For me, Year 6 is the best year to teach in Key Stage 2. I taught for 6 very happy years in Year 6, across 2 schools. I loved every minute of it, and I think it is a unique experience when it comes to teaching at primary. Can you always but your finger on why? No, but there is just something about it that makes it special, exciting and that little bit different. I was recently asked for tips of teaching in Year 6, so here we go.
Fundamentally, it is no different
Good teaching is good teaching. For the vast majority of the year and for the vast majority of the subjects what you need to do is no different to what you would do in another year group. Find out what they need to know, find out what they do know and plan the best way to help them acquire that knowledge. Assess whether they’ve got it and move them forward accordingly. There is no special Year 6 formula that makes them learn more, or less, or differently. Stick to what you’ve done that has been good classroom practice before and you won’t go far wrong.
Relationships are still key
Any effective teacher will be able to build relationships with those in their class. I’ve said before, and stand by, that a teacher with perfect practice and no relationships will get poorer outcomes than a weaker teacher who can really get to know those children and make them feel valued in that class. In a setting such as Year 6, of course there can be pressure on outcomes (more on that later) and good relationships will help you out much more as you get closer to the first half of the summer term. They are going through a lot of changes in Year 6, and it can lurch from one anxiety point to another. I work in a selective county and they go from 11+ test, to results, to applying for schools, to finding out schools, to SATs to transition. Chuck in hormones kicking in as well and it can be a really up and down year for an individual. It’s a stressful time for them and they need a teacher who understands that and can help them get through it. For some of them, it’ll all be a breeze, for others it will be much tougher. They need a teacher they can talk to, who they trust and who can be honest with them.
The relationships are different, slightly. They are that bit older, they can understand some of the sarcasm a little more, they give you a little more of that banter back, but when you set up the right atmosphere in your classroom this can add to the joy of it rather than turning into a problem. Mostly, they get the line of when it’s time to work hard and when they can enjoy a bit of back and forth with you. It’s a lot of fun. Their increasing maturity means they think deeper, they respond in different ways to questions and conversations can take unexpected and deep turns. This is true in a lot of year groups, but I found it more prevalent in Year 6 and was a reason I enjoyed it so much.
They are still children though
Sometimes we expect way too much from our older children. They are the biggest, the most mature, they take on the roles and responsibilities like prefects and buddies and we trust them with tasks we might not in the younger years. However, the fact that they are still just ten and eleven-year-old children is always driven home to me on two occasions during the year. First, residential. When they unpack and the toughest kids, or the ones that seem mature beyond their years dig out their teddy and give it pride of place on their bed once they’ve made it. Secondly at the end of their leavers show. Often they look at the clock at the end of it and turn and say something like “Wow, its half past eight, it’s so late!”. They are still small, thy are still just kids with kid’s emotions. They aren’t scary and big. They’ll have tantrums, they’ll act strangely. We can’t expect them to act like mini adults just because they are the oldest, because they won’t, they can’t. Accept and embrace the childlike qualities in them – it won’t be long before they are entering a teenage world when they may feel like they can’t act like that anymore. Give them one last chance to be a child.
You alone aren’t responsible for their outcomes
This is an important wellbeing one. The outcomes of Year 6 are a collective effort, not a solo performance by you. The results are the product of their time at the school, not their time in your class. Fortunately, the days of Year 6 teachers being the stars who can make magnificent progress with them and can take them from WTS to GDS in three months seem to be fading. It’s too much for one person. You can’t move mountains with every child. Yes, it may happen – they often to make good progress in Year 6, but you can only do what you can do. The weight of the school isn’t on your shoulders. If they come to you having had 6 years of poor teaching previously, you aren’t going to be able to turn that around by yourself. Accept that and be OK with it. If you’re in an atmosphere where that is put on you, maybe look to get out. It’s isn’t helpful and can make a stressful time even worse.
You make the memories they take with them
This is why I love Year 6. When they look back at primary school, they often cite their leaving celebrations and residentials as some of their best times. You get to be part of that, and you get to share in their excitement and fun as well. There are milestones in Year 6 they don’t get in other year groups and you celebrate them with them. Amazing.
It’s not all about the SATs
In my time teaching Year 6 I never taught an extra Maths or English lesson in a week. We did the daily sessions and that was it. Even in the run up to SATs. They need a varied curriculum. Why should they be denied it because they have exams coming up? They love finding out about foundation topics just as much as any other year group. They still need to be creative and express themselves, don’t take that away from them! I know the pressure can be tough, but there is fine line getting them there and pushing them so hard they go past the point of caring. Some of my favourite lessons have been exploring Science or World War II with Year 6. They are entitled to a full primary experience. Give it to them and reap the rewards. They can practice their skills, transfer their knowledge and learn more about how to learn. This will prepare them much better for the next stage of their education than drilling them for tests. Preparing them to move on is a huge part of what you do in Year 6 – they need to leave feeling confident and prepared. GDS across the board won’t be what does that. Prepare them to be good people, confident in what is special about them, not in their ability to pass a test.
But we can’t ignore them
I fronted up with my Year 6’s early on. Yes, we’ve got to do them, yes they might be a pain, but together we’re going to make it as painless and stress free as we can. I played the together card strongly – it’s not just them. They’re taking the test, and I expected them to work hard, but it was up to me to get them ready for it. I went through a very specific timeframe to get them ready. I always likened it to the Olympics. An athlete has four years to peak at just the right time. It’s the same for those kids. Go to early and they’ve gone past the point of being ready and they are fed up and resent doing them, go to late and they aren’t quite ready. As I have said, I never taught extra English or Maths sessions, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t do anything. After Feb half term we gave them CGP books and asked them to do a double page a week, to start going over some topics. Nothing huge, it took about 15 minutes a week for them to do it. No pressure, that was all. We carried on teaching lessons as normal up until Easter. Post Easter, we went into revision mode. We’d finished the curriculum and they had normally 3-4 weeks. Still no extra whole class lessons – some TA support in the afternoons for those who needed a push, but nothing more than 20 minutes in one session and no more than twice a week. In the time between Easter and sitting the SATs we revised hard. Each couple of days was based around a topic and we went through things. Some we spent a day on, some longer. We supported it with Testbase packs based around the topic we were doing. They worked collaboratively though them, we played them as competitive games in teams, they spotted errors in completed tasks, and then we changed up topics. They didn’t need huge amounts of revision – the homework and good solid teaching helped them be ready. When we got one week out they had one final call for things they wanted to cover, and we went over those. I always used to give them a KS3 level 4-6 paper too. It was an amazing confidence boost for almost all of them!
I found this got them ready, they knew what to expect, they’d seen the types of questions that would come up, they knew the process, but we hadn’t been drilling since November as I have seen some schools do. I always found they handled it amazingly well and I think it is because as a school and Year 6 team we didn’t overwork them. We didn’t make it bigger than it needed to be. They don’t need to know the school’s reputation hangs on their SATs results. Why would they? We made it very clear they just had to be able to go in on that morning and try their best. I could never ask any more of them than that. I told them, I’d be proud of their efforts, not their results.
The last half term is not winding down. But it’s amazing.
So much to fit in, tiring, but great. Leaver’s plays, leavers assemblies, residentials all the best weeks of the year. It’s a time to relax and enjoy they time they have left. They still need structure and they still need to learn, but I always felt a different dynamic about that period. There is time to get into transition properly to prepare them, to get into their worries and really unpack it with them. There is time to enjoy spending time with them and preparing them to move on. Of course, the last day is sad, they cry, and they say they don’t want to go. But they are ready – and that’s down the work you’ve done over the year.
If I could teach a year group again I would choose Year 6 every time. Don’t be scared of them, embrace it for the opportunities and good times it offers. It’s a special time for them and to be part of it with them is a privilege.