Primary Transition Days – Leading a Department 4 (Annual)

Introduction

This is our fourth part of the #LAD blogs, looking at some key ideas, thoughts and/or systems that might be of use to a department lead. This week looks at another annual consideration – maybe one that you might see as the most important, your ‘recruitment’ of primary pupils (and parents). I share some of the thoughts, ideas and mistakes I have made along the way with planning this yearly event,

These days have different levels of pressure depending on your schools context. For some the September starter numbers can be a foregone conclusion. This can be for a variety of reasons; little competition, numerous feeder schools, great results and the list goes on. For others this can be a source of worry, especially if your school finds itself in a position of falling school numbers year on year, something that I have seen in the past. I also think that this day is important as it sets your stall out for not just pupils but their parents as well. What message does the school, or your department, send out to prospective parents. Do you get all the lights and bells out to get pupils interested or do you tell it exactly like it is, warts and all, or are you somewhere in the middle?

Whichever end of the spectrum you favour below are some considerations to think about when planning, setting up and executing during a year six/primary open event.

It is worth noting for the following points I am only going to consider bona fide parents – I have been at some events, and due to the nature of our school, mainly high achieving I believe, I have been on the receiving end of some very strange questions. “What is your progress score for low achieving boys?”, “How is your pan going to be changing over the coming year”, and many more similar to these two examples. Now these might seem standard questions but the thought that these are parents just didn’t sit right for me. I came to find out later that this particular person, with no children to be seen, was actually a head of another school in the local area, no children in that year group. I’d rather have them come to ask for a walk round the school, she could have got lots more information without the need to take up her Saturday! So from here on out, actual parents.

What are you going to set up for parents?

In my experience you can normally predict what parents would like to know about your subject when they are coming to an open event for the primary transition age range. These questions, followed by some examples, usually fall into 3 groups.

Information about the school day/lessons

– How many lessons a week/fortnight do they have in your subject?
– Do you have subject specialists in all lessons?
– What is the school homework policy?
– What is the school intervention/booster/extra curricular policy?

Information about the course itself

– Can we see some books/tests/pupil work?
– What topics do they study?
– Do they have to study this subject?
– How many exams do they have a year?

Information about special provision that can be put in place

– My child has needs x, y, z – how can you support this?
– Who is your SENCo and how are they involved in the transition process

When you get a list of popular questions, not that you’ve heard them before but you have taken an educated guess on, I try and pre-empt them. Particularly if you get newer members of staff who might not feel comfortable to have all this information on the tip of their tongue. It is for this reason that I make an FAQ slide deck. These are made and projected throughout the event rotating on a timer. Linking to a previous chapter, you can never be too clear and parents can never hear or read information too many times. The slide deck has the benefit of constantly being there to see and refer to by the parents, maybe as they are waiting to talk to someone, but it also helps new staff who can cycle through the slides to get to the question they are struggling with. This deck of slides can then be recycled, shared across the school or however you see fit.

What are you going to set up for pupils?

Not only do you have to get the parents on board but also the children. Normally a slightly easier task. The next question is how are you going to do that. The standard route is to have items that they can interact with or a mini project or problem to solve while they are in your room for a handful of minutes. When considering an activity, try to make sure it hits as many of the  following points as possible;

– Can it be set up in 30 minutes or less (staff workload)?
– Can it be cleared down in 30 minutes or less (staff workload)?
– Can it cost less than £30 of consumables (school budget)?
– Does it get pupils engaged with your subject (child buy-in)? I can’t remember where I heard it but if you can get the topic (whatever you are teaching or doing in this activity) to the child’s dinner table, you have won. So what are you going to do that will have pupils talking about what they did in your department in that school on that open event?
– Can it be run separate to where the parents are going to be? (logistics). Our transition/primary open days are normally incredibly busy, and for that reason we have to spread across two labs/rooms. One is set up with staff and student volunteers (no better sales people) running the engaging task. The other room is normally staffed by a more experienced member who can show examples of books, work, tests, textbooks and so on. It sometimes acts like a little creche system where children can be dropped off to complete the task or activity and the parents can dig into why are school is, or isn’t a good fit for their loved ones.

How can you best prepare the staff?

Hopefully you will notice that this comes up alot. One of the main roles you will have is extending a net of safety around those who you work with. How can you go about your own daily routine while ensuring that staff feel safe, well challenged and confident enough to take risks. This type of event is no different. You might be introducing something new, this might be the staff members first open event ever. Normally having a run down the week before in a department meeting is a good idea, ensuring that everyone is working off of the same page. They know where to find resources, spares, which rooms are used, who needs to bring example pupils work and so on.

Students making the sale?

Your best salespeople are the students. We all know, in our own classes, the pupils who just love the subject, go the extra mile and would be perfect to say how could the school and the subject is. These are the people you want with you on these events. In the past we have done it where each teacher asks one pupils and before you know it you can have half a dozen pupils coming in to help run your activities. Even something as simple as handing out a worksheet you want the new pupils to answer will save you a whole heap of time. From the simple tasks of walking families around the school to the nitty gritty of helping with your experiments/quizzes or whatever you choose to do, an extra six pairs of hands is great! This kind of work should be rewarded, motivation 2.0 style (see Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’, cited at the end), house points or merits, subway lunch, recognition in assembly, whatever your school uses, this is the time for it. 

It is often easy to leave these events on the back burner or give them to junior members of staff, or those members who always volunteer to help out. However should you give them the (modest) time and attention they require you might be looking at higher numbers in year seven, more picking your option for GCSE and sixth form and who knows putting a few more historians, geographers, mathematicians or scientists out into the world.

Resources

Below is a department toolkit to help ensure you have all the key items for your transition event and have taken steps to make sure all staff know what is expected and what to prepare.