Supporting students moving to secondary school

17 April 2013

This week sees the start of the summer term in schools across the UK. For pupils in year 6 (the final year of primary school) it is a time of trepidation as they move from the comforts of their primary to a much larger secondary school.

Although it was many decades ago, I still remember being really anxious about the move to ‘big school’. In fact, my mother reminds me that I was nervous a few years before moving on because I couldn’t understand how I was going to get there. In the end it all worked out well because my best friend and I decided to walk there together. I was lucky because in Wales there is really very little choice in what school you went to , therefore all your friends from primary school went to the same (and only) secondary school in the valley. Having moved to a more densely populated part of the UK I can see that the move is even more stressful as there are so many more schools to choose from.

With more pupils with special educational (SEN) needs now being educated in mainstream schools, the move from primary to secondary can altogether be much more challenging. Not only do they have to cope with a change of school which is much bigger, they have to adapt to having a new set of teachers, moving between the school for each class, new rules and new pupils. We decided to do something to support these pupils and worked with Ann Fergusson, Senior Lecturer in SEN & Inclusion from the University of Northampton and Richard Byers from the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge to gain the views of pupils with SEN who remember the move. We spent time in three schools in the Peterborough area and spoke to pupils in Year 7 who gave us great ideas on how to make the move less stressful. As a result we have produced guidance for pupils, their families and guidance for education staff.

Their advice to fellow pupils includes practical tips to help them prepare for secondary school. Ideas such as start thinking about getting organised when you are in primary school by taking more responsibility - pack your own bag for school, or start using a diary or timetable. Other ideas to increase independence include ordering food yourself when you are in cafes or joining your local library. The teachers’ guidelines include suggestions for primary staff, for example, running a regular circle time to talk about the transition to secondary school and for secondary school staff, for example, to assign buddies for pupils with SEN.

Let’s hope these guides will bring about a positive new start for pupils with SEN, as well as those without, as they prepare for their big move in September.

Find out more about Moving On.