For many students, moving from primary to secondary school is both exciting and daunting. Whether your child is moving at the end of Year 6 or Year 8, the transition to a new, usually bigger, school, is demanding on many levels: the move will require them to be more independent, make new friends, meet new teachers, take on new subjects and potentially learn a new journey into school. As the summer approaches, many parents will be wondering how best to prepare their children for these changes, and so here are our top ten tips for supporting your child through this transformational period.
- Talk to your child. Parents should regularly check in with their child to monitor how they are feeling and discuss any concerns their child may be having. Parents might want to use these prompt questions as a starting point and then once they have identified any specific worries they can address these head-on. These conversations will not only help the child to feel more confident in terms of expressing themselves but will also ensure any issues are dealt with sooner rather than later.
- Familiarise them with the school. Most children are afraid of the unknown, and so visiting the school in advance can help your child feel at ease as they will know what to expect. If attending Open Days proves difficult, many schools have virtual events and a wealth of information on their website: for example, school tours, floor plans and layouts, daily timetables, staff lists, homework and uniform expectations, details of clubs and societies and photographs of the school. All of these will help to make your child feel more confident when navigating this new environment.
- Practice the journey together. If your child is travelling independently to secondary school, whether that be walking, cycling, taking the bus or other public transport like the Tube, it’s important to practice the journey beforehand so that they are familiar with the route and know how to respond if something unexpectedly changes, like a train cancellation. For many students, this new independence will coincide with their first time owning a phone, and so this is also a sensible opportunity to discuss smartphone use and your expectations for how regularly you want them to stay in contact.
- Help them get organised. At secondary school your child will have a lot more responsibility for their belongings – for example, looking after and rotating their books and folders for each subject, remembering and packing games and sports kit, and bringing the right stationary to every lesson. Parents should go through an equipment list with their children over the summer, and then once term starts they should encourage their children to pack their school belongings the night before so that there are no last-minute panics in the morning. Students will likely be given a planner or diary, but it can also be helpful to have a school calendar somewhere highly visible like the fridge as a reminder of important events.
- Stay on top of homework. One of the most challenging aspects of moving to secondary school for students is having to manage homework. Pupils will suddenly have to navigate differing, and sometimes conflicting, deadlines for homework and will have to learn to prioritise, time-manage, and record detailed instructions. Some students will of course find it easier to be self-disciplined, but others may need a helping hand and more encouragement and supervision. It’s also worth finding out expectations regarding the amount of time spent on homework – if your child is slaving away for hours on end with no avail, then it may be worth communicating this to your child’s form tutor so they can check that the class is not being set too much.
- Encourage them to make the most of all the new opportunities. One of the most exciting parts of moving to secondary school is the sheer choice of sports, clubs, trips and other extracurricular activities on offer. These are not only a great way for students to make new friends, but also discover new interests, develop old skills and become part of the school community. Many secondary schools also have inter-form or inter-house competitions which students can participate in, and these are a great opportunity to get into the competitive spirit! Some students may already have hobbies they know they want to pursue, but others may need more encouragement; as they are not compulsory, it’s easy for students to slip under the radar!
- Know who to ask for help. Parents should remind their children that they should never be afraid to ask for help, and that it’s completely normal to be unsure of something or need to talk to someone – whether that be something as small as asking where the bathrooms are or something more pressing like reporting an incident of bullying. Making sure they are aware of their options and the chain of command can help students to feel more supported; the form tutor is normally the first port of call, and so it is good to establish a relationship with them early on. Furthermore, if your child has any additional background or context that you think would be worth communicating to the form tutor, for example special educational needs or physical disabilities, then it is worth getting in touch before term starts so that the form tutor can plan ahead.
- Discuss how to make an effort with new friends. For some students, making friends will happen naturally and spontaneously, but for other students it is not always so easy and they may need a nudge in the right direction. In general, direct intervention from parents is best avoided as it can often feel forced and easily backfire, but parents can talk to their children about how to make a good first impression and how to approach their peers. Sometimes it can be as simple as reminding students that they should make the effort rather than waiting for friends to come to them, and that involving quieter or shyer students is important too.
- Use online resources. There are dozens of resources available online for discussing the move to secondary school with your child; some of the best ones include this infographic from the Mental Health Foundation; this guide for students with learning disabilities; these activities from the BBC and Young Minds; and these worksheets from Barclays Life Skills.
- Communicate with the school. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself. It’s natural and expected for students to seem quite overwhelmed in the first couple of weeks of secondary school, but if this is still the case after this point then more support might be needed. If your child is overly anxious, reluctant to talk to you or seems unhappy at school in any way, then it’s important to contact the school so that you can work together to support your child as soon as possible.
About the author: Kristina Murkett is a teacher and a freelance writer specialising in education, film, literature and women’s rights.