It’s something that most of us have memories of; the first day of secondary school! The transition from year 6 to year 7 brings the unknown, unfamiliar and significantly larger secondary school which can be very daunting for children. It’s the classic example of big fish in a little pond, to little fish in a big lake!
For some children, the move from primary to secondary school can’t come soon enough. They have outgrown the routines and systems of the school of which they have been at since they were four years old, and are ready for the next challenge. For others, the summer holidays between finishing Year 6 and starting Year 7 can be a time of worry and anxiety as they prepare to step into a whole new world.
For parents and carers, this can be an equally worrying time. Striking the right balance between supporting your child to make a positive start independently, whilst wanting to protect and guide them is completely normal. Below are a selection of tips and ideas based on questions commonly heard by primary and secondary school leaders, which we hope will help support a smooth transition.
‘How do I get to my new school?’
For some children, the journey to a secondary school may be some of their first experience of independent travel and is one of the first hurdles to jump. Children often travel much further to a secondary school than a primary school, which can involve a bus ride. It is less common for children to be dropped off and picked up at the gate by parents or carers at a secondary school, although for some this works well. Support your child by practicing the journey during the summer holidays. Are they confident with the route? Do they know which entrance to use? What do they do if they miss the bus or get lost? Spending a few hours discussing and physically making the journey to school can reduce anxiety and boost confidence for graduating Year 6 pupils.
‘What do I need to take with me to school?’
Most secondary schools operate on a lesson timetable (see below) that involves the pupils moving from room to room, between teachers, for different subjects. This often means that they need to carry multiple books and specialist resources such as their PE kit or Food Technology ingredients. Start by checking the transition literature from the secondary school about basic equipment requirements. If you can’t find it, there will likely be a list on the school website. This may include stationery, a planner, a water bottle and perhaps a lanyard. Every school is different; be sure to check! Packing a school bag the night before is a really useful habit to form. It will reduce the morning rush and likelihood of forgetting something, which could result in a sanction at school. After the first day at school, the new pupils should have their lesson timetable. Take a photo of this on your phone and pin a copy somewhere easily seen. This should be checked when packing the school bag with any subject specific books packed in a good sized school bag.
‘What is a timetable and how does it work?’
A secondary school timetable can be a really confusing document for somebody who has, for the last 7 years, stayed in one room with one teacher for most of the time! Yet the timetable is one of the most important pieces of information that your son or daughter needs to master, pretty quickly. Divided into days of the week, periods / lessons and possibly times, the timetable denotes which subject and teacher the child has at any given time, and the location in which that lesson will be taught. Year 6s going into Year 7 need to learn how to read their timetable, and understand what it means in terms of what they need to take to school and where they need to be. Reading through this together, and checking it both every night and morning, will help the familiarisation process. It’s amazing how quickly pupils learn their timetable off by heart and don’t even have to look at it. But for the first few weeks and months, it is invaluable.
‘Who do I go to if I have a problem?’
During the first stages of the new term, it is common for Year 7 pupils to be accompanied by additional adults in lessons and during social times (break and lunch times) so there are plenty of adults to offer guidance. The simple answer to this question is ‘any adult.’ School staff are well used to redirecting lost students or solving problems as they arise. Children should never worry about asking for help. It is likely that your child will also be allocated a Form Tutor (a teacher who sees their class daily to conduct administration and pastoral activities – they are often the main point of contact for parents). The Form Tutor is a great adult to talk to about any problems. If they cannot help, they will know who can. There may also be a Head of Year or Wellbeing Leader who new pupils can approach. All of the key adults will be introduced in the first week of term.
‘I’m really worried that I will get lost.’
That’s ok… most Year 7s do at some point! If pupils do find themselves unsure of where to go, it is important that they know to stay calm and ask an adult or another student for help. Showing their timetable to whoever they are asking will help to get them back on track. If your child is particularly anxious about the potential of getting lost, it is perfectly acceptable to contact the secondary school and ask if it would be possible to have a tour of the site with your child after the school day or during the holidays. If your son or daughter is anxious about not being able to find their way, having the opportunity to explore the site without hundreds of other young people will be a real benefit. Many schools have only a handful of staff in school during the holidays, so it’s best to get this organised as soon as you can.
‘What will they do about my dyslexia / dyspraxia / ADHD / wheelchair use / other special educational need?’
For pupils with additional needs, the transition from primary to secondary school can be even more daunting than for others. What is really important for your child to understand is that there will be designated adults whose job it is to make sure they are able to access the curriculum and all other parts of school life in the same way as any other child. The SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Coordinators) from both the primary and secondary school will have met before the summer holidays to hand over key information about each child on the SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) register and may have even been in touch with you already. If you and your child still have unanswered questions, it’s important to reach out to the SEND team who will be more than happy to talk to you, reassure you and possibly even meet you at the new school to work through an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
‘What about food and the toilet? How does that work?’
Discovering how the canteen and social spaces work can be an overwhelming experience for new Year 7s. They may have gone from a primary school with only a few hundred other children, all of whom were younger than them, to a community of thousands of older teenagers. If the process for how to queue up, buy and eat food hasn’t already been shared on Year 6 transition days, it will likely be covered on the first day of term. Some schools even given new Year 7s a few extra minutes to help them learn how to move through the system. Many schools now operate on a cash free basis which requires parents to pay for meals online in advance. Check the schools’ website for more information. Taking a few pounds in the school bag may be a good idea, just in case. In addition, packing plenty of snacks and water for the first few days may be helpful; just in case your child runs out of time or gets confused. That way they will always have something available to eat. Some schools ask students to only use toilets at break and lunch time (unless they have a medical issue). Therefore it would be good practice during the holidays to learn the times of the school day and discuss the balance of staying hydrated against not becoming desperate for the toilet. Children should not be scared to ask to go to the toilet during a lesson if they really need it. However the teacher may ask that they are more conscious of it next time.
‘How do I keep in touch with home?’
The answer to this question will depend on the school’s mobile phone policy and how much independence you are trying to encourage. If your child has a mobile phone, check the school’s rules about it’s use. Some schools are very strict about phones not being used throughout the school day, especially not in lessons. Others allow use of them at break and lunch time. If your child urgently feels that they need to speak to you, the school office, student reception or their Head of Year would be good places to ask if they can make a phone call from. However, as the children turn in to young people, it may be a good opportunity to talk to your 11 year old about independence and seeking answers to questions on their own, rather than calling home. Making time at the end of every school day to ask what happened during the day will give children the opportunity to offload and debrief, allowing opportunity to discuss any issues together and consider how to address any problems together.
‘I don’t want to get in trouble. What are the school rules?’
Primary school rules and secondary school rules are often very different and can take some time for children to get used to. Take time to review any literature sent home during the transition process together, or look on the new school’s website. When exploring the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the new school, it can be useful for children to understand why the school has that particular rule. Why do I only have to walk on the left hand side of the corridor? Why am I not allowed to wear shorts? Why do I need to take my planner every day? The more you can help you child to understand why it is important, the more likely they are to appreciate and adhere to the rules, keeping well away from sanctions and receiving plenty of praise as they go!
We hope that the above hints and tips provide an insight into some of the preparation that parents and carers can support with as their Year 6 children prepare to move into Year 7. Whilst it can be a time of great excitement for some, others feel nervous and apprehension. However, as someone who has 14 years’ experience of supporting Year 6s move into Year 7 – take it from me, they will be fine!
Written by Lorna Bradford, Head of Quality Assurance and Impact at Connex Education Partnership.