• davidlett

Transitions that Succeed


One of the first significant transitions in the life of a young person is when they move from Year 6 to Year 7 – from small to BIG school. At the ToolShed we know this is one of the most important changes that young people experience and need to negotiate because it can either set them up to succeed at secondary school or lay the foundations for years of frustration and dis-empowerment.


Imagine you have just made the transition to Year 7, to big school, and it is the end of the first term. That means it is just before Christmas (an exciting time of the year for any young person) and you have spent a total of 12-13 weeks in Year 7 ….. and you hate it. Hate feels a strong word to use but it does sum up how you feel and the connection you have towards the school you have only just transitioned to. In just a few short weeks you have developed a strong dislike (a hate) that has been fuelled by:

1. A sense that “this place does not understand me”

2. A strong feeling that “I cannot meet the expectations being made of me”

3. A personal belief that there is “no point speaking out because my card is already marked and no one would listen anyway”

4. A growing mindset that “I do not belong here and hence don’t want to be here” I think we can all agree it wouldn’t be a pleasant state to be in and if we felt such negative feelings for a club, society, etc then we would vote with our feet and leave or stop attending. The transition from Year 6 to 7 is one of the most important personal changes that a young person will make over their lives and represents one of the biggest changes in their early life. Yet for a small number it leaves them confused, frustrated, fearful and quite soon angry. The change becomes a major hurdle in their lives and one that they genuinely feel they have little control or choice over. A prolonged period of stress then follows combined with growing anxiety – it is little wonder that negative behaviours result and many of these impacted young people seek some form of self-medication, often through drug use.

So, what happens when a young person has remained within a system of education that leaves them feeling like this and they then need to prepare themselves for another significant transition? One where they are transitioning from secondary to: work, an apprenticeship and/or an FE college (to name the main choices). You would think they would leave joyous and excited; however, the opposite is often the case and they feel anxious, fearful, sullen and unprepared to transition into a world that expects them to have succeeded in their education thus far.


Where might we look for solutions for these young people? Is one possible? I believe there is a transition pathway that these young people can be guided down and my work at the ToolShed over the last five years has reinforced this belief. Over the last five years the ToolShed has helped over 125 young people figure out for themselves how to transition from school life to a life where they earn their own living. Over 85% of graduates have progressed into work and/or further training. They came from many and varied backgrounds and they had all left school with few to no qualifications.

Graduates leave the ToolShed with positive attitudes and a drive to make their own living. This doesn’t happen by chance and is very much down to our positive reinforcement model. We focus at least 75% of our time rewarding positive behaviours vs punishing poor or disruptive behaviours. Our young people quickly learn that they get more from us (focus, time, praise, attention, direct help, work experience, etc) when they act and behave in a positive way.


Over the three years we have asked young people who come to The ToolShed what their experience of mainstream secondary school was like. Initially they were reticent to say much for fear that their views wouldn’t be taken seriously or they would be lectured to the point they feel like they are a problem. When they did express their views they all promoted similar opinions (as outlined above) and across the board their hate affair with their place of education started before Christmas of Year 7. Just 13 weeks into what becomes a 195 week ordeal or personal trial of endurance.

One of Nietzsche’s most powerful quotes was “he who has a why can endure almost any how”. In our experience the young people who come to the ToolShed have not been able to discover their “why” in mainstream education establishments. Discovering this way is the most important step in their transition journey and one that is made up for the following eight steps:



The belief in their ability to transition will start as a feeling that they will be confused about. They will feel hope and get excited and this will make them oscillate between positive (excitement) and negative (anxiety) emotions. Their transition pathway will start as an emotional connection to a possible new set of experiences that feel meaningful to them. That is why the most important support you can provide is simply never, ever giving up on them.

If you commit, they will commit. I can’t tell how long these steps will take and for each and every young person the time period will be different. I know they work and when they do ….. the magic begins.


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