Preparing For The Year 6 Transition To Secondary School: How To Make Sure Your Pupils Are Ready

The Year 6 transition to secondary school may be a yearly occurrence but it never gets any easier for teachers or pupils! Fortunately, experienced Year 6 teacher Emily Weston (@primaryteachew) has some excellent advice drawn from her experience working with local secondary schools on how you can help your pupils transition from Year 6 to Year 7 as smoothly as possible!

Every Year 6 teacher knows there are two key components to Year 6 at primary school.

The first is obvious: SATs.

The second though doesn’t happen until after the excitement of the tests, and it is the Year 6 transition.

Why do we focus on the year 6 transition process

Change can be hard at any stage of life but the move from primary to secondary school brings with it specific challenges and issues that can affect children’s self-esteem and even their mental health. (Research from West et Al is worth reading on this issue).

Children will have spent up to eight years in the same familiar school environment of their primary school, and by the time they get to Year 6, pupils have become quite big fish in their school pond.

Come September, not only are they going to leave their classmates and that protective factor of school staff who all know their name, but they’re entering a very different kind of school organisation. The likelihood is that it will be a larger school, they’ll have different teachers for every class, and it will require a huge leap in self-efficacy, their ability to organise, plan and execute behaviours.

It’s not surprising that emotions can run high at the start of the new school year!

To help you to minimise the negative impacts of transition and increase the likelihood of a successful transition, it’s worth getting together as team in your own school and deciding on what you think good practice looks like. Here I share the work that I’ve been doing.

Time to focus now on the Year 6 transition

Every year, after SATS, Year 6 teachers send their classes off to a variety of secondary establishments and each child handles this move very differently.

Even if they are (mostly) ready to move on to the next stage of their life: to make new friends, develop their knowledge and learn even more life skills it’s still a daunting process; not just for the children, but also for the teacher.

Having had previous experience in a small village school where nearly every child from our school and other local feeder schools went to the local secondary, it was a very different experience this year to have children from my class go to around 8 different schools ranging from grammar schools to a specialist school for autism.

Each of these schools will expect different forms, activities and transition days to be completed before the child begins in September.

Each school will also want to know all about the children that are coming to them: their academic ability, their strengths, areas that may need support and also about any children who need additional support transitioning for a range of reasons.

But the bottom line each school is trying to discover, is whether or not the child is ready for secondary.

Are they fully prepared for the transition from Year 6 to secondary school?

Getting the Year 6 transition right: understanding what “Year 7 Ready” really means

One of my local secondaries decided to look in more detail, with Year 6 teacher input, at what we expected children to be once they arrived at their new school. This is what we came up with.

We decided on:

  • Independent
  • Organised
  • A Responsible Citizen
  • Resilient
  • Self-Sufficient
  • Being a ‘Ready’ Learner

Obviously, there are many other traits we would expect children to have (and then there is the obvious necessity to know their academic ability) but these are the ones that we felt were a good starting point; a strong set of qualities that will help children to cope more fully with the social and emotional sides of secondary life.

what children should be when they arrive at secondary school

But why did we feel that these points in particular were important when looking at the Year 6 to Year 7 transition?

I will break down the reasons for each below.

Independence skills in Year 6 pupils

I don’t know about you, but I still have children in my class who always expect everything to be done for them by an adult.

Yes, in Year 6 I still get asked:

‘I’ve finished my book, what do I do?’


‘Miss, I can’t find my pencil.’

The concept of just asking for a new one, or finding a spare, is sometimes still beyond them.

Year 6 to Year 7 Transition Checklist

Trying to explain to them that next year they need to remember their own homework, cooking ingredients and PE kit can sometimes go over their heads because they don’t understand the concept of doing this themselves.

Having to explain this concept to a primary mind is a particularly difficult part of the Year 6 transition!

Even when being spoken to about an incident (we use restorative justice at our school) you find the word ‘but’ will appear all too often. No, it isn’t always their fault and it is really important to find out what happened before, but I often find that some pupils don’t take ownership of their actions – whatever the provocation.

At secondary, pupils will be increasingly expected to do this; to understand how to handle situations without always blaming another or to understand how they can have more ownership of their own actions in the future.

That of course goes alongside a task that most of us struggle with on occasion, namely having to get themselves prepared each morning!

Organisation skills in Year 6 pupils

For me, this is one of the most key components to being successful at secondary school.

When there, pupils will need to:

  • Use a timetable to get to different lessons;
  • Know where they are going around the school;
  • Plan how to prioritise their homework;
  • Get their appropriate equipment ready.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these skills will need to be taught for some children.

They won’t have had to do this before

In most primary schools, pupils:

  • Aren’t expected to move round buildings;
  • Have books that will be kept in school for them;
  • Can leave PE kits in school;
  • Don’t have to provide additional equipment like pens and rulers.

During the first few weeks, it can be quite overwhelming remembering all this information.

However, by giving them some key skills and strategies, it will ease the process and let them focus more on what we might consider as ‘bigger’ obstacles they may have.

Because of this, I’ve produced a lesson that (I think!) will help them find different strategies to assist them during this transition time, as well as during their first few weeks. This activity is based around the day of a student who has just made the same transition as they are going to themselves.

Download Free Resources

Year 6 Transition Lesson: Organisational Skills

Download this free PowerPoint lesson to help your Year 6 class test their organisational skills during the Year 6 to Year 7 transition.

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These are skills that seem so obvious to us as teachers but children may not have actually come across before and this is something that is important to remember.

Making them into a responsible citizen

Most primary schools will have values children have to use within their daily life; values that we expect them to show and that we model ourselves.

To some degree these make them ‘responsible citizens’- of course we want children who are honest, thankful, generous and kind. But I don’t believe this is solely what being a responsible citizen is.

My class (and I hope it isn’t just my class who were like this!) were not aware of a lot of world issues around them that they can have an impact on, even just through discussion.

We recently read ‘Boy at the Back of the Class’ (Onjali Q Rauf) and most of the children in my class were not aware of what a refugee even was.

This book helped open their eyes to a new part of the world and some of the things that are going on in it (which is why I am so keen to ensure there are a wide range of books available within school) and allowed them to see issues they could help one-day champion.

Issues they could become passionate about and help to positively affect later in life

There are also more obvious topics – lessening plastic use, recycling and looking after the environment.

Social causes that can aid the Year 6 to Year 7 transition

Every child has access to things that will help them with their understanding of their own impact on the world around them but developing them as a responsible citizen isn’t just understanding it, it’s getting them to be proactive in making a change, a difference, to their community, and to their world.

As they move on to secondary, this is something that they will become more aware of and learn more about.

I know some primary schools will already be amazing at this before their children move on but I personally think this can sometimes become lost in primary and what better time for a project on this than in that post-SATs void?

It’s like a ready made slot that enables us as teachers to help with the Year 6 transition.

Encouraging resilience in Year 6

The definition of resilience is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty or toughness’.

When we hear the word ‘difficulty’ or ‘toughness’ in relation to transition, our minds often jump straight to the children who might have SEN / SEND, or children who are in a nurture group and often this is rightly so.

They will often need additional transition days, meetings and coaching through the process.

Often we won’t consider the children who just get on with it

They might be feeling extremely nervous on the inside but because they don’t show it, we assume they’re doing fine and often they aren’t as prepared as we perceive them to be and could potentially struggle with the Year 6 to Year 7 transition.

Year 6 transition to Year 7 is a big jump
It takes a lot of resilience to make the jump from Year 6 to Year 7!

By giving children understanding of what resilience is and an understanding of what obstacles they may encounter on transition days before they go on to secondary school, we can help these quietly nervous children feel (even if only slightly) more confident during the process.

Other than (potentially) one or two meetings with the secondary school, they won’t be given much more direct information about what is going to happen, why it is happening and what this means for them.

This is less than ideal as information is the first tool to helping a child to be resilient.

The second, however, is helping children learn to manage mistakes.

This is something that as primary school teachers, we all do all the time. We are always helping children see how they can reflect on their work to get the correct answer, or decide ‘what would you do differently next time?’

But, along with independence itself, this reflection is something that is harder for children to grasp the concept of having to do on their own.

With coaching they can often overcome an error and succeed. But what about next year, when there is less adult support? Or an adult who, initially, will not know them as well? They will need to understand how to overcome these issues alone.

Making sure pupils are self-sufficient & ready to learn

These two tie together really easily.

Being self-sufficient is being able to problem-solve and deal with more of the ‘emotional’ problems, which again, are dealt with much more frequently for them within primary schools.

Every day (it feels like anyway!) I have children come up to me declaring things like:

‘He kicked the ball away from me!’ – They’re playing football…

‘She didn’t talk to me all break time!’ – Did you try and talk to them? No….?

‘But he said he was going to tell on me!’ – Well, as you then kicked him I’m not altogether surprised…

It is often these issues that prevent children from being ‘Ready to Learn’.

It’s these issues that prevent them from being able to walk straight into a classroom and be prepared to get started on their lesson from the moment they sit down on their seats.

Again, we need to give children the tools to solve their own problems in order to allow them to come back from break or lunchtime having already solved any new friendship issues among themselves.

There will always be problems that we will need to help children with but in my classroom I’m trying to ask more questions now, or give them time to think about how they want me to resolve it for them before I then step in.

Transition in how subjects are taught from primary to secondary

Students need to be focused and ready to take on new academic challenges. In secondary school, topics that were introduced in primary school will often be expanded and made more complex.

Here you can see two examples of slides that Third Space Learning tutors use for teaching quite a similar topic. One is used at primary level, and one for secondary.

area sats lesson slide
Example of a Third Space Learning SATs revision lesson on area
secondary area lesson slide
Example of a Third Space Learning GCSE revision lesson on area

While both of these lessons are looking at area, one is much more detailed and demanding both in the information on the slide and in the cognitive steps required.

Just as the class teaching is quite different from primary to secondary so we train our tutors to reflect this in the way they guide a student through one of our secondary maths lessons as opposed to a primary one

In secondary school, topics that were introduced in primary school will often be expanded and made more complex (such as the example of a primary lesson on area seen above, compared to a similar lesson on area for secondary, seen below). Students must be focused and ready to take on new academic challenges.

The impact of social media on a smooth transition

Having spent many years trying to teach your pupils the skills of good research, what you will often find in Year 6 is that they often go to social media to find out more about what their school is like and what to expect.

Having access to the world at their fingertips can affect young people’s perception of what is age-appropriate and they may feel much older than their 10 or 11 years, especially in comparison to the younger year groups within the school.

This can often be a useful tool for them: they find information relevant to their school and it can make it seem more ‘real’ before they get to the physical building after the Year 6 to 7 transition takes place.

However, social media can also make the transition experience feel scary.

Even with a large number of positive secondary school stories out there, chances are that some pupils will manage to find negative ones too.

Year 6 transition worries

Give pupils the full picture and be prepared to answer questions

Our local secondary sent a teacher to give a clear, insightful view into what secondary was like – to give them knowledge and ease those ‘is it true…’ questions they will have developed through their own research.

By creating an open and honest line of communication between the children and both primary and secondary teachers, it allowed them to see the importance of investing their own time into getting prepared.

By making the process ‘normalised’ – seeing a range of teachers, having it discussed in more ‘real’ terms and being exposed to processes and skills they will need to use, we are providing children with a clear pathway to follow.

In turn, this will morph what seems to be an overwhelming process into a step-by-step guide to being a successful secondary student.

Transition ideas to come out of covid

As we all know transition to secondary school, like much else over the past two years has been challenging for staff and pupils but has also brought with it some new innovations.

Face to face visits to the new secondary school and from secondary teachers into the primary feeder school classrooms, may not always be possible but the use of video can really help in this situation give an insight into school life and foster a sense of belongingness. It was all we had during the pandemic after all!

Consider creating a video from some of the faces around the new secondary school who could give a small greeting and piece of information about themselves.

Hopefully this will give pupils someone they can recognise when they start – it could be office staff, SLT, key teachers. It would also be lovely for children to have the chance to ask some questions, which could be answered either on a document or on video.

Some schools are having the questions answered by current Y7 pupils, which sounds like a fantastic way to build positive relationships as part of the transition experience! 

Other ideas include using a google form ‘all about me’ that children can fill in in advance or secondary school tutors sending a small activity or introduction to begin to get to know the children in their form before the first day.

The post SATs lull is the perfect time to focus on the Year 6 transition

Preparing for the transition from Year 6 to Year 7 can seem like a difficult process for both teachers and pupils, but with some careful planning it doesn’t have to be.

By working on the skills discussed above with your Year 6 class before they move on to secondary school, you can ensure that each and every one of your pupils is ready to enjoy and get the most from the Year 6 transition and everything that comes after it!

Read more

How Third Space Learning has helped 1000s of pupils prepare for the Year 6 transition

Here at Third Space Learning we have helped to give a huge number of Year 6 pupils the foundations in maths they need to succeed in secondary school. Our tutors are trained in how to plug knowledge gaps before the Year 6 to Year 7 transition takes place, so as a teacher you can rest assured that you will be sending your pupils off with all of the skills they will need to succeed!

We’ve even got a Secondary Transition Maths Test you can do to gauge their gaps in maths for Year 7.

How would you ensure an effective transition process from year 6 to year 7?

Ensure that students are able to navigate in the new setting, that they are able to follow a timetable and find their way around the new school. Students should be familiar with what equipment they need to bring each day and are ready to take on new academic, emotional and social challenges.

What makes a good transition from primary to secondary school?

Students need to be aware of what is expected of them in secondary school. They need to understand that the change will be a challenge but that they are ready to take it on.

What is transition in a school?

A transition in the context of school is the movement within and between educational settings. For example, the transition from Year 6 in primary school, to Year 7 in secondary school.


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