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It’s all in the preparation: How parents can support the secondary school transition

By Alice Heywood, director of educational strategy, 5-11 years, Stephen Perse Foundation, and Abbey Jones, senior deputy head, 11-18 years, Stephen Perse Foundation

Preparing to start secondary school in September can be a daunting experience for new Year 7 students, and it is completely normal for parents to experience anxiety through their child as the first week approaches. Alice Heywood and Abbey Jones provide their insight on how you can be there to support your child as they navigate this key moment in their educational journey.

Students at school
Students at school

Explain the key differences between primary school and secondary school

Make sure that your child understands the main differences between primary and secondary school – this will minimise any potential surprises in the first few days and help them to embrace their newfound independence. Not only might your child need to adapt to an increased amount of homework, but they will also have lessons with many more teachers than they are used to, each of whom may have slightly different teaching styles. Outside of the classroom, students will have more freedom of movement throughout the day around the school site, this can be a little intimidating at first, but they will soon embrace their new independence during the school day!

Prepare children for secondary school in the September run-up

When the topic of starting at the new school comes up in conversation at home, approach it calmly and confidently: this will reassure your child that the transition is nothing to worry about.

Abbey Jones, senior deputy head, 11-18 years, Stephen Perse Foundation
Abbey Jones, senior deputy head, 11-18 years, Stephen Perse Foundation

As the first day of school approaches, you can get ahead by reading through any school handbooks with your child to help them start to become familiar with how things work at their school. A lot of potential anxiety can be reduced by simply ensuring that your child is familiar with the new daily routine: practising the journey to and from school together can be helpful, along with talking through what they should do at the end of the school day, particularly if your child doesn’t have a mobile phone.

Navigating first day nerves and forming friendships

It is important to reiterate that the first day of a new school is the hardest part of the year and it will only get easier from there. Reinforce your school’s message that your child’s teachers are there to help make students’ time enjoyable – this will encourage them to ask for support if they need it.

While many children will feel happier if they know they will have familiar faces with them at school, there will always be students for whom this is not the case and so it’s important to remind them that there will be many others in the same position on the first day, whatever that is.

Don’t forget one of the main advantages of a new start is the exciting prospect of making new friends! Encourage them to be brave and talk to those they don’t know and make sure your child knows what contact details they are best to exchange with new potential friends. If children are particularly anxious about making new friends, try and get them to talk through their feelings about this with you or perhaps write down how they are feeling so that you can help them to see where they might be worrying unnecessarily.

Embrace school induction activities

Most independent secondary schools will have held induction days to give new students a taster of what to expect at the end of last term; at the Stephen Perse, we are keen to work with the families of incoming students to ensure a happy and successful transition from primary to secondary school. Through monitoring personal progress of students and tailored pastoral care, we create meaningful staff-pupil relationships which ensure students settle into secondary school.

Alice Heywood, director of educational strategy, 5-11 years, Stephen Perse Foundation
Alice Heywood, director of educational strategy, 5-11 years, Stephen Perse Foundation

In the first week of term, specialised induction activities, ideally including spending time with buddies in older year groups, aim to make new students feel welcome and gain familiarity with their new surroundings quickly. At the Stephen Perse, students will be invited to attend a ‘Clubs and Activities Fair’ in the first few days to explore the co-curricular opportunities on offer. Clubs and societies are a fantastic way to meet similar-minded people, so do encourage your child to make the most of the co-curricular offering at your school and get involved in a few different activities.

Alice and Abbey share the top five skills children need for secondary school:

1 Independence and problem-solving skills

Children will need to feel confident in making decisions and completing tasks by themselves.

2 Communication

Check that children know who to approach for academic and pastoral support.

3 Resilience

The transition will get easier throughout the first term – advise children to channel resilience. Support is always at hand if they may be struggling.

4 Organisation

Students may be set more homework than they are used to and will likely need to learn how to organise themselves with less structure and support from their teachers.

5 Time management

Students are responsible for managing their own time, from arriving to classes punctually to meeting deadlines.

- The Stephen Perse Foundation is a family of schools in Cambridge, Madingley and Saffron Walden, educating boys and girls aged 1 to 18.

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