Showing posts with label Primary school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Primary school. Show all posts

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

The True Purpose of Year 6

What is the true purpose of year 6?

Whilst writing a blog post about how the true purpose of year 6 isn't preparing for year 7, I got to asking the the above question.

This year and last, due to Covid, year 6 children and teachers have had what has historically dominated their year taken from them: the year 6 SATs. Except that's not what they're called, is it? They're actually KS2 tests which take place in year 6 and therefore their tyranny over the final year of primary school is unjust.

And so, with no further discussion, we will write off preparing for and conducting SATs as being the true purpose of year 6.

If you've read my previous blog posts regarding transition to secondary school you'll also know that I also reject the notion of year 6's true purpose being a year of preparation for year 7.

So, if it isn't about SATs and it isn't about transition, what is the true purpose of year 6? Here are just a few thoughts to answer the question:

  1. Teaching new content - first and foremost let's not forget that year 6 has its own curriculum, and it isn't exactly light on content. The main focus of year 6 should be ensuring that their learning journey continues. The fact that there are no SATs this academic year means that this learning can be focused on the curriculum rather than the test content, and should ensure that the learning continues right to the end of the year and that there is no post-SATs slump.
  2. Consolidating previous content - and before new content can be taught, the reality for year 6 teachers is that previous content must be recapped, retaught and in some cases taught for the first time before they can teach the year 6 curriculum. Much of this content will be essential as they move forward beyond year 6 so it is an important part of the year.
  3. Closure - for children in primary schools (as opposed to middle or all-through schools) year 6 is their last year of a 6-8 year journey, often completed all within the same school. Year 6 is a good year for rounding off the primary experience on a high, not only consolidating curriculum content but some of the other 'soft' skills that they have been developing during their time in primary. It's a time when some children say goodbye to childhood friends as they go their separate ways and so some relationships need that closure too.
  4. Reaching the top - there is something about being the oldest in the school that is almost a rite of passage. And with great power comes great responsibility - children who have been part of school life for several years have an important role to play. Year 6 children of great use when it comes to showing people round, tidying away the nursery toys and being playground buddies to younger children, and this responsibility is good for them too, developing them into more than just arithmetic and grammar machines and providing them with some real life skills.
  5. Maturity - year 6 is a natural time for children to navigate their changing bodies, emotions and relationships whilst in a more familiar, safe setting. It's also a great time for children to be treated as those who are more mature - familiar adults who have seen them grow up are often able to have enhanced relationships with these children as they see them as who they really are: vastly developed human beings, as compared to how they were back in the early years.
  6. Being the best - this is similar to the last two points, but brings in the idea of independence and autonomy as well. As mentioned in point 2, children have already learned a lot during their time at primary school and year 6 is a great opportunity to use and apply all that they have learned, having the responsibility released to them as much as is possible. Year 6 is a great time for children to feel like they can give their all to every project, every piece of work and every opportunity - it is this spirit of independence that will set them in such good stead for secondary school (although they will need to learn to transfer this independence to other areas of school life once in year 7).
Finally, I am most interested in your views on the true purpose of year 6 - I would love to add to this blog post with ideas from others because I am certain there are more aspects of year 6 which could be considered as part of the year group's true purpose.

Put a comment below or send me a tweet on Twitter and I'll add some ideas below!

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing your transition offer either at your primary school or your secondary school, please visit his website at and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Transforming Primary School Lunchtimes With Family Dining

Transforming Primary School Lunchtimes With Family Dining
The second phase of our school's building work meant that we lost half of our playground. This meant that we could only safely have half the number of children playing out at any one time which was going to be a particular problem at lunchtime.

Break times were easy - we just staggered it so that only two year groups (we are two-form entry) are out at a time, with the oldest children waiting longest for their morning play. So, years 1 and 2 use the playground 10:15 - 10:30 (school starts at 8:45), years 3 and 4 have it 10:30 - 11:45 and years 5 and 6 have it for the following 15 minutes until 11am. Early years have their own outdoor space.

Lunchtimes presented more of a challenge. But our lunchtimes needed a revamp anyway - behaviour still wasn't as we wanted it, the level of waste food was high and the queuing system was inefficient. Thankfully we had a ready-made solution to hand: family dining, something which several other schools in our MAT already did. All we had to do was to make it fit for us.

Here's what we did:

Staggered dinner times
There are three half hour sittings - Reception, years 1 and 2 at 11:30, years 3 and 4 at 12:00 and years 5 and 6 at 12:30. Each sitting is followed by half an hour on the playground. Children do not leave the dinner hall until the half hour is up. Benefits of this are that children no longer rush their food so that they can get out to the playground and they eat more and appear to waste less (on the first day of doing it we went from five or six bins of waste to less than one).

Teaching staff are not required to take part in family dining however they are allowed to if they want (main course will be paid for if they do join in and sit with the children). Instead we employ a handful of lunchtime supervisors and teaching assistants and learning mentors work a full hour at lunchtime - first leading a table inside and then doing duty outside. In order to accomplish this TAs and learning mentors then have a half hour lunch break afterwards once the children are back in class. In addition to this there will be one or two members of SLT in the dinner hall who also sit at a table and lead proceedings. The fact that we have well trained staff outside who know children well and who interact and play with the children has meant that incidents of poor behaviour at lunchtime play are almost non-existent these days - no more afternoons spent dealing with behaviour issues for teachers.

Table lists
Children are assigned to a particular table with a particular adult. Children will sit in mixed-gender, mixed-year group and mixed-class groups (when children had a choice this never happened). Adults who know the children create these groupings based on many factors - this is a good opportunity to help particular children who are struggling with friendships or behaviour by grouping them with suitable children. Because of this children and adults have the chance to build and maintain relationships with the same people. Preset groups mean that transition to the hall is quick and there are no issues with who sits where. These groupings may change during the year. 

One of the worst parts of the old way of doing lunchtimes was the queuing up both out on the playground to bring children in and inside the hall whilst children waited to be served. Now, once tables are ready, children collect the food (which the kitchen staff have already put in containers onto deep trays along with serving implements), take it to their tables and serve each other - members of staff may aid with this although the aim is to have the children do as much as is possible. Once everyone is served children and adults begin eating together.

Room prep
Lunchtime staff start getting the hall ready for lunch at 11am. To facilitate the quick turnaround between the hall being used for PE and the first lunchtime sitting we invested in new tables. The tables have a built-in bench, comfortably seat 12 people and fold in half in order to be stored much more compactly - we have given over a small office-sized room attached to the hall for storage purposes. Lunchtime staff also set up trolleys containing cutlery, crockery, jugs of water and a cleaning station. Once children have been greeted (usually as a whole group by the member of SLT on duty) the nominated children go and collect the things they will need to set the table from the trolleys; all children will then help to lay the table.

Meal choices
Shock horror! There is not a choice of food. There is one meal per day and everyone eats the same food. And you know what? The children eat it. We constantly review the menu and listen to the children as to what their preferences are. Of course, special diets are catered for and in our school a very high percentage of children are from Islamic communities so all the meals are halal. We have had next to no opposition to these changes from children or parents. I think the kitchen quite welcomed this change once they saw children were happy.

Packed lunches
Children are also free to bring their own lunch in - these children are still involved in family dining in that they sit on the same tables as those having school food and they too take part in serving food and setting tables. They wait until all children are served their food before tucking in - part of family dining is that everyone eats together. On each table there is a mix of children who typically have packed lunches and school lunches.

Cloths and water, brooms, dustpans and brushes and mops and mop buckets are all available for children to use to help keep the hall tidier. The improved cleanliness of the hall was immediately noticeable when we started doing family dining. After the children have eaten they clear their plates into the containers the food came in and one or two children will carry away the waste food and dirty dishes to the cleaning station where a member of kitchen staff sorts the items into various larger containers and the bin. Washing up is done by the kitchen staff, as is the final set down of tables.

PE timetabling
Four class teachers at a time are covered for PPA - part of this PPA cover is the week's recommended amount of physical education. In order to accommodate this both the hall and the playground are used on a rota; we also hire a local sports hall which children and staff walk to. Outdoor PE happens in all weathers - children know to come dressed accordingly. All of this ensures that the hall does not need to be used from 11am onwards as the two hours of PE fits in before that.

Filling the time
Quite often the half hour time slot is easily filled with the setting, serving and eating but there can sometimes be a spare five minutes left at the end before the playground is available for the group of children in the hall. This time is used for passing on messages, times of reflection, conversation (the members of staff on each table are there to encourage conversation throughout the mealtime) and appreciations (where children publicly share things they are thankful for).

All in all these arrangements make for much calmer lunchtimes that allow children to exercise their social skills and eat a good meal. I certainly would never want to go back to the old way of doing things. And the fact that Ofsted referred to our lunchtimes as 'fine dining' must mean something (we did get the report amended to say 'family dining' - we didn't want future children and parents to be disappointed that we weren't serving up Michelin-starred food)!

If you would like Aidan to work with you at your school, please visit his website at and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.