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My Three Ghosts of Transition

my three ghosts of transition in music education
Disclaimer: my sister is the visual artist in the family…

Transition is something that I don’t feel I’ve ever got right. At least not between KS2 and KS3. I work very hard to bridge the gap between KS3-4 and KS4-5 but that’s not a fraction of the challenge of primary to secondary. For a start, I already know the pupils that I will be teaching or, at the very least, have met the and monitored their progress while someone else actually does the day to day teaching of them. I would even hasten to say that KS5 to university transition is better – I take the time to explain the experience and coach pupils through the application experience. There is no doubt in my mind, primary to secondary transition is difficult and I don’t give it the attention that it deserves.

The ghost of transition past

For four years at Baylis Court, I worked with the school’s SENCO to design transition experiences. There were two years where we led a project that combined creating a junk band with creating a video – this was a huge challenge for the pupils and it wasn’t something that the teachers were accustomed to so it never quite played out the way we wanted it to. Then there was the year that just involved some small workshops in a variety of different subjects. This was great in many respects but timetabling restraints meant that most of the teachers couldn’t be in their usual room. This was problematic when so much of what we were doing involved taster lessons in music, art, dance and drama. One year we ran the Musical Futures transition project and this was probably the most successful year but it was staffing and resource intensive. We were lucky to have a large team of music teachers that year but even then we had to buy in an extra musician to lead some of the work.

None of these events were disastrous. In fact, I would happily chalk them up as a mild success but I never felt that they really achieved the level of impact that I had hoped for. When I look back I think that one of the main reasons was that I spent no time in the primary schools themselves. The SENCO was brilliant in going out to the other schools and getting to know he pupils and our head teacher made it a point to have a one-to-one interview with every incoming Year 7 pupil in her office. This was brilliant but I always felt that music could play a bigger role and I still regret not having made a bigger deal of it.

The following year, one of my department was awarded a TLR that included responsibility for transition and she managed to spend some time with the primary music co-ordinators in their schools. We were even involved to some extent in a Musical Bridges pilot. This made a noticeable difference to my mind where more of the work that we did was in the primary school itself. We developed a relationship with the pupils ‘on their own turf’ using a subject that they enjoyed. It was very positive and I like to think that the pupils felt the same way.

The ghost of transition present

This year, at a new school, I have been keen to make strong links with the primary schools and we achieved something of a breakthrough last week when one of my teachers, Maria Gilmartin, visited Jackie Schneider at St Teresa’s primary school. It was brilliant for incoming Year 7s to be able to speak to Maria about music at Wimbledon College (including a question that stunned me ‘how do you assess music?’!) and for her to become a face that they associate with music. Equally, it was good for us that Maria was able to look at the way music is taught and the standard of learning that these pupils are accustomed to. This was, undoubtedly, a valuable experience for everyone involved.

We also managed to turn up to a meeting of all the local primary school music co-ordinators and discuss some basics. Looking back at this meeting, we didn’t discuss much about transition but it was incredibly valuable to me. All of a sudden, these primary schools had real people in them and I was a real person to them.

At the end of this year, there is the borough wide ‘transition day’ where all of our incoming Year 7s will be at the school. I was delighted that the teacher who will be their Head of Year has asked us to do some musical work with them. We will be taking half a year group at a time in the hall and we will be singing with all the muster we can manage! I want one of the first things that these children say to their parents to be ‘At my new school, everyone sings!’.

The ghost of transition yet to come

So, what’s next? More outreach to the primary schools is very much on my radar. The more that me and my team can get to the primary schools the better. Jackie hit the mail on the head in her blog post this morning; relationships are a huge element of transition. Don’t get me wrong, I want to pass data between schools but if we look at the real reason behind transition days, then I’m willing to bet that it’s because we all remember being terrified/excited/confused/bemused at the prospect of going to ‘big school’. Establishing relationships with the staff will help but building relationships with the pupils is the key.

I see this as something of a rondo form, something along the lines of: visit a school, online links, visit the school, learn the same piece, visit a school, etc… Quite how often we can get to the other schools remains to be seen but I am determined to make it as often as possible.

As you can see, this is all very much a ‘work in progress’ for me. I would very much love as many people as possible to join Jackie and I as we co-host #mufuchat on Wednesday 25th June 2014 at 8.30pm to discuss this topic. I’ve put some links to talking points here that you may want to glance through in advance but no prior reading is necessary! See you there.