Guest Column: Taking the stress out of moving schools

Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy
Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy

Now that our year 11 students are doing their GCSEs, we are already planning for September by working with the year six primary school pupils who will be joining us in the autumn.

Long gone are the days when primary school students visited “big school” for a morning and then just had to get on with finding their feet when they finally arrived for good.

Nowadays, we have a regular programme whereby students from all of our local primary schools visit us regularly throughout the year and then join us full time for the last two weeks of our summer term, during which they also go on a residential trip.

Our staff also visit them in their primary schools and this year we are working alongside pupils individually so that we can understand their approach to learning.

We also identify those who may be struggling and who will need extra help.

It might sound like we are mollycoddling a whole host of snowflakes, but we cannot afford to stop pupils progressing and it is clear that their progress can be seriously affected by changing school, especially at a time when adolescence brings so many other changes. Just as gardeners will understand that transplanting a seedling checks their growth, it appears that being uprooted from the more nurturing primary school atmosphere — with less homework, the same teacher for different subjects and a smaller school population — into a busy secondary school can have a detrimental effect on students.

I believe some of them never really recover and that their GCSE grades are affected by the shock of failing to adjust to the new environment five years earlier. If that is the case, we have a duty to do whatever we can to make the transition is as smooth as possible – and that we understand quite what a culture shock moving to secondary school is.