We have just come to the end of our Virtual Transition Week for our 2021 cohort and we are happy to share our approach, to support schools completing similar events this year.
Birmingham City Council made an announcement in late June and made the decision, due to rising cases of the Delta variant of COVID 19, that all transition events should be conducted virtually this year.
I think it’s fair to say that schools are very much used to being in ‘reactive mode’ as a result of the pandemic, and it was really crucial, before we started designing a programme for this year, that we were able to find an opportunity to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of our current provision.
I currently lead transition at the school and I work closely with our permanent Pastoral Leader, Charlotte Osborn. After a debrief from last year’s transition we found an opportunity to pool our knowledge of issues encountered/ gaps in pupils’ experience on joining the school. Equally, we kept in mind the following:
- Transition is an ongoing process of psychological and educational adaptation;
- It happens over a long, sustained period of time;
- It happens due to changes in context, interpersonal relationships and identity;
- It can be both exciting and worrying and requires sustained, ongoing support
Once we had reflected on our current provision and anything that had emerged in school as a result of a weakness of the current provision, we were in a position to decide a programme that would suit the needs of the pupils joining us in September and a programme that would stretch further than the first half term or so of the new academic year.
For the majority of the strategic work we do together, we use the Education Endowment Foundation School’s Guide to Implementation, which helps us to see transition as an ongoing process, rather than a one-off event. We spent time considering what was missing from the students’ transition diet and attempted to address these through a programme that would exist over the course of an academic year.
During one planning session, we sat and considered the issues that we and other teachers had encountered with the current group of new starters. Many of the items on this list have been caused by long periods of time out of school routines and the lasting impact of the pandemic:
- Reduced face-to-face social interaction (due to longer periods of time online) had meant that forging friendships had been difficult for some pupils;
- With reduced contact with other pupils from around the school, pupils found it difficult to get a sense of the whole school and whole school identity- key staff, where to go if there’s a problem, and the building itself was still unfamiliar to some pupils;
- With increased time spent online, pupils’ ability to keep themselves safe online and to know what behaviours are appropriate and otherwise;
- The reduced quality of pupils’ written and spoken communication;
- Manners and social etiquette
Alongside this list, we were obviously keen to ensure that the transition programme met a number of needs and was able to cover the following three strands:
Using these lists and considerations, we then planned how we could use the first year of secondary school to address these issues and how we might use a Virtual Transition Week to provide a comprehensive introduction to the school. For parents and new pupils, having all of the information at their fingertips is absolutely essential, and having the information in a way that can be easily accessed and easily revisited over the summer months is even more crucial to a successful transition.
We made the decision to run a week-long series of events, which would be live streamed on our transition Youtube channel each day. The events would be live, but if parents/ carers could not make the events, they would be able to access the links at a later date. Secondly, we decided that for ease of the transfer of information, we would create a Twitter account for transition and also create a bespoke website for pupils and parents to access.
Here is the programme we had planned for this year:
The website was designed to ensure that information could be found quickly and easily digested on a range of devices. For this, we used Google Sites- as we use Google Suite for Education, it is also much easier to transfer files.
Each subject had prepared a short introduction to their department and had created a short mini-lesson for pupils to engage with over the summer months.
For the live streams, we used an online programme called Streamyard, we purchased the basic options, as that meant we were able to brand our presentations and made it look much more professional. Streamyard allows you to integrate videos with sound into your streams for a polished and professional feel. Through Streamyard, you can stream to multiple platforms simultaneously, so if your school has several social media accounts, you can stream to all of them at the same time for maximum audience engagement.
Due to the fact that our school is a selective school, it was important for us this year to find an opportunity to frame our parents’ thinking regarding learning, challenge and competition. As a school that accepts able pupils from over 120 primary schools, it is important for us to support parents in supporting their child during their academic transition. Many pupils who have been the held up as the brightest/ most able in their year group often struggle with retaining that identity when they join secondary school. This session aimed to address this and correct misunderstandings about assessment and performance.
A copy of the presentation is available to download here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1oAn-Tl69wA5J43-fUgiUTUdm3HrqtXzipR3LY1ig1RA/edit?usp=drivesdk
Alongside this programme, we identified a number of groups that may benefit from further interventions, either based on past data/ our past experiences with groups of pupils, or in order to preempt any future issues or problems.
In order to support effective character and resilience development, we have extended our transition period to include a fortnightly workshop with Commando Joe’s (https://commandojoes.co.uk/). Commando Joe’s is endorsed by the DfE and EEF and we were particularly attracted to their specialised KS2-3 transition programme, which we thought would support our overall aims for long-term transition. CJs was recommended to us by a colleague, and we were really attracted to the idea of building resilience through military-like operations. Staff are being trained to deliver this in the coming weeks and we are excited about the prospect!
What has the impact of the extended virtual transition been?
As with most things virtual, it is difficult at this stage to gauge success of the events, as much of the impact will be heard and felt in September.
We have had very pleasing viewing rates on our live YouTube streams, and as these are private links, we have noticed that many parents and pupils continue to revisit the videos for additional reference.
We hope there comes a time (very soon!) when we are able to meet parents and new pupils in person to introduce them to their new school as we would have normally and, whilst we recognise that a virtual experience does not replicate the real thing, we hope that this year’s programme has delivered a comprehensive introduction to the school.
We are more than happy to be contacted by other schools considering an extended virtual transition this year (@miss_collins or @miss_goodyear via Twitter or feel free to comment on this post).
Good luck to colleagues in other schools who are about to undertake this challenge!