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Pilot program builds confidence in year 7 move to high school

Recent research on the year 7 to high school pilot program reveals that kids and parents are excited about the move and that open communication is vital in building confidence.

From 2022, all year 7 students across South Australian public schools will be taught in high school.

To help the department, schools, families and children plan and prepare for this change, the department established a Year 7 to high school pilot program in 2019. Year 7s in the pilot program will be attending one of the pilot schools in 2020.

Children and parents who volunteered for the Year 7 to high school pilot program recently took part in research examining their experiences of the pilot so far.

This research provides insights that will inform planning, student wellbeing, curriculum and teaching to help the department and schools plan for the transition process.

Families with children at one of the three pilot schools –Wirreanda Secondary School, Mitcham Girls High School and John Pirie Secondary – took part in discussion groups and a survey in November 2019.

This latest research asked why families volunteered for the pilot, what they saw as benefits, concerns children and parents have and how these concerns were best resolved.

Families were clearly enthusiastic about the pilot and the new opportunities children gain in the move of year 7 students to high school.

73% of people have a very good or good understanding of the pilot and reasons. 96% positive sentiment towards it. 100% found enrolment easy. 91% satisfaction with communications.

Children and parents see big benefits

Children were particularly excited about the chance to try new subjects and activities such as art, sports and specialised study streams.

Access to better resources, facilities and specialist teachers were seen by parents as major benefits and decisive reasons for taking part in the pilot.

Parents were particularly appreciative of the extra support schools offered to students during the pilot and said that this was key in their decision to take part.

Children and parents alike saw the different learning and social environment of high school as providing opportunities to grow. Children particularly felt ready to go to high school and in many cases were driving the decision to go.

“I feel like I’m about to see what my daughter is going to do. It’s time for her to fly and I feel like she’s ready, so let’s do this.”
Parent, Wirreanda Secondary School

Exciting but sometimes daunting

The newness and complexity of high school is seen as the most daunting aspect but the more familiar children and parents were with the process and the schools, the better they felt about it.

Children voiced concerns about leaving friends behind and making new ones but mentor and buddy programs as well as meeting current students at open days and information sessions were seen as very useful and reassuring.

Children were sometimes sad about missing out on rites of passage such as graduation or a year 7 jumper. School programs that recognised the importance of this, such as at Wirreanda Secondary school where students designed their own year 7 hoodie, excited them about the move knowing they weren’t missing out on these important primary school rituals.

Video transcript

Sharryn Daly: It's been almost 20 years since year 7 has joined our secondary site. I have worked in a number of secondary sites. That's sort of my background and my passion. I really value having new year 7s on the site. I believe the students are very ready. Maturity-wise, you'll find that year 7s these days are far more mature than, perhaps, they were a few years ago. What we find is that after a couple of weeks of being at high school in January and February, they kind of make themselves at home.

Student: On my first day, I realised that there's nothing to actually worry about, and your teachers are here to help you, and they really help you through the process.

Student: I thought it was going to be quite scary, kind of. But it's good. I enjoy it.

Sharryn Daly: They get an opportunity to experience science, tech studies. They get to try home ec. They do media. They do drama. They have a whole range of specialist, elective-type subjects with specialist teachers and specialist facilities.

Student: Changing into different teachers. Not always having the same teachers for every lesson.

Interviewer: Yeah. And how was that?

Student: Really interesting.

Sharryn Daly: My sense was that, often, it was the parent that is concerned about the safety of their child. They are just worried. But what you find if you talk to the students is that a lot of those fears are not warranted. You do find that after a few weeks, the students are intermingling with all students from other year levels.

Student: It feels good.

Student: It feels pretty normal. It doesn't feel really different.

Student: Yeah.

Student: Especially older, more older kids. There's a lot of year 12s, and 10s, and 11s that we didn't have in primary school.

Interviewer: But is that good? Is that-

Student: Yeah.

Student: Yeah.

Student: It's good.

Student: Do your homework.

Student: Don't forget, don't do your homework at the last minute.

Student: Yeah.

[End of transcript]

Parents and children both had concerns about older kids and were pleased that pilot schools have taken steps about this such as offering dedicated support and making sure that there are separate playgrounds for younger and older children.

Helping children and families prepare

Parents and children said that open days, information sessions and school tours were very important for information gathering, familiarisation and meeting staff and current students, and both wanted more of these.

“Just the in general of how it was all going to run. Then we did the tour, there was all the tech…There was the PE, there was the STEM centre. They had demonstrations, hands on stuff for the kids to do. It was really good”
Parent, John Pirie School on Open Days

Parents were especially pleased with communications that included clear timelines and key dates.

Suggested communications enhancements emerging from the research included one on one sessions with the school for parents, communicating directly with parents through email, clear advice on materials and costs such as uniforms and technology and sending student ‘first day’ information packs well before starting school.

Ready for 2022

The wellbeing of students and keeping a focus on their learning in the move from primary to high school is a key priority.

This most recent research will inform the statewide implementation.  More research is taking place in term 2, 2020 to learn from our pilot schools so that other schools can benefit when year 7 moves in 2022.

The project team is using the expertise of schools, such as Area and R-12 schools who already teach year 7, and the experiences of Queensland and Western Australia (from their transition in 2015), to ensure that the process is smooth for schools and exciting for students.

Every primary and high school is developing implementation plans which will be in place by 2021 and will cover parent involvement, staffing, and resourcing to help ensure a smooth and successful move.

Neuroscience tells us that early adolescents learn in particular ways. The enthusiastic response to the pilot program shows that year 7s are ready for high school and keen on the move.

Supporting this, teachers and schools are being given evidence based teaching approaches so that that students continue to engage in their learning.

It’s a big change for children, families and schools and the department is working intensely to make sure that everyone is confident and enthusiastic about 2022.