Making the change from one school to another can be incredibly stressful for children and young people. Those who have thrived in one setting may feel anxiety at leaving it for pastures new, while others who may not have ever settled well in one setting may feel suspicious of what comes next. Naturally, for some the move comes with excitement and anticipation, but not all, by any stretch.
The big transition from primary education to secondary receives much focus, and rightly so. Getting it right can make a tremendous difference for young people as they embark on the next stage of their education. The mutual respect between primary and secondary teachers can help to ensure that what comes before can be built on and expanded in the new setting. But what of the transition from secondary to tertiary education? For some young people, this may involve simply moving up in the same setting, but for many others, it involves moving to a college nearby, or at least within commutable distance.
The move into tertiary education can, for some, mark the beginning of a significant maturing; taking greater responsibility for learning in an important way. There is a break with what has come before. More independent learning is expected and more sophisticated skills of personal organisation are required. And while this stage tends to be where ambitions for the future come more sharply into focus, it can also be where confidence takes a hit and where life can become more challenging. This is not just about leaving your school days behind, but about moving on from childhood too.
Teresa Carroll, lead on the Education and Training Foundation’s offer to the sector on offender learning, special educational needs and disabilities, and mental health, has seen how effective the transition between secondary and tertiary can be. She explained, “Successful transition between education providers begins early bringing together the learner, their family and professionals from both organisations to create a plan for success which has the learner’s ambitions at its heart. For example, I heard a refreshing story this week of where this is currently taking place with a learner who has severe dyslexia. The learner, her parents, the school and the college have got together so they all know where the learner wants to get to with her education. Plans are in place should she obtain her predicted grades for a study programme and just as importantly there is a plan should she not achieve the maths and English grades. The learner feels confident having been well supported and has a clear line of sight to her aspirations, so September 2021 looks very exciting. That’s how it should be for all our learners.”
Palvinder Singh is Group Deputy Principal at NCG based at Kidderminster College. He views the transition as an opportunity, and at the moment, while the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic continues to rage, there is an additional challenge in the quest to get this change right for young people. Singh explained, “Disruption and chaos can be a good thing. It can help focus the mind on what we are trying to do and why. Focusing on questions that we sometimes don’t have time to reflect upon because we are busy doing what we have done in the past. We are now in a position with the impact of pandemic restrictions forcing us to do things differently.”
So how can we manage the transition from year 11 to college? Singh said, “Previously we would have done a number of large events at schools and open evenings and taster sessions. I have found online virtual open evenings interesting but we have decided not to try and replicate a physical event to be online. Instead, we are focusing on giving parents and applicants the best and the most informed guidance possible. We have decided to return to more traditional methods such as phone calls with tutors, parents and applicants. During this current time, the objective has been to keep things simple. We have offered booking slots with MS Teams but I have found that the majority of year 11 students and parents have opted for the phone. Feedback from parents, students and staff for these events has been incredibly positive. Staff don’t feel as pressured and rushed as they have done at open evenings and they can make these calls from home. So sometimes disruption can be good if we are flexible and adapt the focus on ensuring that we offer a good experience to our community of parents and prospective students. Whilst we miss out on showcasing the facilities, from experience students tend to find supportive and well-informed teachers more memorable and we can hopefully showcase facilities later in the academic year.”
If you’re involved in helping young people transition from secondary to tertiary education at this uncertain time, these ideas may help:
- Acknowledge the anxiety and trepidation that young people me be feeling at this stage. “You’ll be ok” won’t cut it if the young person has serious doubts about their chosen path, or has fears about what happens next.
- If open days/evenings aren’t possible within current restrictions, other methods such as films, virtual tours, MS Teams/Zoom meetings, and phone calls etc can all help prospective students and their parents to get a feel for how the transition will work.
- Keep all lines of communication between secondary and tertiary settings open as much as possible as the year progresses.
- Keep it simple. Giving young people clear information about the transition, particularly at this time of continued uncertainty, is enough.
- Maintain the focus on goals for the future; times will change and opportunities will open up again.
The main message of this time, as Singh explained, is that it is as effective to go back to basics as it might be for some to innovate. “In a time where people need as much reassurance as possible,” he said, “the old-fashioned can be more welcoming.”
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.