Smoothing the path to ‘big school’
In homes across the country, families will be preparing for the next big milestone – moving up to secondary school.
It can be an exciting – and nerve-racking – time for everyone, mainly for children, but also for parents, as they stand by and watch their little ones head off on the first day in their new ‘Big School’ uniform. There’ll be new friends to make, new teachers to get to know, a new timetable full of different subjects and, of course, new homework.
“It’s a very big leap for children and parents alike,” says Carrie Starbuck, a former teacher and managing director for Learning Performance Training, which runs workshops in schools, including ‘Introduction to Big School’ for those soon to start Year 7.
“Primary school tends to be quite small, they have one teacher, one classroom – and at secondary school, they suddenly have six or seven teachers, and have to move around the classrooms.
“Some students may find it slightly easier if they’re moving up with some friends, but others will be starting completely new and fresh.”
Find the positive
Starbuck adds: “Parents may be feeling nervous too, so it’s good for them to try and turn those nerves into something positive. A child might be worrying about whether they will they make friends etc.
“If parents say things like, ‘This is a fresh start, it’s really exciting, you’re going to meet new people…’ – putting a positive slant on things will build the child’s confidence up, and soothe their concerns.
“It’s a celebration rather than a terrifying change. We want students to be resilient and life is full of changes, so if they react positively to a change, then that transition will be easier.”
Mind the gap
The leap from primary to secondary school is one of the biggest a child will face in their education, says Starbuck.
“They are suddenly expected to become quite independent learners. When you’re at primary school, you’re supported a lot by the teacher. When you get to secondary school, you have to manage your time well, you’ve got to remember to take the right books on the right day.”
But they’re still just children and shouldn’t feel pressure to grow up.
“We always say to the class that, just because they’ve had a summer and they’re in Year 7, it doesn’t mean they’re not 11-year-olds anymore.”
Parents can help their children become independent learners by talking them through what they’re going to being doing when.
“It’s usually really simple, they’re given a timetable and a diary. When you ask, ‘Have you got any homework tonight?’ or, ‘What do you have to do tomorrow?’ and they might not know or want to tell you, just double-check in the diary; it’s used as a communication tool between parents and staff.
“Have the school timetable up on the fridge or somewhere really prominent and take time to help prepare their bag the night before. The first few weeks do this with the kids, but after a few weeks you need to encourage them to do this themselves.”
A new school bag will help children get excited about being organised, but shouldn’t cost the earth.
“A new bag, an organiser, nice coloured pens, all of that definitely helps,” says Starbuck, who’s also a school governor. “But it’s not the end of the world if you can’t afford it. What’s important is the child has confidence – they don’t need a bag for that.”
Once the child starts school, it’s important for parents to build up a good relationship with their form tutor.
“They’re well versed in that transition and they’re there to support your child,” says Starbuck. “You’re working in partnership with them, they care about the children and they want them to do well. Work together with a form tutor in particular, so that any issues or any concerns that do come up further down the line, you have somebody to go to, and so does the child when you’re not there.”
According to research, Starbuck says children of parents who got more involved in the life of the school, were found to be three months ahead in terms of attainment than other children.
“A lot of secondary schools put on events to increase parental engagement. Things like quiz evenings, parent forums, theatre productions. I would recommend it really strongly for parents. If they’ve got the time, and make the effort, they’ll make friends themselves, and it’ll only enrich their children’s lives as well as their own.”
Carrie Starbucks’ top tips for helping your child get organised for big school:
1. Have the school timetable in a prominent place at home, so everyone can see what they have to prepare for and are doing day-to-day.
2. Use the diary planner provided by the school to help your child prioritise their schoolwork.
3. Help with time management by using an A, B, C system for homework. A – urgent, B – have a few days, C – a week or so.
4. Prepare their school bag together the night before to avoid last-minute panic. Once that routine is set, students can do this on their own as they will know how to prepare.
5. Get excited! Change is scary, but exciting too. Focus on the positives so when your child walks into school, they are confident and ready for their next chapter.