Sat’s are over, it’s now a matter of weeks before your beautiful 10 and 11 year olds make the huge move from the ‘safety’ of the primary school you have all probably known for the last 6 years to the ‘jungle’ that is a secondary school system! Putting it in the timescale of weeks makes it quite the daunting prospect doesn’t it! In my 24 years as a educator and 5 of them as a Transition Manager (and nearly 18 as a parent) I have spoken to 100’s of children and parents/carers and heard and answered as many questions to try to support families through this period. In this post I have tried to sum up some of these concerns and provide some simple top tips to make this transition as smooth a process as possible.
Let’s start with the situation that I think can be the most dangerous:
I’m not worried about my child moving to secondary school.
I have seen first-hand, with my own children and with 100’s of year 7’s over the years that assuming that your child will be fine and will handle the transition with no issues at all is potentially setting them up for quite a fall. This section will consider the reasons why parents and teachers don’t worry about children and why this can be problematic.
- There are lots of her/his friends moving to the same school.
- This isn’t always the positive that you might expect. In fact it can be a minefield, for a number of reasons. 1) The nature of secondary school settings and systems means that your child might not be a single class along with others from the primary school. Considering that at least 5 hours of the school day is in the classroom this means that she/he could be ‘alone’ for the majority of their day, after expecting to be with friends. 2) The fact that the children who move to the same school might be friends in year 6, doesn’t mean that they will remain friends through year 7. You would be surprised how quickly this can change too. I have seen children who have been best friends for years, fall out or drift apart within weeks of year 7. This change in relationship is a huge emotional roller coaster for children. All during a time when they are trying to navigate so many other new ways of needing to work, and finding the new version of themselves. 3) Friendships and relationships naturally change and develop over time. I have also seen children who want to drift away from Year 6 friendships but for a number of reasons feel they can’t. This can stem from perceived loyalty to others, it might be fear to move away from the security of a known relationship or even fear of starting a new one. All of these situations can cause unnecessary stress and worry for children.
- Even if there are multiple children from one school moving to secondary school, it is still worth helping your child prepare for a world without anyone that they already know. Encourage them to talk to you (this gets harder!) about how they are feeling about the friendships they are continuing to develop, new ones they are making or how existing ones are changing. You can find more ideas and thoughts to help in my post failing to prepare.
- X is a really confident girl/boy, they will settle in without any issues.
- Being confident in an environment that a child has known and is comfortable in, can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It can be a false confidence. As the transition lead in schools for a number of years I would hear this a lot. X will settle down well, you won’t need to worry about her/him, and before you know it, the pupil is really struggling to settle down (seen time and time again) and this manifests itself in any number of ways. All of which come with their own problems and all of them can be avoided. 1) The child’s confidence is mistaken for cockiness! This is sometimes accepted and even enjoyed by some members of staff but can end with consequences handed out by others. See where do transition issues hide for more thoughts. 2) The confidence that the children show is masking fears or worries. Because the teachers have been told she/he will settle in well and the fact that the child is well behaved and doesn’t cause any problems means that thats exactly what the adults all assume has happened. No behaviour issues, no attendance problems, all work is completed to a satisfactory level – dream child and dream situation you might think. Be careful, you can be wrong. Parents, if you find that your child is showing signs of being unhappy at secondary school – call the school! You will probably be told that she/he is doing well and there are no problems in school, point out that even though this might be the case ‘on paper’ you know that something is wrong. This is not the schools fault at all. They do not and cannot know what ‘normal’ is like for your child. They have no point of reference to compare to like you do. You are the expert in your child, so you will be the first to notice if things aren’t quite right. You should also be the one to try to help to prepare them, no matter how confident you think that they are and how successful the move will be.
I don’t know where to start to help my child (and us) prepare.
Who does! Moving to secondary school feels like the most natural thing in the world, and not something you can avoid. All at the same time as being too big a change, too soon and no one (usually the adults!) feel quite ready for it! Here I have highlighted 2 of the more common concerns as the children near the end of year 6.
- How do I make sure they can do the journey? This is an easy fix but one that, if done fully, takes longer than you might think. The obvious answer is – do the journey with them. The complexity of this is taking the time to do this step by step. Here is one example using the bus as a mode of transport, yours will probably differ but hopefully it gives you the idea. 1) Get on the bus with them and do the journey – make sure you focus on to AND from school. I have seen many a child manage to get to school fine but they get lost on the way home for the first few times. This is because they were trained in the journey to school but not back home, or to other houses they might need to go to. 2) Travel behind them! Let them get on the bus, pay for their ticket, take a seat and get off at the right stop alone. I say alone, you will be right behind them on that bus, but you promise not to speak to them. You are simply a security blanket. 3) Let them get the bus by themselves but be at their destination stop ready to meet them and praise them for a job well done. Remember – each step should consider both directions for the child and might also include a short walk to and from the bus stop. This post can’t consider every mode of travel or distance needed but hopefully it shows how preparation is key! There is nothing worse than seeing yr7 children upset when they finally arrive a school, often late and worried about that too, because they weren’t exactly sure how to get to school.
- What if she/he doesn’t make any friends, or fall into the wrong crowd. This is a common fear for parents, and often for children. The truth is that many children haven’t had to consciously make a friend before. Its so natural to do during our early development and it’s not something that we have to do ‘on purpose’ until we move schools. You can support them with this by encouraging them to speak to people that they don’t know. This is quite a challenge for some children and they don’t always know how to start a conversation with another child, let alone an adult. This can leave some children open to loneliness at school and is also how it becomes easy to fall into that wrong crowd as they hook onto the first person or group to speak to them. This is where we, as parents can also work with them to identify if or when relationships are not quite right for them. We can try to provide them with the skills to be able to walk away from them. This is not easy for many but again, you can try to avoid this situation cropping up by giving them the experience of chatting to new people and begin to identify the traits that they might have in common, they might like to get to know better, or they feel they should probably walk away from.
Moving to secondary school can be a bigger jump than we ever expect it will be. We cannot prepare for every eventuality but we can try to make it as smooth a move as possible. There will be lots of changes that we, as the adults, can do nothing about, whether we like them or not! All we can do is prepare our children to the best of our ability, make no assumptions on how this transition might go and be ready to deal with any unexpected issues as they arise.
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