Role models and mentors: providing a comfortable transition from primary to secondary

By Alex Kiami, Regional Programme Manager

For a child, the transition from a sometimes small, intimate primary school to a larger secondary school can be overwhelming. Stepping into new territory without familiar faces can be daunting and children who lack guidance during this time can struggle.

Attainment has been shown to dip during this crucial transition period with several studies highlighting literacy and numeracy as most affected.*

This is where our Future First mentors step in.

Our Bridging the Gap pilot transition project, funded by the SHINE Trust, aims to encourage greater collaboration between primary and secondary schools to develop a more inclusive and cohesive approach to the transition from key stage 2 to 3 for the most vulnerable children. By drawing on the wealth of knowledge and experience held by Key Stage 3 and 4 students (mentors), Year 6 children (mentees) who have not met age-related expectations and / or are particularly low in confidence will be better prepared, both emotionally and academically, to navigate their transition to secondary school.

As part of this work, we recently delivered a Primary transition workshop at Whiteways Primary School in Sheffield which saw Year 6 pupils come together with Year 9 students from the local secondary school – Fir Vale School. In this workshop we facilitated the Year 9 students to effectively mentor their younger counterparts in what to expect when they reached secondary school, talk about the differences and similarities between primary and secondary and share their experience of their own transition. Crucially, the Year 9 mentors were all former students from the primary school meaning that they could act as relatable role models to the younger children.

After the workshop, one Year 6 mentee commented:

“I have really enjoyed getting to know my mentor, she told me what it would be like when I arrived at Secondary school and now it seems less scary than before. I am excited to start.”

Our Bridging the Gap workshops are delivered over three workshops:

The first session centres on preparing the Year 6 pupils for being mentored. We look at the qualities that a good mentee should have and we get children to write down their concerns and their excitement surrounding secondary school so that when they meet their Year 9 mentors they can really focus their conversations and make the encounter meaningful. During this initial session, children also receive letters from their mentor and have the opportunity to write a letter back to them to help nurture a bond before they even meet.

The second workshop sees the mentees meet their mentors for the first time and really start to develop their knowledge and understanding of what to expect from secondary school. Children learn about learning strategies and start to develop their communication skills – for some Year 6 pupils, this could be the first time they really meet an older peer who isn’t their sibling.

Our final workshop takes place at the secondary school the mentors attend and the school the Year 6 pupils will be attending next year – this is the chance to see their new school for the first time. Within this workshop we run a networking carousel which provides the Year 6 pupils with an opportunity to meet different secondary mentors through engaging activities. By the end of the workshop students will have developed their communication skills even further, increased their knowledge of secondary school and feel an increased optimism to get started. On completion of the programme, the Year 6 and Year 9 students are awarded certificates for their participation.

The outcomes we aim to achieve with the Bridging the Gap programme include demystifying secondary school, strengthened communication skills, introduction to learning strategies and increased motivation and confidence to take the next steps in their educational journey.

Speaking to Jenny Cassy, Fir Vale School’s Director of Learning for Futures, we asked her why she initially got involved in the project and what she hoped to achieve.

“Transition is obviously a key point for any school and making sure your pupils make the move feeling as comfortable and confident as possible, but it was also a wonderful opportunity for our students to have some leadership opportunities and to showcase the skills they have built in mentoring younger students.

We’ve had some really good feedback. The mentors that were chosen felt great prestige and they definitely got a lot out of it – a lot of them said that they wanted to continue the links they had made with their mentees when they arrive in Year 7. In terms of mixing and social cohesion it has also really helped both sets of students – having them work with people they wouldn’t normally work with.

From my point of view as teacher, working with Future First has been really simple – they came in with really well planned resources, sorted logistics, did all the liaison with the local primary school and brought expertise with them – and this is something that would have taken me a lot of time to organise by myself.”

The success of the Bridging the Gap project between Whiteways and Fir Vale was perhaps summed up by a Whiteways Year 6 pupil who said:

“I enjoyed learning about secondary school from my mentor, because he came to this school first, and I know that if he can do it, so can I”

If you would like to find out more about our work, get in touch today.

*Evangelou, M., Taggart, B., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2008) What makes a successful transition from primary to secondary school? Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education 3-14 Project (EPPSE 3-14) London England: Department for Children, Schools & Families.