Top tips for transitioning to senior school
Bethany School's deputy head, Steven Winter, advises teachers on how to help pupils make a smooth transition to senior school.
Bethany School was founded in 1866 and therefore has many years’ experience in supporting pupils through the transition to senior school. A great deal of thought should be given to helping pupils and their parents to get to know the school and each other, and make the settling in process as easy as possible.
Starting a new school is an exciting time which brings new challenges; schools should take a proactive approach to help pupils cope with any bumps in the road. Here are my school's top tips.
1. Encourage pupils and parents to visit the school as many times as needed in order to feel comfortable with their choice of school. Most families will visit Bethany more than once, attending an open morning and one or more individual visits, including a tour of the school with a current pupil.
2. Consider hosting a programme of events to help new pupils familiarise themselves with staff and fellow pupils. At Bethany these include a ‘Creative Education Day’ which introduces pupils to the school at the end of Year 4, followed by a programme of master classes for Year 5 pupils and then entrance assessments and ‘Getting to Know Bethany’ events in Year 6, ensuring that pupils feel very familiar with the school environment – and their fellow pupils – when they arrive in September.
3. For pupils joining the school at non-standard times of year – perhaps due to a family relocation – organise a taster day/week to help them ‘try the school on for size’ and get used to their surroundings before formally joining as a pupil.
4. Bridge the gap between the older and younger pupils in the school by introducing them to the prefect team. Pupils of course need to know that they can rely on their tutor and house master/mistress for pastoral matters but it is equally important that they feel they have allies in the wider school community to help deal with any issues as they settle in.
5. Where a pupil has a specific learning need, make sure staff take a proactive approach in meeting those needs by visiting their current school to identify areas where new pupils may require additional support.
6. Once the pupil starts school, their tutor and house staff need to take a lead role in settling both pupils and parents into school life. At Bethany School, the house community is a key part of our pastoral care structure, and all pupils – including day pupils – are members of a house. Interactions between tutors, house staff and parents need to begin as early as possible; this includes an informal meeting between tutor and parents early in the term, and all tutors will also contact parents by phone.
7. Early in the first term, organise project-based and outdoor learning activities for new Year 7 pupils to help develop teamwork skills and bond the new year group into a team.
8. Assign all new pupils a buddy, to shadow for the first few days and help them adapt to their new school environment.
9. Plan the tutor programme and timetabled PSHCE lessons to help pupils navigate ‘the hidden curriculum’ and learn about looking after themselves, getting on with others and planning for the future.
10. At the start of the school year, ensure that induction programmes are in place for new pupils – as well as specific induction programmes for boarding pupils – and a comprehensive parent handbook, to ensure that everyone is fully informed. As pastoral deputy, Alan Sturrock, notes: “there is nothing more important for parents and pupils than honest and open communication.”