Here at St Peter’s Collegiate School, we want our Year 7s to recall their first day with a smile
Steve Walters, Principal, St Peter’s Collegiate School
Ask almost anyone and they will remember their first day at secondary school, quite possibly in astonishing detail. With a bewildering mix of new faces, unfamiliar routines and daunting buildings, it isn’t really surprising that these memories stay with us for life.
Here at St Peter’s Collegiate School, we want our Year 7s to recall their first day with a smile, that’s why we invite all new starters to a three-day introductory programme every July to get to know us before the beginning of term.
We put together a range of taster lessons and team building activities to give students a feel for the school so they look forward to coming back to us in September.
Depth of information
The July sessions are a chance for us to get to know our pupils too, because just as parents and students prepare for the new year, so must the teaching staff.
As a large secondary academy with around 50 feeder schools, the autumn term could be just as much of a challenge for us. It certainly was in the past when we relied on just the Sats results to give us information about our new students.
These days, however, we leave nothing to chance. As part of the introductory programme, all students take the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) which provides us with vital data about their reasoning ability, academic potential and preferred learning styles.
Since we introduced the CAT for our new starters, we have found it much easier to group those with similar abilities together from the start. This way, we waste no time in getting students with SEN the support they need, while those who have been identified as gifted and talented are challenged right from their very first lessons.
A big part of our job is to look ahead to what our students might achieve in the future, but luckily I don’t need a crystal ball for that. CAT helps us to identify students’ potential, something that the Sats results alone cannot do.
For instance, we had a number of students who arrived at school five years ago with a Level 4 in maths, but because they scored well in the CAT we placed them in a higher ability set. When this year’s GCSE results came in, I knew we had made the right decision – they all gained A*s in maths.
Along with most secondary school heads, I shall be interested to see what the assessment data for next year’s cohort will look like following the removal of national curriculum levels, but I’m not worried. When the levels have gone, we’ll still have our CAT results, giving us a secure baseline point for the students starting at school.
Starting the journey
I know that some parents worry about their children sitting yet another test just a couple of months after the Sats, but in fact our parents welcome the CAT as it helps them to understand why we have placed their child in a particular teaching group.
As for the students, they seem to enjoy the tests, judging from some of the comments I hear. One youngster said to me recently, “This is great, it doesn’t feel like a test, you get to do it on a screen.”
Looking around at our new starters settling into the school, I can see that those three days back in July put down some solid foundations for a successful Year 7. Not only do we have the information we need to give these students a good start, the children have had a chance to meet each other and create bonds before their first day at school.
Some of these friendships will stand the test of time, too. I know of one group of lads who met during our transition days, and they still get together now as they start their second year of university.
I hope our students will remember their first day for all the right reasons as they start their education journey here at St Peter’s.
Mirkka Jokelainen addresses the question how can we ask students to demonstrate thinking skills and the ability to apply knowledge by ticking a box?
John Galloway discusses how we can identify and support girls with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.