Creating a sense of safety in the transition to secondary school

By Jodie Morris, Barwic Parade Community Primary | 17th June 2024 | Blogs

Transition to secondary school can be stressful for many children. Jodie Morris of Barwic Parade Community Primary in North Yorkshire describes an approach that’s helping to smooth the way.


A successful transition from primary to secondary school is crucial for pupils to succeed

Barwic Parade Primary in Selby serves an area of high deprivation, with more than half of our children eligible for pupil premium funding.

We know that a successful transition to secondary school is crucial for our pupils to succeed in their educational journey, and that we can lose some of our children in that transition process through fixed term or permanent exclusions without a carefully designed package of support.

We are many years into our journey as a Thrive school and have been recognised as a Thrive Ambassador School, using a whole school approach to support our children’s mental health and wellbeing. We have six practitioners, including our headteacher, SENCo and myself. I support all pupils and families pastorally and run Family Thrive courses to share our knowledge of child development and neuroscience.

Barwic Parade pupils

We are conscious that we flood our children with Thrive support over the course of their primary years, and are mindful that when children move into secondary, this tight support network will be lost. Some of our children with gaps in their social and emotional development are so reliant on the relationships we have built, we don't want them to lose that sense of safety when they move up to ‘big’ school.


Supporting pupils who may struggle with transition

We began building our current approach three years ago when we realised something needed to change. We initially enhanced our own support package by identifying those pupils who may find school transitions a little trickier, working with them to understand what high school life would look like. We began running a Year 7 club during autumn term, where our leavers could come back each week to catch up with those key adults they were missing, and for us to listen and signpost them to support.

Since this time our transition package has grown year on year. Through building strong relationships with the secondary school we feed into, we have designed a comprehensive approach together, making a team around the children that will be joining the school. Luckily, the school that most of our children go to is also a Thrive secondary school so there is a sense of continuation.

We invite the high school Thrive practitioner into our school and over a few sessions create a 'Thrive passport' with the child. This captures a range of details such as their hobbies and what makes them special, which will help them build a relationship through being playful.

We offer more support for the handful of young people who may find starting secondary school trickier. This involves 1:1 visits to the new school, walking them around the site so they become familiar with the layout, experiencing the hustle and bustle of break times and lesson transitions, and learning who to go to if they need support. We support these pupils in sending postcards back and forth over the summer term to continue strengthening this connection. Other pupils who may struggle with the independence of high school visit by using a walking bus from our school where we can point out the safest route and discuss risks.

Barwic Parade pupils

We want the children to develop familiarity with the school they will be joining, so we have a PE teacher from the secondary school deliver a weekly PE lesson for our Year 5 and 6 children. The session is run exactly as it would be at secondary school, so the children develop a real understanding of expectations. It also means they have another familiar face when they start in September.

Whether it be during year 7 club or any other time, there are a range of reasons why a child will come back to us for support. They might be struggling with the work, friendships or have received a sanction, so we talk to them about what happened, and we might suggest role-playing the situation so they can try a different approach in the future. The most important thing is that they know they are Barwic Parade children even when they leave us and that we are here as familiar, friendly faces that they can turn to for support whenever they need to.


The continuing impact of the pandemic

The pandemic has had a big impact on the children’s readiness for the move to secondary school. We've seen them struggle to resolve issues within friendships and show greater anxiety around the transition process. We know those who have poorer attendance at primary school may struggle more with the move, therefore we prioritise supporting these families also.

The high school is very happy with the transition package we have put in place, and they tell us that this helps our cohort of children to settle and be successful more quickly. There’s more for us to do and we’re refining our approach as we go, but it’s wonderful to know that for most of our children will go on to have a happy start at ‘big’ school.


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