“If we provide an enjoyable educational experience then exam results will look after themselves.”
That’s the message from the headteacher at All Saints Catholic High where extra provision has been put into ensuring that its youngest pupils settle in as quickly as possible.
The school, on Granville Road, has some primary school trained staff within its classrooms who work to ensure the transition period from primary up to secondary is as smooth as it can be.
Work is done both pastorally and academically in the belief that its pupils aspirations will be raised from the moment they start at the school.
There are three primary-trained teachers on the staff team who are there to support pupils as they make the transition from key stage two to key stage three.
But even before children walk through the door in year seven, they have already had a lot of contact with the school.
As year six pupils they attend various events at the school throughout their last year in primary school.
The Catholic Cup is a year six tournament which pupils take part in towards the end of the summer.
Pupils are also invited to watch All Saints’ school production, which this year is Little Shop of Horrors.
Forensic science days are held for the high ability students as part of after-school activities, while the Big Sing, an annual singing event, attracts pupils from across the city to perform at the school.
Once in year seven pupils are put in vertical tutor groups, which include around five pupils from every year in each form.
“It really works,” said Rachael Hartley, transition coordinator and English teacher. “The older kids will sit down with the younger ones and go through data in their reports and talk to them about what career options to use.
“They get to know some of the older pupils and talk to them about all kinds of things.”
The school also has a house system, featuring five houses, so again the younger pupils get opportunity to mix with their peers.
Rather than getting individual rewards, pupils get house rewards with the winning house getting a trip to theme park Alton Towers.
A breakfast club was launched for year seven pupils in September, with staff hoping that by mirroring some of the successes of initiatives in primary schools then youngsters will integrate quicker.
The school also does a lot of work on the academic side to ensure pupils continue to be aspirational and achieve.
Mrs Hartley explained that the language teachers use is as similar as it can be from key stage two, and teachers look at what pupils are capable of and have achieved in primary school so they do not, as is often found to be the case, plateau when they move into secondary school.
“It’s all about managing expectations and making sure the high expectations are maintained from the start,” she said.
“We have high aspirations for all from the moment they arrive and try to support them academically and pastorally from year seven onwards.”
One of the first units they study in school is about a novel, similar to how they studied in key stage two.
A transition project is run with teachers from All Saints Primary teachers coming in to meet staff and seer former pupils and the work they have been doing.
Mrs Hartley said: “It’s about forming these links and more continuity.”
Children who arrive at school and are below the expected standard in English or maths are put into smaller class groups in these subjects so they get more one-to-one support.
Year seven students also spend time with sixth-form students, who are often studying English, as part of a paired reading scheme.
As well as improving literacy, it also gives younger students a role model and someone older in the school to aspire to.
Mrs Hartley said: “A lot of what we do for the younger pupils is trying to create aspirations in terms of what they can achieve and what they want to go onto do.”
The school has a full-time careers adviser and there are career fairs in years eight – before pupils pick their options, and also years 10 and 11 with providers from a range of industries coming in.
Headteacher Sean Pender said there has been a lot of focus in school on transition since he arrived at the school around 18 months ago.
He said: “There is inevitable focus on key stage four and exams and we have realised that we have to get it right from the moment they come into school and we start equipping them from day one.”
“We have invested in valuable transitional and primary staff who bring experience and skill with them.
“When we work with primary schools we need to think about our continuous curriculum that starts a key stage one and ends in key stage five.
“We need to get it to feel more like a through-school and not separate primary and secondary schools.”
Mr Pender believes that ensuring pupils enjoy school and want to attend is key to them achieving well.
He said: “When you are talking about improving attendance what we need to make clear to students is that attending is better than not. We have a collective responsibility.
“If we provide an enjoyable educational experience then the exam results will look after themselves.
“I believe that between the ages of 11 and 16 are the most important years in a child’s life and it is a huge responsibility and privilege to be on that journey with them.”
He added: “We do feel like a family here. We use the word love a lot and we are not scared to use it.
“I say we do love them but because of that we will push and challenge them just like a family would. Once a member of All Saints School, you are always a member of All Saints School.
“It is important to stand on the doors of classroom and talk to pupils about their interests and hobbies.
“They feel valued and that we are taking an interest in them. That is when school becomes a better option.”