What does Big School look like? Part 1.

I have had a fantastic start to 2020. I am very fortunate that I get to spend so much time in so many schools. Already this year I have met many wonderful staff who are starting to think about preparing their youngsters for the massive changes they are going to face this year, moving to Big School. Is it too early? I think not!

The children and their families spent a great deal of time worrying and stressing about the decision of which schools to apply for back in October and then it was ‘forgotten’ about. Or was it? I speak to children all the time who have some very big fears about the move to secondary school. When I ask in year 7, how they feel about the support they had in year 6 they are almost always positive about it. However, it often came in the last couple of weeks of term. When asked how long they had been thinking about the move, they tell me most of the year. The common response to my questions is that their teachers, parents, helpers etc told them ‘Big School’ will be different. However very few were provided with any further explanation as to what will be so different.

So what will change and do we expect our children to just understand how this might effect them? Do we ask them what they are worried about without giving them any context? There are so many different versions of secondary school and of course each child is coming with a range of previous understanding. Child A might be the first of their generation to go to a secondary school and so have no family experiences to drawer from. Child B might have siblings already in the school they hope to go to. Child C could be hoping to go do a different secondary school to her/his siblings. Then of course there are the schools that they might be going to. Simple things can cause big problems. School A has lockers that must be used. School B has lockers you can use if you want. School C has no lockers. To us adults these really do seem like trivial differences, but to children who are worried about any sort of change this can be a big deal.

Can we prepare our pupils for these changes and who should we rely on for the questions? The answers are easy to find, just contact any of your local secondary schools. My concern is who are we relying on for the questions? Do we really understand the fears a child has about the move to secondary school, do they really understand them? Over the years I have seen many transition projects or booklets with a range of tasks that ask children to identify their fears, worries, concerns about moving schools. At 10/11 I am not sure many can really identify what the concern is, just that there is one! Should we be providing a better road map to help the pupils recognise these concerns?

Now, putting fears to one side, how can we prepare the youngsters for what lies ahead? Do the school systems they are used to change between yr 1 and 6? Could they change? Should they change? In a school with 60 year 6 pupils, you might be sending them to 3 or more high schools. In the area I work in that could be even up to 10 different settings. I am by no means suggesting here that primaries completely alter their school day to fit with each of the new ways the pupils are going to have to get used to. But what if some small changes were made? Just enough to give the pupils the opportunity to get used to a new way of working? Being secondary ready looks so different for each of our young people and indeed the schools we will be sending them to, but can we get them a little bit more prepared for change? Should primary schools be preparing the pupils for the move or should secondary’s pick up the mantle when they start? For me, the answer is both and I am sure this does happen at both phases. My big question is do we spend long enough doing this at each phase? Is a few weeks at the end of term and start of the new year give the pupils the time they need to develop their new habits?

So, I ask …Big School – what will that look like and how can we prepare the children for the unknown?