Mind the gap: How to avoid the academic dip

Smooth transition next year for students

For teachers August is a time of reflection on the year gone by, and excitement and planning for the year ahead. For students, particularly those that have worked hard to sit end of year SATs or exams, it is a chance to unwind, let off steam and put the last school year behind them whilst enjoying the summer break.

The transitional period between leaving one year group and entering the next can often be a precarious move for any student, and none more so than for a child graduating from primary education and about to navigate themselves through the unfamiliar territory of secondary.

In this blog, we take a look into how teaching staff can help to make this crucial transition as smooth as possible, whilst ensuring a student’s education doesn’t suffer along the way.

Common transition difficulties

The advancement to secondary school means a number of major changes for all children and the settling in period can take anything from a couple of weeks to a number of months.

Analysis of data collected within the Department for Children, Schools and Families report showed that the main causes of a poor transition between academic years are:

  • Experiences of bullying;
  • Worrying about their ability to do work;
  • Having new and unfamiliar teachers;
  • Worrying about not making new friends.

The academic dip

It is these variables, amongst others, that all act as contributing factors to the well-known and on-going problem of the slip in standards amongst transitioning pupils.

Research featured in the report has revealed a post-transition academic dip for students – and this could be down, in part, to teachers underestimating the ability of new year 7 pupils.

In turn, the report brings to light the concern that teaching staff and the curriculum may not be challenging the pupils sufficiently, and poses questions about the communication and relationships existing between schools and the impact this has on navigating successful transitions.

Evidence suggests that there is a need to pay particular attention to the social, emotional and pedagogical needs of pupils if a transition is to be successful.

How can teachers help pupils transition and avoid the academic dip? Assist children in developing new friendships

One of the main problems that arose throughout the research was that children are increasingly anxious about leaving old friendships behind and building new ones. This can have a large and often rather detrimental impact on a student’s confidence. To counteract this, it is important for teachers to introduce students to extracurricular activities and encourage group work to ensure that they are able to integrate with other children who have similar interests.

Identify the pupils who need extra support

All teaching staff have a responsibility to ensure each and every one of their students are adequately prepared for their next academic step. Even the most confident of students may struggle with these transitions, so it is vital to take the time to identify the pupils that might need extra support and guidance.

Ensure children are part of the process

Ensuring that pupils are an active part of the transition process, instead of passive observers is also vital. If students feel empowered throughout the process, are encouraged to communicate about their feelings and feel like they have an element of control over what is happening, their confidence is less likely to be bruised and their transition more likely to be a successful one.

Be prepared in the classroom

Don’t let a lack of preparation in the classroom deter any students. Forgotten passwords and logins can often hinder progress and stand in the way of a pupil being able to get on with the task in hand. Ensure these details are all collated and ready to go, alongside as a record or portfolio of work for each student.

Build good relationships between schools

The most important step to safeguard students during their transition between schools is to ensure a strong relationship between schools and a solid process for data-management. Sharing accurate data is the key to a good transition as it will support teachers to do their job well.

Teachers can share information with students and help to set expectations about the next academic year early – this could include an introduction to their new classroom, teacher and peers, distribution of booklets or talks at the school, and will help to support the student, and in turn avoid the academic dip.