The ‘big day’ is looming, time to upskill the children.

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March 1st, the day that every year 6 family up and down the country is waiting for. The day they find out what secondary school their child/children have been offered. For many of us in education this is not the most significant day of an academic year, but for many children and their families it is by far their biggest, since discovering what primary school they have been offered, and the children won’t remember that day at all!

Back in 2020 (before the world got really hit by Covid) I wrote 3 posts about how Parents, Primary schools and Secondary schools could deal with the aftermath of the news. As we all know, there will be a range of reactions. Not everyone is happy with the offer and even if they are, the children and families still need some support to navigate their way around the emotions and the real fears and excitement that comes with such a big change.

From March 1st onwards the fact that these year 6 children will become Secondary school children in a matter of months becomes a reality. There are so many things that the adults involved in these children’s lives can do to make this transition period easier, some of them may never have been considered before. There are skills involved in moving from Primary to Secondary school. Skills that are generic and make no difference at all what school they are moving too.

Here are some of the things I have found over the years that children have found difficult – they are well worth considering and working out ways of supporting them both pre and post move! If you have read any of my other posts you will know that I am a huge advocate for every adult in a child life having a part to play in preparing them for this period, and that it is not and should not be something only considered from May (post SATS) to September (when they have had 2 weeks of induction). If you haven’t already thought about these things, no matter what phase you work in, then I implore you, start to think about how you can take them into consideration from now on. This can start as early as year 4 or 5 and easily go into years 8 or 9. I promise you; they will make a huge difference to the children.

  • How do I make a friend? – As adults we always think that children instinctively know how to make friends, but do they really? Maybe at 4 or 5 when they are first starting their education journey this might be the case, but really, by the time you also have to add the social pressures that go with meeting new people this is a huge task. I know from my own experience of telling children (including my own) over the years that, it’ll be fine, you’ll make loads of new friends seems like the obvious way to help calm the nerves. On reflection though, how do we make a new friend? How do we navigate the muddy waters of knowing who to even think about trying to talk to let along knowing how to start that conversation? This is a skill, and it needs to be taught!
  • What if I get lost? – Over the years I have learned to warn children that they WILL get lost, not that they might. The privilege of my previous job was that I was able to speak to children in year 5/6 and then again in year 7 about all the things mentioned in this post. There is one young girl who I will always remember, and she made me realise that this distinction between will and might is so important. As soon as I walked in the room to meet her and some other pupils, she shouted at me “Liz! I remember you came to see me in year 6 and warned me that I would get lost. Well, you were right, I did and I wasn’t sacred because I knew it would happen eventually. My friend was terrified though, did you not visit her school?” The key issue here is that, again, we simply tell children to ask for help from someone if/when that happens. STOP PRESS! We have spent all these children’s short lives telling them not to talk to strangers. And while, of course, all the adults and older children in schools are safe, they are still strangers! By never letting our youngsters engage in conversations with adults and ‘big kids’ they haven’t met before, have we de-skilled them? Talking to someone you don’t already know is hard and it is a skill that needs to be taught.
  • I have to look after my own things? – Ask the children in your class this question: Have you ever met your adult on the playground after school and they say to you:
    • Where is your bag?
    • Where is your coat?
    • Water bottle, lunch bag, PE kit, jumper, glasses…

We all know that this list is endless and children loose/forget things all the time. Consider this though, at primary school, the chances are, that the children know exactly where those things will be. Either on a peg, in a drawer or maybe even a locker. If they are not there, the class have probably only been in one or two rooms for the day though and they can easily find what they have forgotten. Add to that that they have been reminded about it on the playground, while the school is still open, and the teacher is still available. Now fast forward 6 months or less and the same question is asked of them, but when they have finally got home from school. So, they not only have the (up to) 5 or 6 rooms they have been in for the day there is also to journey to and from school to consider! That’s a whole other ball game! Being responsible for knowing where your belongings are all day long is a skill and needs to be taught!

I have only highlighted 3 issues in this post, as you can imagine there are so many others that I have encountered though my conversations with children and as many more that I (or you) are yet to discover. We should all spend some time talking to the major stakeholders of transition – the children. This needs to be handled with care though, and where staff at both Primary and Secondary need to work together. Ask a year 6 child what they are worried about, and a year 7 child about what really happened, and you will find the balance of how to fully prepare children for the big move.

Final thoughts:

If you work in primary, try to support the children through some of the changes coming by giving them the opportunity to experience some of them if that is at all possible. If you are secondary member of staff, think about what things you wished children were able to do by the time they are in your school and think, is that something they have ever been asked to do before? The chances are the answer is no, so guide them through the process the same way you would with new academic learning.

Moving to secondary school comes with a whole host of new skills the children need that must be taught!