Am I the only one who is finding it difficult to believe that all children will be back in school by the end of next week? Of course I know that schools never closed but to have so many staff and pupils in one place at one time feels a little odd! I know it shouldn’t and I know we all need get back to a new normal, that’s going to be tough though isn’t it? No child or adult is going to really know what to expect, the new one way systems, the do we don’t we wear masks, the new seating plans and classrooms, the new bubbles, the list goes on! For the majority of the school community, these are all changes in an environment that they (at least vaguely) recognise, this is not the case for all pupils of course. There will be a whole cohort who, in one way, have it easy! The ‘new way of life’ was always going to be new, it was always going to be different and so it won’t feel any stranger than for any other new year 7 group. At the same time, this group has had far less preparation than any other. The staff in schools have got so much transition, across all year groups, to deal with, the new year 7’s could easily get lost in the system. With so much of the focus being on bringing year 11 back up to speed asap and ensuring the pupils learning the new rules actually follow them, it could be so easy to overlook the pupils who are brand new to all of this.
I write this post in the hope that I can put some top tips and quick wins together for first and foremost parents and pupils, with some final considerations for staff. I hope at least 1 idea helps at least 1 family.
Parents – How can you help your child prepare for secondary school?
- 1) Plan and run through the journey to school, this might even include locking up the house before they leave if there is a chance she/he will be the last one to leave! I suggest doing this in stages.
- The whole journey with an adult.
- The whole journey with the adult in the background, 10 paces behind just for security – if using public transport, pay separately to give the child the experience.
- An adult at the start, at a halfway point and then the final destination.
- An adult at the start and the end.
- It is also worth doing this journey backwards too, so travelling from school to home as well as home to school. You would be surprised how many children I have worked with over the years who can get themselves to school but struggle with the return journey as it hasn’t been practised!
- 2) Help with timekeeping. Set little challenges.
- I want you downstairs at 11.30am, then 1pm etc. Helping with being in the right place at the right time.
- You have 30 mins to complete/partake in an activity (make this something they love to do), then you have to stop and move onto something new. This helps the children get used to being in the middle of an activity they love (replacing break time) and having to stop to move onto another activity (lessons)
- Time the journey to school. Ask the child to work out what time they need to leave the house, and then have them work out what time they need to wake up. This will help them be a little more aware of how long everyday activities take.
- In my experience, many pupils have always taken time for granted as they have never been in control of it themselves. By giving them to opportunity to take control early, this will help them with one of the many things children have fed back to me, was a new activity that they struggled with as it isn’t something that had been considered by the adults in their lives previously.
- 3) Give children the opportunity to make choices, but to make them fast! This will help, mostly, when it comes to lunchtimes. Many primary schools have systems where the meals for the week are decided before school even starts and the pupils collect what they have ordered. By the time they are at secondary school they will not only have to choose their food there and then, they may possibly need to even decide where to buy the food from and where to eat it, all of this in a much shorter lunchtime than they are used to! I understand that during Covid times there may be far less choice, if any, but making decisions at all, let alone fast is a good life skill to have anyway!
- 4) One thing we all fail to consider when it comes the changing schools is that making new friends is hard! Even for those children who are moving along with several current/old classmates, there will be a period of time when they don’t know anyone. ‘You’ll soon make new friends’ is a phrase that, as parents, rolls of our tongue easily. Do we ever stop to think how to make a new friend though? Can we all honestly say that in a room full of strangers, we would have the skills to walk up to someone new and just make conversation? As the adults in a child’s life we must help them through this difficult phase. Here a a couple of ways we can help children to make the first move.
- Show them how it’s done. Role play works here, you did this all the time when they were little! You can do it again. Remind them to talk about themselves but also ask questions about the other person. Listening is as important as talking when meeting new people.
- If out in public, shopping, on public transport, at the library, in a cafe etc. Ask the child to be the one to do the talking. Let them deal with the shopkeeper when buying goods etc. We have spent years training children not to talk to strangers, now we need to show them how to talk to the appropriate ones!
- Encourage them to play with other children in play areas. They don’t have to stay long with them, but approaching a new child for the first time can be a challenge. If they are encouraged to do this the first few times with the safety net of their adults nearby, it will be easier to do it without once they get to school.
Pupils- How can you prepare yourselves for secondary school?
- Before you practise the journey with your adult (and if that is not even possible) plan it in your head. Once you think you have got it planned, explain it to someone else. Pretend that that person doesn’t know the area, how much detail can you provide? Would that person be able to make the journey without you?
- Pack and unpack your bag! I know this seems silly but the more you pack and unpack, the more you will start to think about what you need to have with you. You will also discover how heavy the bag is, after all you might have to carry it all day! All the changes you are about to go through are simply new habits that need to be formed, you might as well start with the easy ones now!
- Test your own timings! How long does your morning shower take? How long does it take for you to get dressed, do your hair, find your shoes? What about breakfast, how long does that take? What does all of this mean for how long it will take you to get ready and so what time do you need to get up in order to fit it all in and leave home on time? The adults in your life will be there to help but timekeeping is key at secondary school, the sooner you get into the habit of being in control the easier it will be.
- Create a new routine. Be in charge of your own uniform, where will you keep it after you take it off at the end of the day. What will you do if it needs washing? Maybe start to take control of the family washing for a day or 2 so that you know how long it takes. The last thing you want it to discover your trousers need a wash 10 minutes before you need to leave the house!
Staff – how can you ease the pupils into life at secondary school?
Easing the pupils in does not need to take months of work, equally we should not expect pupils to fit in and be their best in a matter of days. As I mentioned in the pupil section, there are a lot of new habits for the pupils to learn and form, these take time! Here are some quick wins for you to conisder;
- Explain why! Whatever you school/class rules are, it always helps to understand why it is the case. If we understand the basis of a rule it is far easier to remember and follow it.
- Give the children the opportunity to remember what they already know about a topic. I used to use a ‘walking chocolate bar’ a lot. This is something I learned from the fabulous Isabella Wallace on a ‘Talk less Teach’ training course. If you are looking to expand your teaching repertoire I recommend reading at least this book or ‘Pimp your lesson’. These books are packed full of simple ideas to support learning with minimal intervention from you! Win win!
- Talk to the children. I know this sounds simple but the children are used to working with staff they know really well. They don’t need your life story but the more you converse with them, the faster they will find the appropriate version of themselves for you. You will also get to know them as pupils and not just data or targets. You will get to know the naturally cheeky ones (they do exist!) verses the ones knowingly trying to push your buttons!
- If you want to know what they know already, use low stakes quizzes, not intimidating tests. Use the KS2 curriculum for these in the early days, not KS3!
- Get things wrong! You, the teacher, get some answers wrong. As adults we all know it’s OK to get things wrong but most children are still scared to! Especially at an already emotionally charged period of their life but also at a stage when they may be trying to impress you. I have met lots of children who have told me they would rather a new teacher think they don’t know anything rather than risk getting something wrong. This is so dangerous for their future so you need to take the lead.
As I am sure you can imagine I could go on, if I did that though, this would not be a ‘quick win’ post! It would take far too long to read! I really do hope that at least one of these ideas help at least one parent, child or member of staff. Transition is hard for children, the least we can do as the adults is try to make it a little easier.