Managing the move to secondary school
The move to secondary school brings new opportunities but can often feel daunting for both parents and children. There are things you can do now and once they start to make your child’s transition to their next school as smooth as possible.
Be as positive as you can about your child’s move to secondary school. If you are anxious, it can rub off on them. People say things to us like “I can’t see him coping in a big school…” but nearly all children cope and most flourish. Things may actually be better at secondary than primary for some children with additional needs. Big schools bring new opportunities. More teachers and more subjects mean more chances to find someone or something you like. More kids means more chances to make friends, and more activities and clubs. Your child may enjoy feeling more grown up and independent. And all local schools have experience of supporting a range of children with special needs and disabilities. They may not always get it right but most things are fixable.
Make a list with your child of the things they are looking forward to about the new school. This will help both of you to feel excitement as well as nerves.
Make sure some things in your child’s life stay the same like an activity or group they already enjoy and keeping in touch with old friends.
Use the last term at primary to prepare
Find out as much as you can about their new school. Does anyone you know already have a child at the school? If so, ask them for more information. Ask for copies of the timetable and find out how it works. Get copies of the lunch menu and be clear about lunch options and processes. What clubs and activities do they normally run? Can you find out the names of their teachers or form teachers?
Make contact with the Special Educational Needs / Learning Support team before the end of term. Write down what they should know about your child (strengths, interests, medical information, other professionals involved, what’s worked for them in the past). Take a list of questions and check the arrangements for your child’s support. Make sure they have a copy of your child’s current SEN Support or EHC plan. Ask if there is a quiet room or a supervised room that your child can go to at break times if the playground is going to be a challenge.
Arrange extra settling in visits if necessary. Typically, a teacher from the secondary school visits the primary to meet and find out about the children, some paperwork is sent on and the children make a visit or two. If this isn’t enough for your child, you could arrange extra visits. This will help them to adjust to the move.
Deal with your child’s worries
Find subtle ways of checking what (if anything) your child is worried about and try to deal with these worries beforehand. These are some typical worries that they may have:
- There’ll be lots of new people and will I make friends? Let your child know that everyone will feel like this. Try to meet up over the summer with at least one other child going to their school. Help them choose a club or activity they could join at the new school and make sure they do this. It’s a good way to find children they have something in common with.
- Will I get lost? Remind them that they will usually be going with a group and can follow others till they learn the way. If you know they will find it hard, arrange an extra walk around the school with them before the end of the summer term.
- Will I be able to keep up with the work? Talk about how they have managed before. Point out that they will have new subjects but that doesn’t mean the work will be any harder than in Year 6. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it and make sure they know who to ask.
- Will there be lots of homework? Most schools ease children into homework gradually. They will usually be given a homework diary to fill in during class when homework is set and many schools now also have online portals where you and your child can check what homework needs to be done and when. Ask the schools about this beforehand so you can see how it works. You could also plan to find someone else in their group they can ring to ask if they haven’t managed to get it all written down in class. Plan where and when they will do their homework. If your child will not do school work at home, ask if they have somewhere in school for children to stay later to complete their homework.
- Will I get bullied? Most children don’t of course, but talk about what to do if it does happen. Our fact sheet on bullying has more advice on this and see the ‘Ask about’ section below for helpful resources or organisations.
Use the summer holidays well
Buy the uniform early. Get your child to try it on. Check for things that need practice like buttons or a tie. If your child has sensory issues they may be more comfortable if you wash it and sort out scratchy labels. Get their school shoes in time to wear them and get them comfortable.
Make sure they have all the equipment they will need – a big enough bag, all the right PE kit, stationery and other equipment. Involve your child in this so they feel things are ready.
Casually mention things like how the day will be different at the new school. Give your child opportunities to talk or ask questions but don’t force it. For some children it will help to look at pictures or rehearse how things will work. Maybe look at the school website together. Use the strategies that have helped in the past like visual timetables or social stories.
Practice the journey to school as often as you need to, including getting them to do it alone with you shadowing at a distance if they will be travelling independently. Rehearse dealing with a problem – what should they do if they miss the bus?
Make sure you and they know the system for school dinners and when they can use the toilet.
Get into the right routine in plenty of time so they won’t be overtired during their first week.
The first few days
Pack a transitional object – having something they can carry around at school that is a link with home helps some children. It needs to be something discreet that they can tuck in a pocket or bag. Choose it together beforehand and talk about how they can use it.
Be ready for your child to be tired, grumpy or emotional.They are coping with lots of new things and new people so keep home safe and predictable. Make their favourite tea. Allow some childish or clingy behaviour.
Get a copy of their timetable before they lose it. Stick it up on the fridge or somewhere obvious and use it to work out with them what they need each day. Get things ready the night before
Help them get into a good homework routine from the start.
Allow time to unwind – sensible bed times and good food all help too and, for some children, a chance to let off steam with physical activity.
Plan something nice with them to do on the first weekend after they start.
Keep an eye on how they seem to be coping. Be available to talk. Ask interested questions but don’t turn it into an interrogation. Listen at a time and place that suits them. If they do express anxieties try to help them problem solve rather than jumping in with answers. They will know they are at big school now and may want a chance to sort things out without your help.
Look after yourself so you can support your child. It will help your peace of mind to be clear about factual information, your child’s rights and so on. Get the contact arrangements with the new school clear, as it will not be so easy to pop in as at primary school. Email is often a good way to communicate with secondary school staff.
Make sure you have someone you can talk to about your concerns. We all have worries and if we don’t want them to rub off on our children it helps to talk them over with someone else.
Further advice and information
SENDIASS: If you have any further queries or worries about your child’s transition to secondary school you can contact our SENDIASS service for advice. Email: email@example.com or call 01273 772289. We also run regular SENDIASS workshops on topics including SEN support, EHC assessments, Annual Reviews and Preparing for Adulthood.
YoungMinds: School Resources to Help With Transitions | Mental Health resources and videos for parent carers and young people
Moving Up! The transition to secondary school animation – for children and young people https://youtu.be/thnoUraeoGs
Safety Net – services in Brighton and Hove and a website for young people with advice and tips to help them feel safe and confident https://mysafetynet.org.uk/