February 2015


  • Essential support
    Member support is a cornerstone of ASCL’s work. Richard Tanton explains the different services and functions provided. More
  • Staying the course
    It’s not just students who need to be able to withstand challenges and learn to persist. Senior leaders and staff, too, would benefit from gaining a better understanding of how to build the personal resilience that will help them succeed, say Les Duggan and Mark Solomons. More
  • Over to us
    Government has handed schools control of the Pupil Premium with the overarching goal of helping to boost social mobility. John Dunford sets out a ten-point plan to help heads identify where to spend the money to gain maximum impact. More
  • Better together?
    Raising attainment for all? Becky Francis introduces a project to identify best practice in grouping students and invites schools to take part. More
  • Bridging the gap
    A fresh approach to transition, including an introduction to university for Year 6s, is helping one secondary to prepare primary pupils for life at ‘big school’. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Mapping the future
    ASCL is expanding its presence in the English regions to help meet the changing needs of leaders. Brian Lightman explains the thinking behind the move. More
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A fresh approach to transition, including an introduction to university for Year 6s, is helping one secondary to prepare primary pupils for life at ‘big school’. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.

Bridging the gap

Transition from primary to secondary school was always difficult for many children attending Swaythling Primary School in Southampton.

 “As a small one-form entry school, some of our children were extremely worried and quite anxious about moving up to a large secondary,” says John Draper, the Headteacher. “However, the manner in which transition is dealt with at Cantell School [secondary school] is very supportive and nurturing to the point at which our pupils come back excited and raring to go.” 

Primary pupils heading for Cantell have a week at the start of July to settle in to their new surroundings. Regular meetings between the transition team staff and Cantell and Year 6 teachers from the feeder primaries will have begun in the previous January to gather information about individual pupils. 

Transition week, now in its third year, allows pupils not only to make friends, get to know teachers and learn the layout of the school but also gives staff the opportunity to put in place any interventions the children may need academically and socially.

The thinking behind Cantell’s transition week is quite simple: pupils need to understand the ethos of the school and the expectations that staff have of them if they are to succeed and become what they want to be.

Claire Herridge, Assistant Head and Team Leader for Year 7, says, “Our aim is to get the children to refocus and make them conscious of the culture and ethos of the school. If they can do that before they get here then we don’t have to spend time in September ironing out problems. When they get here we want them to hit the ground running.

“When they arrive in September as Year 7s they are confident, they know the teachers and their way around the school. They will also have made some new friends from the other feeder primaries.”

The Cantell Cs

Helping the children to refocus means supporting them in the start of their learning journey, and this involves the pupils gaining an understanding of how things are done at Cantell. Among the first things they learn during transition week are the ‘Cantell Cs’ to which they will all need to adhere and aspire – challenge, courtesy, commitment, co-operation and creativity.

Last July, the week was held partly at the school and partly at the University of Southampton. Organising activities around the university and using its lecture theatres gave Year 6 pupils an insight into higher education that they may not have had before, to raise their aspirations. One activity involved the pupils being put into groups named after a Russell Group university. Their task was to research that university and find out more about the courses they do and what life is like there.

Parents received a leaflet containing information about what their children will be doing during the week and staff from Cantell visited each feeder primary before the event to give a presentation on the importance of smooth transition and what pupils would do during their week there.

“We encouraged the pupils to think about where they want to be as the class of 2019 when they leave school,” Claire says. “Based on the Dr Seuss story Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and the analogy of a journey, the children were encouraged to consider their future and where they planned to be in 2019, and what sort of people they hoped to be. They all recorded ‘legacy statements’ outlining their visions.”

A journey

At the start of the week, every pupil was assigned a ‘mountain guide’ – a teacher or other member of staff to encourage them through the various activities. Continuing with the analogy of the journey, each child is expected to reach ‘base camp’ – or be ready to go to Cantell – at the end of the week.

One boy last summer said in his legacy statement that he hoped he’d be a ‘phenomenal cricketer who respected his elders and was an inspiration to kids’. Another said of his future self: ‘He is a loyal man, who donates to charity and goes on adventures. He goes around the world giving destitute children hope.’

Others wanted to be remembered for positive character traits. Words such as ‘kind’, ‘helpful’ and ‘loyal’ come up regularly as how they wanted to be perceived and remembered.

Back at the school, the children attended taster lessons and activities aimed at giving them an idea of what to expect in the classroom when they arrive in September.

Activities encourage teamwork and forging friendships, raising aspirations and fostering a ‘can-do’ mindset. At the end of every session the pupils collect signatures from staff to show that they have demonstrated an understanding and adherence to the Cantell Cs. These signatures will count towards their ‘graduation’ at the end of the week, when they receive a coveted T-shirt to show they are ready for school in September.

Last year’s ‘graduates’ recall their week fondly. “The visit to the university really made us think about what we want to do in the future,” says Manpreet Taak, aged 12. “For the first time I had thought about going to university.”

Olivia Perrett, also 12, says: “For me the most interesting thing was collecting the signatures from teachers to show I had understood the Cantell Cs. The T-shirt at the end on graduation made us feel like we were part of the school community.”

Meanwhile, Dillon Cappleman, 11, says: “The lessons were fun and not like anything we had ever done before. We did the experiment where the teacher lights the magnesium strip with the Bunsen burner, and it was amazing. The idea of going to a big school felt scary at first but everything became more familiar after a couple of days, so having a whole week there was really useful.”

Feeder schools, who work closely with Cantell on the whole transition process throughout the year also appreciate the efforts made by the secondary.

Buzzing with excitement

Deb Sutton, Head of Bassett Green Primary School, from which about two-thirds of pupils go to Cantell every year, says pupils came back buzzing with excitement.

“Some said they didn’t want to come back to us at all for the final few weeks as our school felt so small in comparison. They came back very clear about what was expected of them by the school and earning a T-shirt gave them a real sense of achievement and belonging.”

John Draper adds: “What is so good about a whole week is that there is a broad range of activities that are challenging but fun. The children enjoy the practical nature of the work and they quickly get to know other children.”

The initiative has also reaped benefits for Cantell. While the event takes a great deal of organisation, the benefits far outweigh any challenges.

“The staff have n noticed that students are less anxious about starting secondary school and that pupils tend to settle in much quicker,” says Claire Herridge. “Teachers have also noted better engagement with lessons, and that children are much more focused. In the past, pupils would take a few weeks to settle in – that doesn’t really happen now. They arrive here and are ready to learn.

Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer