So it is particularly important for primary and secondary schools to listen to the voice of their pupils during this transition stage of their education

Focus on transition and listen to the pupil voice

Moving from one school to another is a stressful experience, whether you are a teacher or a pupil, and it can be particularly stressful at the age of 11. There is the anxiety of moving to a much larger school; of having to find your own way round without getting lost; of being in classes where you will know few, if any, of the other children; of the presence of lots of much older children, some of whom may be bullies; of having more than ten teachers instead of one; of the demands of increased homework – and all this at an age when the complexities of personal development can weigh heavily.

So it is particularly important for primary and secondary schools to listen to the voice of their pupils during this transition stage of their education. What are the pupils themselves thinking about their progress, their school and themselves, and how does this compare with what other children of the same age are thinking?

Transition can be a major barrier to learning for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are more emotionally vulnerable or have mental health issues. Many schools have made transition a priority area for spending the pupil premium, so that children who do not have as much support from home are given the additional support that they need at this critical time.

Schools are increasingly using surveys of parents and pupils to obtain feedback on the performance of the school from the consumer viewpoint, not only to provide information to Ofsted inspectors but, more importantly, to inform the process of school self-review as part of the school’s improvement strategy. The advantage to a school in using an established product, such as PASS (Pupil Attitudes to Self and School), is that it enables the school not only to gain valuable feedback from its own pupils, but also to have the feedback standardised against a representative national sample of more than 600,000 respondents.

Whole Education is a network of schools that are finding different ways of providing every learner with a fully rounded education, developing not only knowledge but also skills and personal qualities in a planned way. It is a high priority for all Whole Education schools that learning is an active process in which the learner and teacher work in partnership, with learning to learn and feedback as integral parts of the educational process.

A group of primary and secondary schools in the Whole Education network has this year been looking at several ways in which they can better understand and hold themselves to account on providing a ‘whole education’, and the PASS survey has proved a valuable tool. Whole Education network schools have recognised the difficulty of the hurdle at the transition points in schooling and are using PASS in a pilot project across the primary/secondary transfer to determine how attitudes to school and to learning change between the ages of 10 and 13. Interestingly, many schools are finding that there is a bigger dip in positive attitudes between years 7 and 8 than there is between years 6 and 7, suggesting that policies to improve the transition experience need to last longer than simply easing the move from one school to another.

Attitudes are a good predictor of engagement and, if a pupil is engaged and positive about themselves and their learning, they are more likely to be successful.  

Sir John Dunford is chair of Whole Education and was the National Pupil Premium Champion from 2013 to 2015. He is a former secondary head and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Follow Sir John on Twitter @johndunford. This article forms part of GL Assessment’s Pupil Attitudes to Self and School Report 2016. Read more about the report on Twitter using the #pupilattitudes hashtag.