There are so many genuine concerns for students as they make the leap into the big pond that is secondary school. Over the next few weeks, I will provide Information and direction to help you as a parent to reduce the stress of this unique transition. This feature article comes in two parts. Firstly, i will analyse the differences between Primary and Secondary School followed by my Top twenty tips for Transitioning from one to the other. A further instalment of this feature will follow online in two weeks’ time. There will also be a feature article to aid Parents (of Secondary School students) who have children with a Special Educational Need (SEN) published soon.
The Main Differences Between Primary and Secondary School
Subjects and Settling into Secondary School
- All first year students will take Irish, English, Maths, Science, History and Wellbeing (excluding exemptions).
- Students may get a chance to sample subjects in first year before committing to them.
- Extra-curricular activities such as debating, drama, science club etc may be available.
- It is a great idea for students to join clubs and make new friends. Remind them about some of the skills of making friends; good eye-contact, smiling, showing interest in other children and reciprocal conversational skills. Making friends is a key element to settling into any secondary school.
- Encourage your child to enjoy many school activities. I did a study of a panel of footballers I coached previously, and they performed better on average academically compared to their peers. This suggests a link between activity, socialisation, and performance.
- If your child enjoys a specific sport or activity, it is a good idea to get to know the teacher who co-ordinates it.
- It will be exciting for your child to start new subjects if the school offers them. For example: wood technology, home economics, engineering, business studies etc.
- Students should give each subject an equal amount of homework time for the first few weeks to give each one a chance.
- It is wise for students to complete the homework of their less favoured subjects first each evening. This will ensure their concentration is at its maximum for these subjects.
- The better your child’s teachers know them, the better working relationship in class they will have with them. This also feeds back into what extra-curricular activities they sign up to. Personally, I find that the better I know my students, the more I am able to help them in the classroom. Encourage your child to build positive relationships with their teachers, even if they aren’t crazy about their personality or teaching style.
- Advise your child to enjoy their secondary school experiences. This takes any early pressure off them.
The Secondary School Structure
- The Subject Teacher – most teachers teach two subjects and may spend up to six classes per week with your child.
- The Tutor/Form/Home Room Teacher – involved in attendance, day to day and possibly some pastoral care or disciplinary work.
- The Year Head – Home room teachers report to this person. They usually deal with serious discipline and pastoral care issues etc.
- Deputy Principal and Principal – Admin, School Organisation, Events, Final decisions etc.
- First Year Students – Students are usually divided into 4 or 5 class groups of around 25 to 30 people (depending on the size of the school). They will remain with this base class for core subjects: Irish, English, Maths, Wellbeing etc. The majority of schools have mixed ability classes in first year. This tends to help with socialisation.
‘Mixed-ability groupings in first Year leads to improved progress in literacy and numeracy and can give students more confidence as learners’
(Moving Up -ESRI/NCCA 2004).
- Students are usually mixed in their base classes based on Information from their Education Passport (provided by their primary school) and performance in their entrance tests.
- Streaming may occur in some subjects in second year. This is where students are grouped by their ability – Higher and Ordinary. e.g. Maths
- The student council body suggests ideas and raises student related issues with school management. Usually one student is nominated from each class or year. This is the students’ vehicle for discussion and influencing change. The schools’ head girl/boy and deputy head girl/boy are usually elected by the school’s student council.
The Day to Day School Routines
- It’s important for students to have a substantial breakfast each morning e.g. Porridge, fruit, yoghurt, or a wholesome cereal. Students will need something ample to sustain them until little break when they can have a snack. Advise them on the sensibility of not eating their packed lunch at the first small break and being hungry for the afternoon then as a result.
- Roll call, locker access and lunch are at certain times. If your child tends to be dis-organised, make sure to advise and help them to plan ahead for these situations. Ask them to speak to their class tutor or mentor/buddy if any early issues emerge here.
- Get them to copy out their timetable into their journal in order to get familiar with it. Colour coding subjects on this timetable can help them track their progress for the week.
- In some schools, the students travel to the teacher’s base rooms. In other schools, the teachers move around, and each class group has their own base. Having the correct materials for each class every day is Important. Checklists can help here. Being efficient at having these materials will greatly help the transition into secondary school and keep your child’s stress levels down. Colour coding or identifying belongings with a unique mark also works well.
- Moving around a new building can be disconcerting for a child. They can get lost which can be upsetting for them. Advise them to tag on to one person from the class for the first few days or weeks until they get their bearings.
- Many schools have gone to hour long classes to facilitate recent Junior Cycle changes. During the first few weeks settling in, they will be tired each evening. It may be an idea to plan ahead so that extra-curricular activities outside school are minimised during this period. After this ‘fitting in’ period is over, plough on with these important pastimes as normal.
Twenty ACE Tips for Transitioning into First Year
- Talk with your child, listen to their views and concerns and answer any questions they may have about the planned move. Talk to them about individual subjects. Help them plan their evenings and the fact that each one will now be different.
- Many students get anxious about tests. You can explain that they are to help the school to learn more about the supports that they may need. Advise them to speak with the individual subject teacher if they are concerned in any way about a subject or an upcoming test.
- Try and bring them inside the school building before term starts. This is to familiarise them with the school at a time when there are fewer people in the building. They can learn about the layout of the school and maybe get to know some of their new teachers. They can become familiar with the operation of the school including the frequency of bells, the location of lockers, where their base room is, and the location of other key practical rooms.
- Involve your child in buying schoolbooks, uniform, P.E. gear, materials etc. Involve them in more decision making from now on. Empowerment fosters ‘buy in’ from them and works.
- Talk to your child about the length of the school day, how a timetable works and travelling to school. Trial runs are good. Leaving early for school each morning will minimise any anxiety caused by rushing. Anticipate where they may get anxious during the day.
- Talk regularly over the next few weeks about the new school rules, P.E. arrangements, the canteen, lunch breaks, uniform, and the timetable. Make yourself familiar with the policies of the school. Regularly check the school’s website for any news or policy updates.
- Ensure that as many of their subject teachers know about your child’s exact strengths and difficulties. i.e. Some of this information is on their ‘Education Passport’.
- During term one, if possible, visit the school every so often to meet their subject teachers, the tutor, and their year head. Check their journals regularly for any notes sent home.
- Get your hands on or draw up a map of the school to promote familiarisation.
- Consider that it may take your child time to adapt to a new classroom, new teachers, new activities, and new subjects. Ensure they build in down time each evening to maintain freshness and enthusiasm for the next set of daily challenges ahead. Unlike Primary School, every week differs, and things can be more unpredictable for them.
- Organising Issues: Be sure to plan ahead by purchasing additional materials for each subject. School booklists and stationary lists are your first port of call here.
- If possible, show them a few little skills around note-taking. Most of their subject teachers may not get the opportunity to work on this vital skill due to the focus mainly being on content.
- Talk about and help clarify the Locker process. Many kids get bogged down with this.
- Advise them to use their mentor or buddy, and class tutor as best they can.
- Getting clever at knowing what equipment is required for each class is important: i.e. protractors, setsquares, colours, stencil sets, rulers, pens, calculators etc. A good tip is to remind them to write down each teachers’ instructions during week one about what is required in each subject. There is no need to carry all of their books all of the time. Put their Class Timetable and School Calendar on the fridge at home as a reminder to all.
- Encourage them to sign up to a few clubs and society’s on ‘club’s day’ in September.
- Re-enforce the key habit of recording Information, especially in relation to homework. Check their Journal weekly to ensure homework is being recorded and completed properly.
- Get the 3-way communication lines going i.e. Teachers-Parent-Student. In primary school, it was more about the Teacher-Parent link. Start including your child in more appropriate conversations from now on. This allows them to feel more important and take more ownership of their school day, and ultimately their learning.
- Do as much preparation for each school day the night before as you can. Get your child into the habit of having the uniform out, bag correctly packed by the door, lunch ready etc. This again will reduce stress levels for all involved in the morning madness. Again, consider using a checklist with your child if they struggle to organise themselves in the mornings.
- At secondary school, the days tend to be longer. Encourage them to start their day with nutritious food. They should grab something and eat it in the car on hectic mornings. Of course, this isn’t ideal but is certainly better than going without as another busy day starts for them.
To view last week’s feature article on ‘Anticipating Better Revision for 2022/23’, click here.
Part 2 of transitioning Insights into First Year will be published online in two weeks’ time. Don’t miss it. Do contact me if I can advise you in any way. Joe
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