Expert advice on entry to some of the most competitive senior schools in the UK.
Changing schools – whether transitioning from playgroup to primary school, or from primary to secondary education – feels like a massive step.
It’s no surprise, then, that both child and parent sometimes feel anxious about surviving the first term, especially at senior school after passing the 11 plus! Going back to school is always a nerve wracking experience, but it is only made trickier when your child is starting at completely new place.
In the months leading up to their first term, talk as much as possible about what the new school is going to be like. Talk with your child about how school might be different from nursery, and try to manage their expectations: reminisce about your own early days at school (but be careful not to oversell it or they might be disappointed – school may be fun but homework is less so, after all!).
Speak with your son or daughter’s new teacher and see if they’ll divulge a copy of the timetable so that you can familiarise yourselves with that. Once you have that to hand, you can visit the school or look it up online and get a sense of where the different classrooms are, and how your child might need to travel about throughout the day. Give your child’s teacher as much information about them, too, and don’t worry about overloading them- they can never know too much about their future charges.
Don’t worry too much about priming your child to be the brainbox of the new class: when it comes to surviving the first term, the priority should be practising everyday tasks until your son or daughter can confidently manage everything without your help.
Teach them to put their own shoes on; to get in and out of their coat (and how to hang this up); and to keep their belongings together (from pencils in a pencil case to trainers within the gym bag). Practise using a knife and fork, and try and find out how lunch works at the new place – will your son or daughter be eating a packed lunch? Will they be going up to the counter and carrying a tray?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, think about bathroom habits. It’s common for children to wet themselves when in an unfamiliar environment; often they aren’t sure where the toilets are (or they simply don’t like school toilets), so they try and hold it until it’s too late. Accidents like this can be very embarrassing for children, so do everything you can to help them use the toilet confidently without outside help. If you’re really concerned, speak with your child’s teacher and discreetly provide your son or daughter with a spare pair of underwear to take to school each day – just in case.
The move from primary to secondary school brings with it a dramatic expectation to do with independence: perhaps for the first time, your little human will be expected to behave more like a grown up. This can be a scary change for many children, particularly if they’re young for their year.
Small things will help them to feel ready for the transition. To begin with – until they feel more confident – help them pack their bag the night before, and look through the timetable with them so they are certain about where they need to be, when, and what items they need to have (textbooks, gym kit, etc.). If they’re travelling to school alone for the first time, practise the route with them so that it becomes second nature, and get them into the habit of letting you know when they’ve arrived safely. Keep an eye on their homework requirements, and make sure that they know what is due, when, and that they have it with them when they leave the house. Keep them engaged and stimulated before they start Secondary School, a great way to prepare for the step up in terms of work is to read more challenging books.
Another daunting part of the transition to secondary school is that ‘big’ kids are suddenly small again: they’ve gone from being the oldest children in the school to being the ‘newbies’, surrounded by young people older (and often much bigger) than themselves. There’s an additional size-related issue in that the school itself is likely to be much larger than their primary school, which can be overwhelming. And, as a final challenge, the work presents a steep learning curve. If your child is struggling, remind them that everyone is in the same position, and that they will soon adjust – but not to be impatient or frustrated with themselves if it takes a little while.
Making friends will help them feel more at home, but this can take time, too. Encourage your son or daughter to get involved with school clubs or take up a new hobby; this will help them to settle in whilst potentially providing the opportunity to make friends across year groups, which can be extremely helpful in the early stages.
With the steep learning curve that we mentioned above comes an increased workload; and it’s common for children who excelled at primary school to find this a shock to the system. Where they may have been guilty of leaving homework to the last minute and coasting a bit at their old school, this won’t pass muster in their new environment: they could quickly fall behind. Help them as much as you can by setting up a homework planner and marking deadlines in it together with brightly-coloured pens. This, together with a clear routine and a quiet space to work in, will make a big difference. Consider purchasing a whiteboard and hanging this near their desk, too; they can use this to post reminders and create a to-do list, which will help them stay on track.
If your child doesn’t seem to settle, or is struggling with the work, don’t panic. It could be that they are taking things at their own pace and will make progress over time. If you’re still concerned about their work after a few weeks, talk to your son or daughter first to see if you can find out what the reason is; next, make an appointment to discuss matters with their subject teacher. Finally, do consider instructing the services of a tutor – an experienced tutor will focus not only on academic support but will also take time to build the student’s confidence and general sense of wellbeing.
Find out how Mentor can help you support you and your child whatever stage of the senior school journey you’re at. Get in touch today.
“For more than 35 years they have been helping students achieve places at the top London day and boarding schools.”