EDUCATION FILE: First week of term nerves for children going to "big school"
1:52pm Wednesday 11th September 2013 in News
IT IS a feeling everyone is familiar with: start-of-term nerves as the summer holidays end and everyone goes back to school.
A change in uniform, new friends, and most scary of all, a step up from a small primary school to what feels like a cavernous, never-ending secondary school, full of older children.
But for the new generation of Year 7 pupils going up to "big school", this transition no longer means being handed a photocopied map and being left to your own devices.
From Year 4 upwards, children regularly visit their destined high school, taking part in sports days with numerous other feeder primary schools and special events designed to acclimatise them to the new buildings.
A 2008 research paper by academics from the University of Oxford, the University of London and the University of Nottingham, found that practices which help to support the transition include ‘bridging materials’, sharing information between schools, prospective teachers visiting schools, children and their
parents, talks at the schools, taster days and other joint social events between schools.
As a result, 84 per cent of children asked said they felt prepared on entry to secondary school, and children who felt they had a lot of help from their secondary school to settle in were more likely to have a successful transition, said the report.
This included help with getting to know their way around the school, relaxing rules in the early weeks, procedures to help pupils adapt, visits to schools, induction and taster days, and booklets.
John Webb, head teacher at the 190-pupil Gaer Junior School in Newport, said his school sent 38 pupils to Duffryn as well as two to Bassaleg in the last academic year, and said the schools excel at their transition work.
"The Year 5s and 6s go down to Duffryn for visits and there is a big emphasis on that because they want as many children down there as possible, it's a significant intake for Duffryn as there was a small cohort last year," he said.
"We have both academic and social links and they go to the high school for taster sessions in Years 5 and 6.
"The Year 5s have done a music project with all Duffryn cluster schools where they work together and they will put on a big performance next year of Taiko drumming."
The schools have "bridging units" which involve staff from the high school visiting the primary school and doing lessons with primary pupils in readiness for the change, and pupils know exactly which classes they will be in when they move.
Children will always be nervous and excited about the move especially with urban myths about having their head stuck down the toilet - which never happens, said Mr Webb - but the situation is helped by former Gaer pupils at Duffryn showing the new ones around.
"Academically it is half your life," said Mr Webb.
"The children are excited by it because of the number of different subjects taught and they have a very clear understanding of whose class they are going into, because they visit with their parents during the first week of July.
"We have the joy of seeing them progress and we do ask the staff to let us know how they get on in their GCSEs."
Meanwhile, at secondary schools such as the 800-pupil Fairwater High School in Cwmbran, a group of 70 Year 7 pupils from nine different primary schools are settling in to their new timetable.
Head teacher Helen Coulson explained that taster sessions and events involving all schools in the cluster are not only useful for pupils - they are also valuable for teachers.
"We need to know the pupils better so we know what they are good at," explained Mrs Coulson.
"We have 70 new pupils this year so we will get to know them really quickly."
PE schemes where high school teachers visit cluster primary schools for sports sessions, and primary pupils coming up to Fairwater for language, drama activities and I.T. since they were in Year 4 have all helped.
"For five hours on the first two days of school, the new pupils are given guided tours with their form tutor, and have a special assembly with me and the senior leadership team when we explain the basic rules of the school," said Mrs Coulson.
"We are all here to help them and if we are not teaching we will look out for any lost faces.
"It takes about two weeks to settle in and for them to know exactly where they are going.
"We also have a cashless lunchtime system where the pupils scan their fingerprints as a way of paying for their food, and so they were a little confused when they had their fingerprints taken on the first day!" she said.
"As the years have gone on, on the surface, the children seem to get more confident.
"They were much more nervous years ago. Now the Year 7s have been here at least four or five times."
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