SEN Transition from primary to secondary – during covid-19
So, another week has gone by and the wannabe—lockdown continues. We are no clearer now as to when things might return to relative normality, than we were ten minutes after things were announced 5 weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean that we can just let things pottle on by and hope that they sort themselves out. Unfortunately, we need to plan for a future even though we don’t actually know what that future might look like. We do know that, transition including for SEN students will still need to take place.
For many schools this means planning what transition will look like and whilst there are whole swathes of children involved we know that our vulnerable learners, our SEN pupils, need a little more forethought than those who will just take it in their stride. I have to admit having two older children who transitioned to secondary school a few years ago, I wasn’t worried. They’d be visiting with their primary school since they were in Y3 and to be fair I worked there. My third son, due to transition next year I have less personal knowledge of what will happen, hell I haven’t even decided which school. But he is such a laid back character, apart from the possibility of him walking to the wrong school at some point he’ll just take it in his stride, literally.
I recognise there are many transitional points in a child’s life, and for some children even the movement from one year group to the next within a school (or even from home back to school) will be a challenge – but for the purposes of keeping my life simple (come one, I’m working from home too, and home schooling, and producing videos – give me a break) I’m going to focus on the big transition from KS2 to KS3 – or primary to secondary school. As professionals, I’m sure you can magpie ideas and adapt them to suit your own needs – that’s the definition of a teacher isn’t it?
I have a few ideas. SEN Transition
First, you could stick with the traditional idea of a booklet that children complete. Your booklet might need a few extra pages this year as children won’t be able to wander around your site to hunt the answers. Traditionally these guides serve as an introduction to the secondary school, giving ideas of what to bring with them, how rewards and consequences systems work, maps, how to read a timetable and possibly even an introduction to their head of year, if not their form tutor.
Where we would normally gather the children on common transition day (or induction day) and support them in completing this, it probably needs a little more guidance than usual. SEN Transistion
I think this is a great opportunity for the primary and secondary SENCOs to work together. The secondary school traditionally supplies the booklet, but the primary school knows which of the children will need the extra assistance in understanding how to follow a timetable. Instead of the primary setting normal maths lessons for those students, how about having a week of ‘reading timetables’ in order to develop this skill? As SENCOs we also have some students who we know won’t access that timetable or activity at all, so liaising with the secondary SENCO on developing a visual timetable and agreeing the symbols that the child is familiar with or will use on transfer could be a deal breaker.
Secondary schools often have lunch time choices and whilst many have moved to a moneyless system, children still need to be aware of what they are spending. Activities which involve budgeting their week’s lunch and snack money could easily be provided by Y6 teachers in place of SATs revision, which is no longer required. The real advantage of doing this is that it really isn’t onerous on the primary school to deliver and regardless of which secondary children are transferring to the activities do not have to directly relate to their transferring school – just be there to teach them how to apply when they do arrive.
Along with school timetables, many children find themselves on public transport for the first time and whilst we would love to initiate travel training at this point it might not be an option. Perhaps the secondary school could provide a photo of their nearest bus stops and I’m sure a google search would pull up buses of the right colour and number (if all else fails, email the bus companies, I’m sure they’d be delighted to help out with this kind of request at the moment.). It is unlikely that the children will need to read a bus timetable, most of them will adopt a routine that enables them to catch the 7:47 number 3A green bus from the end of the road which means leaving the house by 7:35am…but there is no harm in providing some activities that enable students to work out what to do if they miss a bus (especially on the way home) especially if they have to catch more than one!
And the secondary teachers could help out here too. Perhaps team teaching alongside Y6 teachers in their feeder primary schools by remote link. This might work really well for a science lesson where the secondary teacher might be able to show an exciting experiment to illustrate something for the primary lesson, even if it’s not live.
The booklets are great, and probably already in existence, although perhaps as SENCOs we haven’t always had as much involvement with them as we should do. It usually falls on the head of Year 7 or maybe a transition coordinator. SEN Transition
How can we support children (and families) so that they are not overwhelmed by the content of those booklets? We know some will be! Setting up a regular email to say fill in pages 2 and 3 this week and here is some information to help you might be a way to achieve this. There may be a GDPR hiccup here since many secondary schools may not have access to the information required, and it might necessitate the primary school e-mailing on their behalf. We need to be aware that the primary school might therefore end up with 6 or 7 schools contacting them requesting different things. My recommendation to the secondary schools would be to be reasonable and get everything on one email a week! My recommendation to primary schools would be to send the email to parents in bulk using blind copy and copy the secondary school directly at the top. This will mean the secondary can’t see the email addresses of the primary parents but can see that the email has been sent out. And parents have a named contact at which point they consent to sharing their email address should they reply.
Where children are appealing their places or where they don’t know where they are going, ask the family which school they’d like the transition process set up with (assuming that all secondaries offer something!)
To support some of the activities in the booklet – yes, I’m harping on about those again – the secondary school could offer video snippets. Most schools are not completely closed and it should be possible to record a treasure hunt or tour of the school and upload securely for students to access and complete activities. Even photos taken from those inevitably hiding on someone’s hard drive could be used. In the same vein, getting key members of staff to film a short video would help many students. I would ask each member of staff to introduce themselves by name, wear something that represents their department or hold a prop, and then set an activity for children to match the member of staff to their subject. The following week this can be followed up with a second video again introducing themselves with their prop and confirming their role in the school. This could be linked to a map of the school and trying to guess which room you will find Mr Oak the science teacher in (anything on the science corridor accepted as the right answer).
In my webinar, earlier this week, I made suggestions around virtual meetings for SEN pupils and also virtual coffee mornings. I’d like to elaborate on that further and add another suggestion on team teaching. SEN Transition
I was pleased to see that immediately after mentioning the idea of virtual meetings and coffee mornings my idea was spreading across social media…less enamoured that I didn’t get any credit for it, but such is the nature of magpieing ideas!
I think we need to start with the opportunity for the primary and secondary Senco or secondary Senco and Y6 form tutor to have an uninterrupted chat about pupils is an important aspect of any transitional work.
Following on from that I think there is an opportunity for the Head of Y7 to meet groups of Y6s in small clusters along with the Y6 teacher, online of course, to ask any questions that they might have. I think that this could be suitably scheduled that the SENCO from each phase might be available at the point that relevant children are involved. In almost a parent consultation style as well, there could be the opportunity for primary, secondary, parent and pupil to meet and get to know each other.
The third option would be to look at holding virtual coffee mornings, or a chess and wine evening if you really fancied! Whilst this might be for groups of transitioning Y6 to Y7 parents, it’s probably a good idea to offer something to parents of SEN pupils separately too. Asking the primary school to send the invite again, you decide the date, time and method of meeting. Since this is one for adults and it’s more a general chat, there are probably less concerns around the use of video conferencing. Parents could be given rules about not sharing names if you really want to lock things down. Now, I’m a great fan of coffee mornings, it was a real way for me to engage my reluctant parents when I was back in school…but the one thing I would say is have a topic or theme or even an agenda and stick to it.
I see many opportunities during our enforced closure to look at the ways we do things, experiment a little, find the things that work and build them into our practise for the future. How brilliant would it be if we could have some of these things in place even when schools go back? And for our students with SEN it can only benefit them further.
Finally, some schools are saying there is no point doing any of this as we may well go back to original schools. We don’t know what will happen next. I look at it from a different perspective. They could have use repeat the 19/20 academic year…but even if that does happen, the particular children involved will eventually be transferring…they’ve just started the process of preparing earlier than usual!
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Take care – and I’m off to prepare for next week’s webinar series and writing you a blog about virtual coffee mornings!