Schools in the eastern states have been doing it for years, and it looks as though WA will be soon to follow when it comes to relocating year 7 students to secondary school settings.
Acting Deputy Principal Justine Mcnaught-Conroy says there are pros and cons for both the students making the transition and remaining in their regular primary setting.
Having worked in both a primary and high school Classroom Management Strategies (CMS) capacity, the Clarkson Community High School Deputy has written a recent position paper, ‘A Seamless Transition – Primary to High School’ providing research and suggestions into this foreseeable change.
“I think having the year 7’s here because it’s bound to happen at some point, curriculum wise, there will be greater access to facilities and specialist teachers, which to me is probably the biggest thing. We also have the issue at the moment, where we know that our partner primary schools are loosing numbers in years 5 and 6 to our private schools, so we can’t offer them a year 7 option.”
In the discussion paper, Justine provided a total of eight recommendations to improve the transition process in her school.
With the movement of year 7 to high school already beginning to take place within some IPS schools, Justine says transitional programs are essential.
“It’s scary for them to come to a new place and I think just the sheer structure of the day being so vastly different for them because they move around so much.”
With a significant marketing plan making head way in the school focused on developing partnerships with primary schools, attracting year 7 students to the school and providing opportunities for them to experience the secondary setting, Clarkson is already three quarters of the way there, they are now waiting for a government decision to be made.
Justine revealed that in, “The Future Placement of Year 7 Students in WA Public Schools: A Study (2007) concluded that it was, ‘not feasible to move all Year 7 students into secondary settings in the foreseeable future because of the high costs, the capacity of the Department to provide teachers and the concerns of rural and remote communities,’ however Education Minister Liz Constable has re-floated the idea with Independent and Catholic schools already going down that path (Lampathakis, 2007).”
According to Justine, it’s both the academic and social changes that will affect the transitioning of students and it will be the primary to secondary relationship between the schools that will assist in a swift segue for the students and teachers.
Clarkson has already been developing positive relationships with their nine feeder primaries.
In the on-going discussions Justine has had with her partner primary schools, curriculum content has always been a point of discussion, particularly in the science and history curriculum.
Many primary schools do not have the capacity to run the programs in terms of access to facilities and the teaching expertise.
“I know that some primary schools have converted their classrooms into science labs using their building funding, but in my conversations with the primary’s it’s not just the facilities, it’s the subject specific knowledge. Although a good teacher is highly valuable and can generally turn their hand to any subject, when you start going really specific they are going, ‘where do I start?’
“It’s not just about the facilities it’s about the knowledge of the teacher to teach the content and to feel confident and comfortable about that. And if we look at the national curriculum it’s a curriculum that is the same for us that it is for over east and it’s not problematic for them.
According to Justine the shift is expected to present many challenges in terms of standardised testing, in particular for year 7’s.
The students will arrive in high school and in just one term, will sit NAPLAN testing.
Therefore both the primary and secondary school must work closely during transition, in order to determine weaknesses and strengths.
“The main con is that they’re not with same teacher, because if the teacher is what makes the greatest difference to the kids learning and all the research says it is, then them having so many teachers throughout the day can be difficult for them. So I understand the argument...and we are yet to see how that goes, but in terms of curriculum and subject specific knowledge that’s a positive.”
“With the current half cohort, they’re going to be 18 when they finish school and that for us is potentially problematic. We will also have these younger kids, potentially the year 7’s, so we will have a bigger range of ages. We already have a really strong pastoral care system and that will be something we have to continue to build on.”
Luckily for Clarkson’s year 8’s Justine says they try to cocoon them at the beginning of high school with their own assemblies, their own coordinator and mental programs run by the chaplain.
Justine says that although the transition from primary to secondary can be very exciting, it can also be a great time of anxiety and stress for others.
Having a strong pastoral care system is something that will assist in abstaining bullying behaviour, something that Justine feels will not be common among children in different age groups.
“I can only speak from our experience here, but I think bullying happens in every school and we are working a lot on developing a restorative practice model to deal with bullying and put bullying intervention procedures in place. It’s about relationships between us and the partner primary schools, between the students and the teachers and the younger and older kids,” she added.
With an extensive background in CMS and observing teachers in classrooms Justine found teachers from K-12 often implementing exactly the same strategies.
Secondary teachers can learn from primary teachers in working with students in collaborative ways and putting cooperative learning effectively in place.
“I think that their skill set is very transferable that they could work in a secondary setting and assist with that transition very effectively.”
So what will happen to the primary teaching positions after the transition takes place? All hope may not be lost.
“We may need to as secondary schools be creative about the way we structure the year 7 classes. I know that some schools in the private system have year 7 as part of the secondary school, but they are in the same class for most of the day. So it’s a transition model where they are together with the same group of kids most of the time. If suddenly there aren’t year 7 jobs and we need the numbers, I think that it’s really doable.”
“The support we as a school provide these students in this transition can have a major impact on their emotional, academic and social development,” said Justine.