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Blog post

Reading: a toolkit for transition

26 Apr 2024

2. Islington Refugee Centre

School transition is a time of mixed emotion

Transition from primary to secondary school is a challenging and meaningful rite of a passage in a child’s life. There is a sense of taking the next step towards your adult self, and the excitement, pride and independence that brings, but there is also naturally a certain amount of anxiety, as well as the mixed emotions that come with goodbyes.

"Who does not remember that transition from Primary to Secondary school? The excitement, the worries, the emotions, the grief at the parting of ways, the prospect of new friends and possibilities… that summer holiday of questioning and change. ‘Will I fit in? Will I belong?'"

Sita Brahmachari, Author

Transition is also a time when reading for pleasure can drop off. For example in 2023 a National Literacy Trust report found that 56.2% of children in years 3 to 6 enjoyed reading, compared to only 40.4% of young people years 7 to 9.

We know the value of reading for pleasure, not just for academic attainment, but also for mental well-being.

What if reading could be a bridge between primary and secondary school, providing pupils with the tools they need to thrive in their new environment?

AMSI slide

Presentation for Y6, by Y7 Library Ambassadors from Arts and Media School Islington

The role of Get Islington Reading in school transition

Get Islington Reading was a joint venture between the National Literacy Trust, The Reading Agency, Islington Library Services, Islington School Improvement Service, and many other fantastic cultural and charitable organisations working in Islington. A central focus of the project was supporting children’s reading as they move from primary to secondary education.

Anchors and Sails project

We worked with author Sita Brahmachari to design activities that would allow children to view reading and writing as a toolkit to see them through this challenging transitional period. Linked to Sita’s book When Secrets Set Sail, the Anchors and Sails project strengthened the connective tissue between the primary and secondary schools we worked with, as well as the public libraries, which provide a place of familiarity and safety at any point in a child’s life, and a crucial touchstone in the liminal summer holiday time.

Sita Brahmachari delivered creative workshops in year 6 classrooms, and assemblies in secondary schools on transition day (when the year 6s were attending their new school to experience a taster of secondary life).

  • The pupils were guided to think about what anchors tie them to their memories, culture and identity, and what sails would propel them into the future.
  • They solved clues and followed maps through the borough of Islington.
  • They visited libraries, museums and blue plaques.
  • They explored a diverse list of Books for Big Change, choosing books that spoke to them.
  • They wrote letters to their future selves, imagining stepping through the door on that first day at the new school, and what feelings might be swirling.

“When Sita visited us some of the Y6 students recognised her from visits to their primary schools… a familiar face in an unfamiliar space. I think this continuity will help the transition in September.”

Secondary school teacher, Islington
Sita Brahmachari books for big change

Ambassador scheme

We also created an ambassador scheme, working with secondary school librarians and groups of young people in year 7, two thirds into the first year of their secondary school journey. Sita Brahmachari coached the ambassadors to create a session they could deliver to the next cohort of rising year 6s in their local primary schools.

I was lucky enough to attend a presentation at Christ the King Primary school, delivered by five young ambassadors from Islington Arts and Media School Islington (AMSI). The ambassadors shared information about the library, the books that they loved that helped them through difficult times, and insights they have gained in the last 8 months. They had curated a shoebox library of book recommendations and gifted this to the year 6 class. They answered anxious questions about homework, detention, and getting lost on site, with kindness, reassurance, and confidence. They were positioned as wise, experienced role models, and were walking inches taller when we left.

slide 2 for blog

Presentation for Y6, by Y7 Ambassadors from AMSI

Get Islington Reading: Impact

Our findings from our evaluation of Get Islington Reading show a steady increase in reading enjoyment in the first year of secondary school, in contrast to the national figures, which are declining.

In the first year of the project 52% of year 7 pupils told us they enjoyed reading. By the end of the third year 60% of pupils said they enjoyed reading, compared to 44% nationally.

Furthermore, the children were more likely to view reading as a tool to help with emotional regulation: 27% of pupils told us that reading helped them to feel better and help with difficult feelings, as opposed to just 7% at the start of the project.

Reading for Pleasure: a toolkit for transition

Though transition can be a challenging journey we believe reading and access to library spaces are a helpful toolkit on this adventure.

Four magical talismans that rising year 6s will need on their quest to year 7:

  1. A roadmap: When we read we are following in the footsteps of the characters as they forge a path through the unknown. Stories can provide a roadmap of lessons learned and paths travelled, and help us chart the way forward.
  2. A touchstone: When children arrive in those giant secondary school buildings with labyrinth layouts, the library should feel like a safe bolt-hole. A touchstone that they can return to if they feel unsure where to go or who to be. The local public library also provides a touchstone outside of school- a safe and familiar constant in times of big change.
  3. An anchor: When we re-read old favourites or spy a title on a shelf that was recommended to us, we get instantly transported back to when we first encountered that story. Reading reminds us of who we were and who we are, anchoring us to our memories, history, culture and community.
  4. A sail: If we can trust the safety of our anchors we can allow reading to propel us forward into the unknown. We can discover new things about the world and about ourselves. We can challenge existing ideas, design new ambitions, and look to the horizon.
Transition (AMSI)
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