At the start of this month, children all over the world will be moving on from primary education into secondary. Although for some the idea is exciting and welcomed, for others, it is quite terrifying and can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. I thought I would ask one of my colleagues to write a blog on their experiences of working in primary schools, reflecting on the transition process of the year 6 children going on into year 7 at secondary school next term.
How is Primary school structured? –
Primary schools are often highly structured environments in which children do the same thing at the same time on the same days. In contrast, secondary schools usually run according to a varied schedule that requires children to move classes, change teachers and adjust to different groups of children as frequently as every half hour or 45 minutes.
If the transition between primary school and secondary school is not well-managed, both children with and without learning disabilities or SEN could end up feeling isolated and vulnerable. Their emotional health may suffer as might their academic performance. Whereas a well-planned transition between primary and secondary phases can help remove any barriers to learning and enable them to reach their full academic potential as well as feeling less isolated.
At the end of year 6, it is common practice for primary and secondary schools to have a transition morning/day so that the children have the opportunity to visit their new schools and stay a while, meeting their peers, teachers and getting a taste of their new educational environment. The hope is that this small insight into what children can expect from their new schools will be enough to help them feel more comfortable about the process of transfer.
A study into primary-secondary transition showed that 84% of children had felt prepared for moving to secondary school, and after spending a term at their new school nearly ¾ of the children said they felt happy in their new school. However, there were children – albeit a minority – who did not feel prepared. This study was commissioned in light of the concern about the transition experiences. Most of the children in the study had a positive time, but a noticeable minority did not. The factors that were identified for a successful transition were summarised as:
- Social adjustment
- Institutional adjustment
- Curriculum interest and continuity
One important factor involved in a successful transition is the extent that children gain new friendships and can increase their self-esteem and confidence after their transition to secondary school. It can, therefore, be essential that children are able to develop and build their social and personal skills (friendships, self-esteem, and confidence).
Your child may have gone through primary school with the same group of children, which is great as they will have built up many friendships and learned the importance of them. However, the idea of making new friends can be daunting. Your child might be lucky enough to have a few of their classmates join them at Secondary school, but in most cases, they will only know a couple of children at most. A few suggestions about how you can help prepare them for this are as follows:
- Getting them involved in community activities or after school clubs where they will make new friends is helpful
- You can also try to find out who in your local area will be attending the same school and introducing yourselves quickly – social media groups can be very useful for making these introductions.
- Discuss how they can approach children they don’t know, use role play
Institutional adjustment is about pupils settling in well at their new school and getting used to the routines, systems, and structures. These aspects can be improved by:
- Encouraging children in the same class to work collaboratively and help each other.
- A variety of opportunities for induction, taster days and visits between schools will hopefully have helped to improve the transition experience for children as well.
- Actively engaging the children in group and pair work and use seating arrangements to help them make new friends.
After your child enters the secondary system, you can still help prepare them by:
- Encouraging more independence, explaining that life will be quite different at secondary school and chatting to them about that
- With Secondary school comes more responsibility and, in many cases, greater independence. Your child may walk/get the bus to school alone, or want to meet their new friends after school. Rather than waiting for a row to happen, it may be wise to sit down with your child and decide on the ground rules; think curfews and boundaries. It’s best to get the ground rules sorted and agreed to before the beginning of the academic year!
- As a parent, it may help to remember that your child is growing up and they aren’t the same little baby they used to be. Doing other simple things such as letting them speak first will also give them a sense that you are willing to listen to what they have to say. They can feel much more conscious of how good growing up can be if they’re praised for their patience as they learn to do this and if you have to disagree then back up why you believe you are acting in their best interest. Model good, positive problem solving so that they understand they’re changing as confrontation often results in a stalemate.
Curriculum interest and continuity
A child’s curriculum interest and continuity are further indicators of a successful transition. Children need to understand what is expected of them in secondary school, to be prepared for the level and style of work, and be challenged to build on progress already made at primary school. This helps to ensure a growing interest in school and work.
There are several things parents can do to maintain curriculum interest and continuity:
- Get to grips with the curriculum as much as you can. It can seem like a long way off but familiarise yourself with the requirements for completing school successfully. Knowing the process means you can keep an eye on progress, and if things are going off track – you’ll know.
- Find out if the school has a website where dates and events are listed. Check this regularly, as information will not always be forthcoming from your child. It will also help you to establish term dates, holidays, exam periods, and so on.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your child’s teachers. Don’t expect them to know as much about your child as their primary school teacher did – they don’t spend as much time with them. Work with your child’s teachers to provide the best support network you can.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Try not to interrogate them, but show an interest in what they are doing and learning at school. Try not to pry, but encourage them to share both what they are doing and how they are feeling about life at secondary school.
The engagement of parents in their children’s education is an important factor in supporting a positive transition between primary and secondary school and in raising attainment. If pupils are to maximise their potential from schooling they are likely to need the full support of their parents. Parents can, therefore, play a role not only in the promotion of their own children’s achievements but more broadly in school improvement and the community should they wish to. If you have time available, this could extend to asking to become a School Governor, volunteering on school trips and manning stands at school fetes or events.
After the initial transition between primary and secondary school, parental involvement with school almost invariably declines. Moving to secondary school is a key stage in pupils’ increasing maturity and independence, and one aspect of this can be a reduction in parental involvement with, and knowledge about, secondary school. Factors such as children’s independent travel to school mean parents no longer visit the school as regularly or meet each other on the playground, and the opportunities for informal discussion with teachers’ decrease. Wherever possible, it can help to maintain engagement with the school staff as well as your child
If you have any worries though, ask if you can talk to your child’s form tutor or head of year. However small a problem seems, it’s worth approaching the school for support if you or your child have concerns.
By Georgina Yates