Family & Education

How to make the move to secondary school

Covid may have disrupted preparations for primary children but here are some tips on how to ease their path to the next stage of their education


Rear view of school teenage boy with face protective mask in front of the school

The past year has been a long journey through Covid and as we look forward to life being “back to normal”, year 6 is still on the journey with yet another change to come and all the feelings that brings with it.

Typically, the last year of primary school includes a range of milestones that mark the transition along the way. Sats, school visits, a residential, school play. This year some children have will have been denied the opportunity to physically go inside their new school.

While this rite of passage for children is a time of expected worries and uncertainty, this year is compounded by the added uncertainties and instabilities of Covid.

The average 11-year-old is an abundance of contradictions, moving between dependent child and wannabe teenager. Teachers we have spoken to describe children who are happy yet needy, who are excited but particularly anxious and who are grateful to be back at school but remain unsettled.

In year 6 we often see changes in children’s friendships as they begin to gravitate towards others going to the same secondary school. However, this year children are also negotiating the impact Covid has had on their friendships.

Lack of contact and online socialising have changed social groupings and children’s limited capacity to be together for long periods of time. Some teachers have described classmates behaving more like fractious siblings.

For parents, there is can be a tendency to get caught up in park meet- ups and flurries of WhatsApp chats in an attempt to shelter children from the discomfort of change. We all want our children to be settled and happy at school but we can’t circumvent this transition. There will be challenging times ahead but these experiences can build our children’s resiliency and capacity to manage adversity.

So how can parents and schools support year 6 now?

Friendships: help children understand that all friendships have ups and downs and change over time. Give strategies for maintaining contact and acknowledge that we can have multiple friendship groups.

Worries: normalise worries and help children understand that we all experience worries at times. When everything is changing, give a sense of security by keeping some activities, routines and rituals the same.

Opening up a dialogue: children need space to talk, think and share their feelings. You can begin a conversation with “I was wondering” or “I noticed”. Open-ended statements give children an invitation to think and process rather than feeling pressured to answer a direct question.

Power of positivity: teach children that life is filled with both good feelings and difficult feelings and that these can live side by side. While it is important to acknowledge and address difficult feelings, it is the ability to reframe situations in a positive light and focus on strengths that will help to buffer children against the challenges ahead.

Build confidence: talk about travel, homework, safety etc (which is also covered by Streetwise).

Process emotions: Heads Up Kids provides a social and emotional wellbeing programme for the whole class.

Patrick Moriarty, headteacher of JCoSS, says, “Children making the move to secondary school in 2021 — even more so than in 2020 — have had such disruption to their schooling and their childhood at a key developmental time and they and their families really need support and reassurance.”

The Heads Up Kids programme, he said, “looks a great way to provide it, and if the community’s secondary schools can echo the same language and approach when they arrive, that can only help them —+++ and us to make the transfer process smoother.”

Andy Hugh is co-founder of Heads Up Kids

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