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It’s that time of year again when thousands of children up and down the land are starting secondary school. It’s a milestone in the life of any young person and a huge step for parents too.
Some of you reading this will already be feeling anxious. Your stomach is in knots just thinking about it! It doesn’t seem like two minutes since your little one was born! They’re not ready! You’re not ready!
In actual fact there are lots of different views on this:
- Some can’t wait and know that their child is absolutely ready – maybe they’ve got older siblings who are already there.
- Others will be worried about how their child will cope as they are the first in the family to make the move
- Some parents will be worried about how they will cope!
- Some may even be in denial – surely they’ve only just started primary school?!
Don’t worry if your feelings are at the more emotionally extreme end of the spectrum. You’re not going mad. All of the above are perfectly normal when your child is starting secondary school.
For those who feel anxious there is good news! In the overwhelming majority of cases, the fears that currently occupy your every waking hour will quickly subside once the early weeks in September have passed.
In over 20 years in education as a teacher, Headteacher, and Executive Headteacher, I have had the great privilege of being there to see thousands of young people make the move to secondary school. Even now, it still moves me.
Yes – it’s emotional, of course, it’s a big step, and yes, there will be little hiccups along the way. But most exciting of all it’s the start of a beautiful journey into adulthood, where the most precious thing in your life grows, develops, and blossoms into a young man or woman that makes your heart swell with pride.
Kids are resilient. They will cope. So will you.
In this article we are going to take a quick look at a few practical things to make the move to starting secondary school just a little bit easier.
There is no such thing as a silly question
I am going to type that in shouty caps.
There really is no such thing as a silly question.
You and your son or daughter will have lots of questions about all sorts of things when they are starting secondary school. That’s great. Make sure that you ask them. You can ask your primary school, call the secondary school, send an email, speak to the Head of Year 7/ Head of House or Pastoral Lead. Just make sure that you ask.
You should be provided with a significant amount of information on uniform, times of the day, behavioral expectations, timetable, curriculum – all sorts of things. These are often handed out in June or July when the Year 6’s spend a day or two at their new school. This will usually be followed by a parent/carer information evening. The staff are there to answer your questions so ask what you need to. Every year I get asked about the colour of socks, earrings, the contents of pencil cases, bullying, skirt length, the library, rules, detentions….. The list really is endless! This is absolutely fine. It’s our job, so make sure you ask.
The rumours aren’t true!
In over 20 years working in schools in the UK and overseas I have never met anyone who has had their head flushed down the toilet.
It fascinates me that this rumor still exists, as I recall this was the one that terrified me back in the late 1980s when I first started secondary school.
Every year several wide-eyed Year 6’s and Year 7’s still ask me this question and I assure them that it’s not true.
The irony is that the large bearded Year 11 who stands at 6 foot 3 and approximately 14 stone is probably one of the nicest people that you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. Sure, he may be a bit grumpy but if approached by a nervous year 7 he will always do the right thing.
I have seen time and time again and still grow misty-eyed at the thought of it, the backs of two such unlikely buddies trotting down the corridor – one showing the other the way to science. Bonds are formed. Friendships are made. In the Dining Hall, there will often be a quick “You alright now mate?” when the next passing encounter happens.
It’s normal to worry about getting lost
Secondary schools are huge compared to many primary schools and it’s normal for Year 6’s and Year 7’s to worry about getting lost and finding themselves in trouble as a result.
For starters, all new students will be given a map of the school. On the Year 6 Induction Day a tour of the school, or even a treasure hunt or orienteering exercise, will give new students the chance to look around and get a feel for the place. This is normally followed up by a second tour on the first day of Year 7 in September.
Once normal lessons are in full swing all the staff and older students will be primed and ready to show new students the way if they do get lost – which undoubtedly they will!
Teachers know that it takes time to find your way around a big new building and they will expect late arrivals to lessons in the early weeks.
Without a doubt, there will be a big shift in the amount of homework that your child gets when starting secondary school. This will be across a much broader range of topics and will take some getting used to. It will also cover a wider range of tasks.
Schools are adept in making sure that the amount of homework that is set is manageable and it’s common for them to issue a homework timetable so that students and teachers can organize themselves and spread this across the week. Students will also be issued with a planner where they record all of their homework.
You can check this with your child to see how much they are getting and if they need help. In addition, it’s also common for homework to be set online using a homework app, such as Show My Homework. Parents will often be given a log in so that they can see how much is being set and support their child if necessary.
It’s important that students get themselves organised and get it done. Initially, parents can help and support in this but at the end of the day, the motivation to complete it needs to come from the child. This is really important in preparing them for exams further up the school.
This will probably be one of the biggest changes that your child notices and initially they may need your help getting into the swing of things. If your child really is struggling with their homework because it feels like there is too much, they can’t get organized or they lack motivation, do make sure that you speak to the school and ask for help. Many schools will also run homework clubs.
Planning the Route to School
Lots of Year 6 children will already be walking to school independently so the journey to secondary school is just a natural next step. Some of the anxieties around the journey to school are centered on the fact that they will be part of a much bigger crowd going to the same place. Many kids are scared that they ‘won’t know what to do or where to go’ and worry about looking stupid. Practice these simple steps to ease their concerns.
- Find a travel buddy or group of friends who will all travel together. Agree on this in advance and make sure that everyone is clear on the time and meeting place.
- Walking to school? Walk the route together a few times over the summer holidays if it is unfamiliar.
- Traveling by bus? Make sure that you have the bus pass sorted well in advance. If your transport costs are covered make sure that this is sorted with the appropriate people and don’t leave it until the last minute. Practice travelling the route a few times to get them familiar with what it looks like. Show them how to use the bus and the bus pass. Make sure that they understand that they must look after their bus pass and keep it in a safe place.
- It’s always a good idea for your child to have some ’emergency money’ which is kept in a safe place solely for emergencies (and not a bag of Haribo). Impress this upon them!
- If they have a phone, make sure that the right phone numbers are stored on there. Agree in advance who they should call in an emergency and include several ‘back-up’ people on the list.
- Some parents still drop their children off every day and do so for their whole school career. This does not cause any issues.
The First Day
Regardless of the means of transport, it’s very common on the first day of Secondary School for parents to accompany their son or daughter right to the front door of the school. Here you will find a whole team of school staff waiting for you – just like when you first dropped them off at the Reception Class door.
This is the part that most parents find emotional and every year I chat, hug, and reassure large numbers of emotional Mums and Dads that their child is going to be OK.
Really – they are.
Ironically the kids, are usually really excited and can’t wait to get into school. They often walk off with only a quick backwards glance and wave.
Which brings me on too…….
They will grow up all of a sudden
My children are still in primary school so I have yet to experience this as a mum, but I can see it plainly and pragmatically as a teacher.
Every year at ‘Settling In Evening’ (which many schools hold in the first half term), I chat with parents who cannot believe how much their child has changed in a matter of weeks.
Secondary School comes with more responsibility, larger numbers of young people in one place, a broader mix of different backgrounds and ages, and a different ethos. This does impact on children and you will find that they grow up all of sudden.
At first, a few of them may struggle with this and they may tell you that want to go back to primary school. This is not uncommon and it does pass. Other kids won’t even notice as they fully embrace this new chapter in their life. As parents, the passage of time may all of sudden seem to quicken. You may find yourself wondering where your baby has gone!
Don’t ever forget that kids will always need their mums and dads. Of course, you are going to have your ups and downs – that’s just a normal part of being a teenager, but ultimately when they are scared, upset, or overwhelmed they will still need you despite what they might say.
Uniform and basic equipment
before starting secondary school, the school should give you very clear written instructions on the intricacies of their uniform. The details should cover things such as the main items of uniform, down to the color of socks, the type of earrings allowed, etc. Some items of uniform may be special item purchases that can only be bought from particular shops. Other items can be purchased on the high street. The school may also provide opportunities for you to purchase the uniform directly from them.
Make sure that you have purchased the uniform as soon as possible and well in advance of the start of term in September. Some uniform suppliers struggle to manage the summer stampede and run out of stock for some items. This is something that new Year 7’s find particularly stressful. They want to fit in and be like everyone else and not having the right uniform can be a great source of anxiety.
A quick note about shoes: many of the main suppliers now make school shoes that look like trainers. We’ve all seen the stories in the press. Make sure that you read the blurb provided by the school. Some schools will not tolerate this kind of footwear and this can cause stress for your son/daughter. Buy the right shoes according to what the guidance says.
Similarly, make sure that they have the correct PE kit. Schools are usually as strict about this as they are the main uniform.
Schools will also expect kids to bring in their own basic equipment i.e. bag, pencil case, pens, pencils, etc. Again, they will provide you with a list of what they need. Some subjects, such as maths and art, will require more things than others. Plan ahead and make sure that your son/daughter is prepared well in advance. Many kids thoroughly enjoying getting their stationery ready so it’s a nice job to get done in the summer.
All of this can cost quite a lot of money. If you are struggling financially this is nothing to be embarrassed or worried about. Please make sure that you call the school and ask for support. Schools are very used to this and you will find them caring and helpful. Start by speaking to the Head of Year, Head of House (or equivalent), or a member of the pastoral team. They will be discrete about this and nobody else will know.
Each student will be issued with a timetable. This will tell them how many lessons they have in a day, what they are, what time they are on, who the teacher is, and where they need to go. Some schools will have a one-week timetable, others may have a two-week timetable.
This causes quite a bit of confusion at first and secondary schools are very used to this! Initially, some children really struggle to read the timetable – let alone navigate to where they need to go. New Year 7’s are often late to lessons in the first couple of weeks.
As above, they will find that there are lots of willing helpers around and about the place. They’ll be very happy to help them out if they get lost or don’t understand where they need to go. The older kids will scoop them up and deliver them to the appropriate classroom. Make sure you encourage them to ask the older kids for help. Assure them that they are not as scary as they look.
It’s a good idea to have a copy of the timetable pinned on the fridge door. This way you can prompt them to organize their bag the night before and make sure that they have got everything that they need for the lessons on the next day. They won’t need to take the books in for the lessons that they don’t have.
Some schools may also provide lockers, either free of charge or for a small fee or deposit. Your child can store all their bits and pieces in here if they need to.
One of the biggest differences between primary and secondary school is that your child will likely go from having 1 main class teacher to having 12 or more! This can be quite a shock! It’s normal for Year 7’s to struggle to remember everyone’s names. It is OK for them to keep asking – teachers are well used to this.
Most kids at secondary school these days will have their own mobile phone. These are great for keeping in touch as they get more independent, and also for emergency situations. However they have their distinct downsides too.
Make sure that you are familiar with the schools mobile phone policy and ensure that your child sticks to it. This is unique to all schools and varies widely. Don’t be shocked if mobiles get confiscated if they are not being used in accordance with the school policy.
Mobiles can also be a source of peer pressure and anxiety for your child. Make sure that you talk to them frequently about this and monitor their usage. Schools now cover a great deal about online safety as part of the curriculum but this does need to be backed up constantly at home as well.
Which brings me on to…….
Friendships and bullying
Some of our nearest and dearest friends are those that we make at secondary school. Friendships change. Your child will not have exactly the same friends at the end of secondary school as they did at the end of primary school.
Secondary school is great because kids get to meet wonderful new people that they’ve never had the chance to meet before.
Some sail through secondary school without a care in the world. Others struggle and have their ups and downs, fallouts and squabbles. Kids will mostly resolve these themselves and it’s all part of growing up. Sometimes school staff will feel the need to step in just to make the process a little easier.
Many young people worry about bullying at secondary school – have a read at this post to help. If a child feels like they are being bullied it’s important that they tell someone that they trust immediately. This can happen online as well as in person, both in and out of school. Encourage them to talk about it. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open so that they continue to talk to you about anything that is worrying them.
Talk to your child about what bullying really is. If someone calls you a name once, whilst it might not be a pleasant experience, it does not necessarily constitute bullying.
A good way to explain what bulling is, is by using the STOP acronym. It’s bullying when it happens Several Times On Purpose.
A quick note on communication
One of the things that parents notice when their child moves to secondary school is that communication may feel more distant. For starters, the regular support meetings and discussions with other parents in the yard before and after school pretty much stop. In addition, it can be harder to speak to a class teacher and they may take longer to return your phone call.
Schools will do a lot of their communication via their websites and social media. Make sure that your details are kept up to date so that you don’t miss any emails or important phone calls. It’s amazing how many parents forget to update schools with these critical details.
By getting organized in advance, keeping the lines of communication open and by supporting them with what they need, starting secondary school really doesn’t need to be a source of anxiety for your child.
Once they have started, make sure that you catch up with them each day to see how things are going. This will help them feel supported and able to explain any worries that they may have.
Don’t be surprised if you need to wait an hour or so after they have arrived home to do this. They may be hungry, tired and a little overwhelmed. They may need time to assimilate back into family life before they want to talk. The best tonic for this is a sit down family meal.
Of course, the move to secondary school is going to be challenging but that doesn’t have to mean scary. It’s an exciting chapter. It’s when young people really start to explore who they are and what they would like to do for the rest of their life.
Teenagers aren’t easy and there will be times when you feel like pulling your hair out. However, you were there once and I bet you weren’t always perfect. 🙂