continuing with remote-learning, this could be an opportunity to work on a project or a portfolio of writing that they take with them to their secondary school in September, to demonstrate their skills to their new English teacher. As Clare Hodgson discusses in her blog, this writing could be stuck into the front of their new books as a reminder of what their ‘best normal’ was and act as a reassuring piece of continuity as they move through the transition. It could be possible that something similar could be done for other subjects as a way of pupils showing what they are bringing from Year 6.

    There are workload implications of this, but it could be useful for a pupil’s secondary teachers to receive this prior to the end of the summer term to inform their planning of their transition curriculum for September.

    Traditionally, many secondary schools have sent out a form to primary schools for gathering information to assist in the pastoral support of pupils. It could be worth considering if a similar format (perhaps using Google docs or other remote platform) could help pass on examples of pupil learning to support teachers building a picture about their new pupils, potentially even including teacher assessment information from the last recorded assessment period.

    Many secondary schools have a very large number of feeder schools, so it could be difficult to engage directly with all incoming Year 7 pupils. It may be possible that there are teachers who have gained capacity from Year 11 and 13 teaching that could assist, but, again, this is contingent on many factors at this time. However, eliciting information from primaries may mean that it is possible to identify groups of pupils that may be more in need of support with transition. Where this is possible, video meetings or phone calls with pupils and their guardians could provide a way of meeting pupils virtually and making assessments about their needs and what they may need.

    Autumn term ideas

    Usually Year 6 go up to secondary school with summer term data. This year that won’t be possible which is why it could be helpful to have some examples of writing or a portfolio of subject work from June and July. Given the summer regress, it can be difficult to get a true picture of what children can do by assessing in September anyway, and this year, that is likely to be even more so. It may be possible that Year 6 teachers are able to pass on assessment information from the spring term or whenever the last assessment snapshot was taken, but certainly, this is where the idea of passing on examples of work from the summer term could come into play.

    Regardless of the approach we take, the first part of the autumn term will be needed for helping pupils reintegrate into school-based learning. Given the wide range of experiences that pupils will have had with their learning, formally assessing pupils in September and potentially even streaming as a result, might not produce the accurate picture we need, nor meet the holistic needs of our pupils. This possibly presents us with an opportunity to rethink how we get an ‘academic’ picture of our Year 7s, with the option of the first half-term being focussed on transition and the curriculum adapted accordingly before any streaming takes place.

    There will of course be a need for assessment to uncover any gaps in learning as well as determine what may have been ‘lost’ over the course of this summer’s events. This is where formative assessment will prove indispensable rather than opting for tests. As we move forward, there will never have been a greater need for effective formative assessment integrated into everyday teaching and learning, for identifying what has been lost (or gained) during this period in all aspects of learning (not just ‘academic’ curriculum content, but also, as examples, opportunities for cultural capital development or social development), that can also be sensitive to the well-being issues arising. We will be discussing this in relation to all year groups in a free webinar on June 17th 2020

    Year 7 pupils are always just Year 6 pupils with a summer holiday under their belt, and this year, they will be even more so ‘still’ Year 6s in many ways. It could be helpful for teachers of Year 7 to be familiar with the standards from the end of Key Stage 2 so that the autumn term can be about consolidating the learning that pupils did not get to complete in school. For writing across the curriculum (which is based on a teacher assessment judgement rather than the SATs and is often the focus of summer term teaching), it could be helpful to explore the STA exemplifications to inform teachers’ formative assessments. Please find the exemplifications here. We would be happy to work with any secondary English teachers in the autumn term to support with moderating standards of writing and identifying gaps.


    This is a time where schools have been showing enormous adaptability and resilience, and we know that great efforts will be taken to support pupils making this transition between schools. We in the Assessment Team absolutely want to congratulate schools on what they have achieved and continue to plan, and are on hand to help in any way we can.

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