5 ways to think about transition differently

Secondary schools can make the transition less daunting for new students by introducing elements of primary school life.

Katie Tomlinson

26th April 2021

The transition from primary to secondary is always a huge moment in a pupil’s education journey – no wonder, given that they are leaving the security of being in the same classroom for the day, working with the same teachers and know where everything is.

Suddenly this all changes as they enter the big wide world of secondary school. In the international setting, this transition can be even more extreme – perhaps involving moving to a new city or country, or encountering new students who speak other languages.

Tips for the transition from primary to secondary school

However, while the transition moment is always going to be a bit daunting, there are ways that secondary schools can make it as smooth as possible. Here are some ideas that schools could try for the learning environment and logistical arrangements:

  1. Timetabling and staffing

Consider timetabling arrangements that could enable more lessons to be taught in a single room for Year 7 students, facilitate less movement around the building or have more subjects taught by the same teacher.

This may sound tough in logistical terms but Aidan Severs, a primary specialist who is now a deputy head in an all-through school, will be trialling precisely this approach next academic year.

Students in Year 7 will be taking the majority of their lessons in one classroom (PSHE, geography, history, English, maths). Lessons requiring specialist rooms and equipment will be taken in the relevant rooms – eg, music, drama, dance, PE, DT, art and science (where necessary). 

It does not mean, as Aidan indicates in his blog Making Secondary Schools Primary-Ready that “the whole of their secondary experience will be like that of their Year 7 and 8 experience, but that things will change more gradually as they get older, helping them to become secondary-ready over a longer period of time and accepting that much of secondary-readiness can be developed once they are actually at secondary school”.

Perhaps a less disruptive alternative solution, from a timetabling perspective, might be to have staff moving from room to room for most subjects, rather than students (again with the obvious exceptions being those who require use of specialist equipment and facilities). 

While these ideas might be the stuff of nightmares for the staff responsible for timetabling, it would make a world of difference to students if they had to move around the school building less and could be given a gentle approach to secondary school routines and norms.

  1. Bring in Year 6 teachers

A more radical, longer-term idea might be to employ talented and experienced Year 6 teachers into the Year 7 team, since primary-trained teachers are used to teaching across the whole curriculum of specialised subjects. One secondary school in the UK has been doing this for some time. 

Blessed Trinity RC College in Lancashire appointed an experienced primary teacher to work within its key stage 3 team in 2014 and has been using this approach ever since as a means of gently introducing more vulnerable students into secondary life, with one teacher teaching 50 per cent of subjects/lessons.

Laura Murray, the head of Year 7, says that this arrangement now has “a proven track record where pupils who have started in this group have demonstrated accelerated progress”.  A similar approach could work in an international school with provision for joiners who have English as an additional language.

At Sri KDU International, our forthcoming EAL Enrichment Centre, which is planned to open within the next academic year, will offer new EAL students a more primary-based experience with one teacher in one classroom for many subjects. 

  1. Learning walls

Primary classrooms often have “working walls” that are referred to within lessons and used as learning prompts/reminders.

While the use of working walls within a secondary environment would take careful planning and thought (and perhaps some staff training), if there were some adjustments made to timetabling and room use as detailed above, secondary teachers might more easily be able to employ a similar approach.

The personalisation of classrooms with working walls that support information retrieval and reference could be done with the installation of more boards on the walls within the classrooms and a policy move for working walls within the classrooms and celebration displays outside of the classroom.

Secondary schools could even replicate working walls virtually through the use of online tools like JamBoard or PearDeck, or even perhaps use Google Slides, too. 

This would enable students to access prior learning prompts as they were used to doing in the primary classroom; relieving the pressure on working memory and cognitive load overall.

With many international schools now having high ratios of device technology available in each classroom or “bring your own device” schemes in place, this would not be a difficult element to execute for teachers.

  1. Common and recognisable signage

To help children navigate their way around a new building, standardised and recognisable signage is key.

International schools also need to consider how children of different nationalities, where English is not the first language, can be assisted with finding their way around.

Signage could:

  • Be colour-coded with all the same facilities in the same recognisable colour. For instance, green for the English classrooms and red for all toilet signage. Within Sri KDU International, all rooms are colour coded within the signage to indicate which subject they are used for; yellow for English, green for science, etc.
  • Have symbols as well as just text for those students who respond better to visual cues.
  • Be written in different languages to assist foreign students.

All of these things lift the cognitive load from new students at a time when there is already much for them to remember.

  1. Orientation and pre-visits

Schools could consider having only Year 7 students in for their first week of term. This would give them an opportunity to become familiar with the environment whilst it is less crowded. 

Since the pandemic has given staff an opportunity to hone their recording techniques, there is also now a place for recorded tours of the school. This is particularly helpful for students who may not have the chance for pre-visits because they are arriving from another country.

Increasing the number of visits prior to the start of the term is also a good idea. This is even better if the students visit with a variety of other people; their current class teacher, their parents, their peers. Research has indicated the more pre-visits children make before the start of term, the more comfortable they feel on the first day.

Overall, a sympathetic approach in understanding the logistics and environment that Year 6 learners have become familiar with during their time in primary, and adjusting their start to secondary life reflecting upon this, gives each and every child a better chance of secondary success; something that every teacher, child and parent wants. 

Katie Tomlinson is the head of primary at a Malaysian international school. She tweets @TheLShipCoach

7 ways to get school development plans back on track

When Covid is under control, how can you get long-term strategic thinking back on the agenda?

Published in TES March 8th 2021

Covid: How schools can focus on strategic school development

In 1940, when London was in the midst of bombings, fighting an invasion and dealing with the hopelessness of the Second World War, a small number of Education Board members set about planning a new school system. 

This was the makings of the 1944 Education Act which transformed post-war education in Britain. This far-sightedness was key and shows the values of strategic planning – even as all around you is chaos.

A similar situation has unfolded over the past year – and so just as those leaders in the 1940s showed, we must also look forward and think strategically.

Covid: Strategic planning for school development

Here are seven ways we can prioritise strategic school development to help us emerge stronger from the crisis:

1. Start with the positives

The pandemic has “forced” every stakeholder to think about learning on every level – so consider how you can use that as a springboard for new projects. What could, and should, be kept post-pandemic? Blended learning? Hybrid provisions? Remote parents’ evenings? 

It’s been a tough time but let’s not overlook what we have learned, what we have achieved and what is worth keeping for a post-pandemic world.

2. Make time

You will never find the time or have “spare” time so you will need to carve out time within busy schedules. Block time for strategic focus at least once a month and for no less than an hour.  

Ring-fence and protect this time, resisting the temptation to cancel because urgent matters arise. Consider having “future developments” as a set agenda item for all team meetings to ensure that you have a time and focus for forward-thinking. 

3. Return to your mission

Ask “big questions” and plan developments that align with, and work towards, your core purpose, vision and mission. 

What is it that makes your school special? What is important to you? For your learners? For your context? Don’t lose sight of what you were working towards pre-pandemic – it may be you were just starting something with real impact so revisit that when normality returns.

But, of course, the pandemic may have changed so much that returning to the way things were could seem a backward step now – don’t be afraid to ask if your mission is still relevant and, if not, consider how it can be realigned for the new era.

4. Look for ‘inroads’ with wellbeing and creativity

Development projects after a crisis should bring innovation, a sense of “new life” and re-energise the community – creative and wellbeing-orientated ideas could be key for this.

What about a project driven by the arts and linked with positive mental health?  Some schools are now working towards enriching their provision with artists and musicians in residence.

Others are planning a more structured move into practical learning, such as an apprenticeship programme in a primary school setting.   

5. Involve all stakeholders – including pupils

Engage all members of your community in strategic think tank opportunities. 

Children and young people generally demonstrate a flexibility in their thinking, which may lead to creative and innovative projects for everyone to work towards.

The joy brought directly from student ideas will be a welcome distraction for everyone.

6. Seek out the trailblazers  

Do you have staff who embraced the challenges encountered in a crisis and found new ways of working or problem-solving? Could they become early adopters for the next strategy and development plan?

Consider appointing project leaders based on how staff demonstrated their ability, commitment and flexibility whilst working online – is there a leadership programme that these staff can be fast-tracked into where their capabilities can be harnessed?

7. Be bold and look long into the future

Consider a development plan that takes you beyond the next academic year. What about a five-year plan?

The pandemic will not always be disrupting education so resist the urge for strategic conversations to be only about shorter-term items, such as the recovery curriculum, pastoral support on return and academic catch-up plans.

It may not pan out as you imagine but having an overall goal can help to inform decisions that need to be made in the future.

We all need something else to hope for, to think about, to steer us and to remind us that life will return to “normal”, whatever that normal will look like.


5 ways to ace recruitment during COVID

How to ace international school teacher recruitment during Covid

Published to TES 16th March 2021

With fewer international teachers moving jobs right now, schools need to stand out from the crowd.

Recruitment is a competitive world in international teaching at the best of times. But during a pandemic it’s even tougher.

Yet this year we have noticed a significant increase in the quality of applicants applying for teaching positions with us.

This has meant we had a number of high-quality candidates when it came to making final decisions and offers. The rise in the number of quality candidates also meant we were lucky enough to finalise our recruitment earlier than in previous years.

So what has made the difference? Why have we been able to attract more candidates than ever before in a time when many international teachers are “staying put” and many others have made the decision to return to the UK due to the uncertainty of the job market and the challenges of Covid?

International schools: Getting teacher recruitment right during Covid

Here is what we did and how your school can do it, too:

1. Make the right impression from the beginning – the devil is in the detail

The job advert itself needs to be personal, brief, non-generic and give an impression of your school’s ethos.

Adverts must also be accurate and free from errors. Any communication with interested candidates by the school should be “professionally friendly”, as well as give a personal feel for the school.

This can be difficult where schools have a large number of applications, but even standard responses can be carefully pre-prepared to give an impression of the school’s ethos and the appearance of personalisation with a little time and effort taken with the standard reply draft.

Timely responses to emails and clear instructions for interview (including the platform to be used, who will be involved in the interviewing and the stages of the process) are all small but important details for candidates that can help start things off strongly.

2. Get personal and ‘overshare’

Give as much information attached to the advert as is necessary to give prospective candidates a “feel” for the school. The standard attachments of job description and safeguarding policy won’t be enough to entice high-quality teachers to apply.

The documents should be personal, reflective of the school’s strengths and easy to read; visuals and infographics are a great tool for this. 

Ideas for additional links/attachments are:

  • A personal letter from the head of school.
  • An infographic about the CPD programme offered to staff.
  • An infographic about what makes the school special or different.
  • A summary of the induction programme (it could be the programme used from last year).
  • On-boarding information.
  • Information about the country and location.
  • Links to the school’s social media and YouTube accounts.

While giving a great impression about the school’s efficiency, information like this also serves in giving clarity and transparency. If the school does not want to publish these documents as part of the advert, a note stating what will be sent within the application pack could be used instead.

3. Create candidate confidence

While the documents attached to the advert will add an element of “candidate confidence”, there are other things schools can do to ensure potential staff are drawn into applying. The school website is one of the most important recruitment tools.

Make sure that the website demonstrates the following easily within as few clicks as possible:

  • Membership of any associations (especially those linked to CPD).
  • Awards (again any that refer to HR, leadership and innovation will influence and encourage quality applications).
  • Accreditations and/or “inspection” reports.
  • Videos – linked to a YouTube account with virtual tours, interviews with students and interviews with current staff articulating why they like working at the school.

4. Career advancement opportunities

Make sure that career advancement and CPD opportunities feature heavily within the advert, in the uploaded information and within the website.

This is often a big pull for candidates who are looking for leadership opportunities in the future. Less experienced teachers will also be keen to know about the approach to early career development.

Does your school run an associate programme for developing leaders? How do you ensure continuous professional development? Does the school support external CPD in the form of staff scholarships for master’s degrees? All of this needs to be clear to entice quality candidates to apply.

5. Plan for reputation growth 

Make a list of three things you want to be recognised for within the global community and then focus on projecting this within your wider interactions. In 2018, one of the primary phase development plan targets at Sri KDU International School was: to raise the reputation of the school within the local and regional arena.

There were clear success criteria for this:

  • Candidates interviewing for positions were able to articulate the strengths of the school when asked, “Why do you want to come and work for us?”
  • Current staff were able to clearly articulate three common strengths of the school.
  • When the school’s name was mentioned in social conversations outside of school, other parties would know the school name and would recognise it as a reputable establishment.
  • Enrolment numbers over time would rise.
  • Recruitment and retention would be easier.

We focused on pushing ourselves forward to lead local networks, increasing our social media interactions, delivering free webinars and becoming more involved in larger educational organisations.

In the long term, recruitment for international schools could potentially become more challenging. Covid has left many international school teachers with a sense of uncertainty and longing for stability. Schools will need to work harder than ever to make sure they have a field of quality applicants to draw from.

Seven tips for Professional Development (without a training course in sight!)

Published in TES 2nd April 2021

Teacher CPD: 7 ways to boost your skills without going on a training course

In all the interviews I have conducted in my time as a headteacher, I always ask candidates about their Professional Development and how it has impacted their practice. Without fail, nine out of ten will reference a recent training course. 

While there’s nothing wrong with that answer of course, I like to see examples of times when teachers are being proactive in seeking out their own ways to develop their professional skill sets too.

There are plenty of ways it can be done – here are seven that can help get you started.

  1. Read! Listen! Watch!

From books to blogs, podcasts to audiobooks, there is a wealth of learning material available to teachers. If you have no time to read full books, then short articles online are a great way of gaining insights into a specialist area, widen your experience or simply understand an issue from a different perspective.   

Of course everyone is busy and reading widely is not always possible – this is where podcasts and audiobooks are a great professional development tool which allows for multitasking, meaning listeners can use their time much more efficiently. 

Try finding one to listen to on the commute to work, for your next jog or to keep you entertained while cooking.

  1. Start a research project or initiative within your school

Although you would need permission from your Senior Leadership Team for a new classroom project, most forward thinking SLTs would welcome something of this nature. 

Beginning a research project or starting an initiative within your school will provoke your creative spark, open up relationships within the school team and hone your leadership experience. 

You could also publish your findings, helping you cultivate a well rounded resume which highlights your hands on experience as well as showcases your leadership with concrete evidence.    

  1. Find a mentor or coach

Many experienced school leaders have a ‘pay it forward’ mentality, meaning they would gratefully mentor and coach a colleague for free in an informal manner, while many coaches need clients in order to qualify for coaching qualifications. 

There are opportunities out there to build connections, so have a look online or within your existing network. 

Alternatively you might gain some insight from following a prominent leadership coach on social media or you could even consider paying for a professional coach.

  1. Build connections

The motivational speaker Jim Rohn coined a famous saying: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If he is to be believed, then it’s essential that we learn to keep good company. 

Start by evaluating your professional networks. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram can open up a wealth of connections that allow the possibility for engaging conversations and opportunities.

You may not hit it off 100% of the time but engaging the right sort of connections in conversation can help open up new avenues for you career and professional development that may lead to all kinds of benefits you can talk about. 

  1. Lead development for others

There is no better way to learn yourself than to teach others. We have probably all used this technique in the classroom, but don’t always follow our own advice. Volunteer to be a mentor. 

Ask if you can lead a CPD twilight course, or assist another leader in delivering training. Step up and help yourself by helping others.

  1. Write articles of interest

Writing will make you think about interesting topics more deeply and give you an opportunity to learn while you write. You can write about anything that interests you or ignites your curiosity. Not all of your writing needs to be published, but if you want to have a place to collect your articles then you can start your own blog for free and with next to zero IT knowledge. This can then be shared on your Linkedin profile or shared using social media.  

  1. Complete a 360 evaluation

A 360 evaluation can increase your self awareness, giving you a more balanced view of your own performance and uncover ‘blind spots’ you might not have noticed.

 To do a 360 evaluation, you could find a free version online and ask trusted colleagues to complete it for you, or you could construct your own using Google Forms.  

There is a common thread within all these tips: when it comes to Professional Development drive it yourself. 

There will always be a place for training courses, but teachers need to be learners in the widest sense. That means being active with your own development, adopting a spirit of active inquiry, open reflection and ownership.