Invercargill schools collaborate

by Nicola Allen, Yvonne Browning, Rowana Skelt

A single transition form for the whole of Invercargill has replaced the forms each secondary school used to collect information from primary schools in the area. Southland Girls’ staff talk about how the quality of transition for staff, students and the wider community has improved.

Southland Girls’ High School was part of the initiative to set up this process. Each secondary school and primary school has contributed to the development of the transition form and the Southland Girls’ High School staff finalised it. 

The Girls’ High staff who contributed to this In Your Own Words story are: Nicola Allen, head of the junior school, Yvonne Browning, principal and Rowana Skelt, assistant principal.

Rowana: All the secondary schools in Invercargill were requesting information from the contributing schools and everybody had a different transition form for the schools to respond to. Each high school wanted different information and we want to make better use of that information. It became very confusing for the contributing schools!

We decided as a whole group that we needed to work together to develop something uniform that we could all use. All our secondary schools have discussed it with the contributing schools. We all use it now.

Nicola: This is about the transition process itself too. We want as complete a picture of the learner as we can before she arrives in our school. Cass teachers and the principal of the primary school complete the form. We want to be aware of any agencies involved with the students (such as CFYS or the health nurse). When we visit the contributing schools or phone them we know the specific questions we want to ask teachers or the principal so we can follow up on what they have said.

Yvonne: In the past the secondary schools have done testing of their own but we have stopped that as we don’t think our tests tell the whole story. It was a bit arrogant of us to use our test when the primary schools already had so much information. They help us gather a more complete understanding of the students. So we rely on the data that they put on the form. We think it is important for them to see that we are serious about what they have already done.

Rowana: When the transition form comes into our school it goes into the student’s enrolment folder which is used throughout the girl’s time here. Nicola and I go through the form and the enrolment and interview information to identify all sorts of connections and any agency involvement.

The forms are also available to the learning support area so that they can identify students who may need literacy or numeracy assistance, and other aspects of learning such as gifted learners, or those who need particular input, or who have particular strengths such as in leadership. This is able to be done immediately.

In the past we have found there were often surprises when students came in, especially around the agencies that the student had involvement with. We felt that the more information we could get the better. It provides a whole picture of each student.

Yvonne: The form helps us to prevent the “surprises”. It also allows us to make up classes that are meaningful collections of girls, not just random groupings. And I know that Nicola uses them too to put the right staffing with the right group of girls. She ensures that every student is with a student that they know. One of the things about coming to a secondary school is that if you don’t end up with someone you know, it can be really difficult to adjust. We want that transition from primary to secondary to be smooth and also happy. We get such good material from the transition form it means that our own work at the school with the new girls can be more meaningful and purposeful.

Nicola: It is important to be able to target things about each girl right away. And we are able to balance each of the classes.

Yvonne: We have an interview process too. The girl with her parents or caregiver has an interview with us that complement the information about them from the form. I think as a result they feel they are part of the decision-making process about what they will do here. Our school offers multi-level learning. We know so much about a girl through this process which means we can get her straight into the right level of learning. This really helps the girls and is non-negotiable for us. It is part of having the right information about them, which the transition form provides.

Rowana: It works because all of the schools in Invercargill are doing the same thing. The contributing schools are also a lot happier because they now know what information we are looking for. We all agreed on one timeline for the events related to the transition process. It is no mean feat to get everyone involved and agreeing! Each year we meet to make a few alterations to get it right. The entire education community in Invercargill benefits from our working together.

Yvonne: It is important with a whole community that an action like this one is above board and agreed, and that there is no suspicion of what another school might be doing. So if schools in other areas were thinking of doing this they need to realise that a form on its own won’t be enough. We would be really happy to talk further to groups of schools that want to know more about our transition form and process we used to develop it.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this story:

  • What gains could be made if your cluster or area got together to plan for a common transition form?
  • What considerations would need to be taken into account for your contributing primary schools and your local secondary schools to make the process a good one for all participants?
  • Are there changes you need to make to your use of the transition forms, so that your school benefits from them, and as well the new students coming into your school have an improved transition?

Tags: Collaborative practice

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