No matter where you’re based or the context of your primary school, the questions from parents and the issues surrounding how a parent feels about the transition to secondary school are almost always the same.
And I should know: as a Year 6 teacher of 11 years, a primary headteacher for 15 years and a parent to two teenagers, I feel I have a good understanding of the needs of parents regarding transition.
In my work across a small rural UK Primary, an urban city UK primary and an international all-through school, it is clear that helping parents through the process mainly comes down to creating a productive relationship from the start. So what are the key things to share? Here then are some ideas for how secondary staff can get things right for transitioning parents:
1. Home learning
Concerns about how much homework children will have are often one of the first things parents ask. As such ensure you provide a Year 7 home learning schedule to reassure them that the workload will not be too much for their child as well as demonstrating to them the differences in expectation between Year 6 and Year 7.
This is a real fear for many parents. As well as knowing the policy, parents wish to be reassured about how the school will deal with it from preventative, sanction and vigilance angles.
Parents also benefit from watching recorded videos or live presentations from key stage 3 children about bullying – if they have ever seen it and how it was dealt with.
Parents need to understand assessment processes and would benefit from being given an assessment schedule for the first year.
They often want to know specifically what ‘on entry’ and baseline assessments or exams will be used/completed. This means secondary staff need to be able to confidently explain how Year 6 test scores and assessment information will be used by Year 7 teachers.
4. Pastoral Care
Parents are always keen to meet the Year 7 counsellor and to learn more about their points of contact within the secondary staff.
Parents may also be eager to learn about how they can support their child during a period of transition – and usually welcome input regarding this.
Parents are always keen to be reassured that their children will be allocated to Year 7 classes in a way that considers their friendship groups and need to be given information about this.
5. Curriculum insights
Parents would feel more assured if they could be provided with learning, curriculum or syllabus information for KS3 so they can compare and understand the difference and progressions from Year 6 into Year 7 and beyond. As such make sure this information is readily available or can be shared promptly after any meeting.
6. Insights from other parents
A presentation from current Year 7 parents about how their child’s first year in the secondary experience has been or a curriculum focused recording by KS3 pupils talking about an area of work they have done can be a great way to inform parents and help form links between parents to help share more information.
7. Tours of different areas of the school by different members of staff
For instance, offer a tour led by the director of sport that can focus on different things than a tour from the head of teaching and learning.
These different, complementary offerings can help parents build up a fuller picture of the school and get more insights from a range of voices, all of which can help make the school already seem more familiar.
8. Taster lessons
Short snapshot experiences where children with their parents can experience a specialist lesson at secondary level can be a great way to take the school from something abstract into feeling like a real community of learning.
I am sure the most popular would be science, design and technology and art. With teachers now proficient in delivering remote and hybrid lessons using technology, this could be delivered well in all situations.
9. Space out information
Every year, I find that at the start of Year 6, parents are asking for information about transition. As such it is important that, within the first half term of being in Year 6, they are reassured by being provided with an overview and schedule of the forthcoming meetings, workshops and events related to transition.
After all, lengthy transition meetings held late in Term 3 often mean information overload at a stage far too late to bring much reassurance.
Information sessions for parents need to be provided in short, bite-sized sessions and delivered regularly over a period of months; starting in Term 1 of Year 6 and ending only in Term 2 of Year 7.
A regular 30-minute webinar or workshop with time for questions would be optimal.
10. Any time access to resources
Parents also benefit from being given follow-up materials for any information sessions delivered, including recordings of any sessions delivered remotely, infographics summarising key points or copies of ppts delivered.
These materials would also be useful for new joiners who sign up after the sessions have been delivered as well as for those who could not attend themselves.
Access to a shared electronic drive – perhaps the school’s management information system or a Google Drive folder where all materials are located together – makes it easier for all parents to look for and refer back to.
This would be the one-stop shop for parents where the Year 7 pupil guide, orientation materials, book/equipment lists and FAQ documents could also all be held.