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What wasted years? How we focus on academic continuity, alongside pastoral support, at transition

Written By: Chris Bingley
6 min read
Collaboration with primary schools is key to helping pupils avoid academic dip after transition

Like many other secondary schools, at Thornleigh Salesian College we face lots of challenges around ensuring a smooth and successful transition from key stage 2 to 3 (KS2 and KS3). Back in September 2015, Ofsted took a close look at transition. Their report, Key stage 3: the wasted years?, found a variety of issues around KS2 to KS3 continuity and progression.

In many ways we were ahead of them: around six years ago we started overhauling our approach to transition. The school has approximately 1,200 students in total. Some 270 pupils will join us in September 2018, 70% of whom come from one of seven partner primary schools. We need to ensure that students build on their knowledge and skills from primary school so that they make personal and academic progress once they join us.

Our transition challenges

We faced a variety of challenges:

  1. During the first two terms of year 7, many of our students were experiencing an academic dip, with progress plateauing or even regressing. We needed to ensure that the 15 weeks between the last KS2 assessment and first KS3 assessment chance were not wasted.
  2. Building a culture of trust between the secondary school and a group of partner primary schools. We needed to break down the sense of ‘them and us’ so we could collaborate and have a shared vision.
  3. It is tricky to establish sustainable KS2-KS3 curriculum frameworks within a secondary school, especially when staff are spinning so many other plates.
  4. You have to ensure that KS2-KS3 continuity and progression is not just concentrated on pastoral issues, but considers social, personal, curriculum and pedagogical challenges too.

Our approach to transition

We already had a strong pastoral induction programme so around five years ago we collaborated with our partner primary schools to sharpen our focus on the curriculum aspects of transition.

We began by focusing on teaching, learning and assessment in English and maths. We designed two bespoke bridging schemes of learning, called SMART Steps, to ensure that our year 7 curriculum built on the knowledge and skills developed during KS2. There was plenty of research to suggest that bridging schemes of work are effective – see the references section for further reading.

Thornleigh subject specialists got together with year 6 teachers for three planning workshops. Staff studied the KS2 and KS3 national curriculums and agreed mutually beneficial key skills. They then planned two five-session schemes of learning. Thornleigh subject specialists then produced lesson plans, supporting resources and workbooks.

The content of the original bridging units was predominantly good. The majority of the tasks had real purpose to them, so the children recognised the value in completing them. For instance, the English units contained a lesson requiring them to write a letter to a year 7 pupil, sharing their excitement or concerns, and asking questions.
Partner Year 6 teacher

Bridging schemes of learning

Students complete four lessons from the scheme at primary school with their teacher, before studying the final lesson during one of their summer induction days at Thornleigh. Teachers use this lesson to tweak their year 7 schemes of learning to ensure they build on the knowledge and skills developed during the bridging units.

The workbooks are then transferred to year 7 class teachers so that the students make a clear association between learning in KS2 and KS3, while also having a familiar learning platform from which to start secondary life. Any student from a non-partner school completes the same learning during two standalone workshops delivered by Thornleigh subject specialists.

After the initial year of completing the bridging units, our year 6 cohort began to undertake a new, more challenging curriculum. This affected the suitability of the bridging units – some of the maths unit in particular was no longer challenging enough. We reviewed the content, and replaced some lessons. For instance, I designed a probability lesson. This is an example of the strong sense of collaboration.
Partner Year 6 teacher

Further developments

Our next challenge was to ensure that our year 7 teachers understand the learning that happens in year 6. Cross-phase professional learning visits are one way we enable this. English and maths teachers from Thornleigh have visited each partner primary school to study pedagogical practice, the learning environment and engage in professional dialogue. Following the visit, teachers write a detailed report with recommended curriculum tweaks for KS3 English and maths.

This works the other way too. In the summer term, we now invite year 6 teachers to Thornleigh for KS3 professional learning visits. We relieve year 6 teachers for the afternoon by sending our science teachers to teach key curriculum skills.

We also wanted subject specialists to do some shared/cross-phase moderation of students’ work and schemes of learning. Now, year 6 teachers partner with our subject specialists in English, maths and science to study our schemes of learning for year 7. This has had many benefits including stopping unnecessary duplication across phases, and creating more opportunities to stretch and challenge. Thornleigh subject specialists also attend regular cross-phase moderation exercises to standardise work, especially in English. This gives teachers a greater understanding of KS2 expectations, marking routines and student performance. We are excited about moving our programme forward by embedding science to our curriculum development project.

This established culture of scheduled and embedded curriculum development works in synchronisation with our rigorous pastoral support. It ensures that the students who join our community make a safe and confident personal transition between KS2 and KS3. Our pitch may not be perfect just yet, but we continue to raise the bar for ourselves in this important area.

Examples of pupil’s work


The instability of national performance measures has presented challenges in terms of measuring impact, especially the changes to KS2 assessments and removal of KS3 levels of attainment. We also use CATs in our school. This has made it difficult to align student progress and attribute ‘measurable’ credit to the impact of our transition programme on student outcomes. As the assessment landscape settles down, we hope to develop more accurate impact measures.

So far in year 7, we set internal progress targets that are representative of each students’ relative starting point. We then measure student progress by assessing their performance in line with subject-specific assessment criteria. Importantly, at the end of year 7, our students made the progress we would expect in English and more progress than we would expect in Maths. In 2016/2017, 82% of our year 7 students made the progress that we would expect, or greater in English; that figure rose to 92% for maths.

We also have other indicators that provide us with evidence to ensure that the transition programme supports students. In Maths, for example, the number of students recruited for ‘close the gap’ intervention groups in year 7 has reduced significantly since the introduction of the project. Our maths students also completed a ‘feelings’ audit about the schemes of learning. They told us that they have a confidence about the similarities of transition tasks to those that they study in year 7. We worked from the assumption that it was likely our students would experience the fears and anxieties associated with transition based on national research – others may want to baseline test this so they can analyse the extent of this confidence.

Having worked so closely, with such a small number of pupils, it is always concerning when the time comes to send them to ‘big school’. Will the teachers there, who spend comparatively little time with their pupils, recognise their nuances and understand how to motivate them best?
Year 6 teacher involved in the project

Pupils’ feelings

We do know that our students arrive in September feeling safe, valued and confident. Through our bespoke audit, based on the Myself As a Learner scale, a check is carried out on day one, around Christmas and at the end of the year. It measures students’ self-belief, motivation, awareness of others, resilience and team work (SMART). I worked alongside an education researcher to devise the questions. We think that positive scores in the SMART facets (there was a 3% increase from 73% – 76% for the last cohort for 2016/17) are a fairly robust measures of students feeling safe, valued and confident.

Further evidence of pupil’s sense of security and confidence comes from our positive attendance figures, student behaviour and attendance at extra-curricular activities. Since we launched SMART Steps, Year 7 students attendance has consistently been within our ‘good’ range (between 95 – 98.9%). There has also been a 83% decrease in behaviour incidents logged by teachers between 2015 and 2018 for our year 7 cohorts.

• If you would like to get in touch with Chris about his work on transition, you can email him here.

• If you would like to see this approach in action, watch our video here.


With thanks to:

Vanisha Gangiyani – English transition lead at Thornleigh Salesian College
Gareth Fairclough – Maths transition lead at Thornleigh Salesian College
Adele Croft – English transition lead at Thornleigh Salesian College
Niall Owens – Former teacher at Holy Infants and St Anthony’s RCP
Lucy Cooper – Assistant Headteacher at Holy Infants and St Anthony’s RCP

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