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 some 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) to follow soon.
The Main Differences Between Primary and Secondary School
Subjects and Settling into Secondary
- 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.
- Various extra-curricular activities such as debating, drama, science club etc 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 secondary school.
- The more exercise that students get the better. I did a little study of a panel of footballers I coached previously, and they performed better on average academically compared to those in their year. This is another reason to get active and stuck into clubs and sports.
- If your child enjoys a specific sport/club, it is a good idea to get to know the teacher who co-ordinates this.
- It will be exciting for your child to start new subjects – woodwork, home economics and metalwork 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 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.
- Advise your child to enjoy their secondary school experiences. This takes any early pressure off them.
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 discipline work.
- The Year Head – Home room teachers report to this person. They usually deal with serious discipline or pastoral care issues also.
- Deputy Principal and Principal – Admin, Organisation, Events, Final decisions etc.
- Students are usually divided into 4/5 groups of 25/30 (depending on the size of the school) with possible class names being: 1a, 1b., 1c, 1d, 1e. They stay with this base class for core subjects: Irish, English, Maths, Wellbeing etc. The majority of schools have mixed ability classes in first year. This helps 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 based from Information from their Education Passport from 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.
Day to Day School Routines
- It’s important to have a substantial breakfast each morning e.g. Porridge with fruit and yoghurt or a healthy 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 11am (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 is a bit scatty, make sure to advise and help them to be organised 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 has their own base. Movement may be reduced from now on. Having the correct materials for each class every day will be Important. Being good at this will greatly help the transition to secondary school.
- Moving around a new building can be disconcerting for a child. They can get lost and that’s 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 the new Junior Cycle. 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 1st 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 assessments. 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 a test.
- Try and bring them inside the school building before term starts. This is to familiarise students with the school at a time when there are fewer students in the building. They can learn about the layout of the school, get to know some of their new teachers and become familiar with the operation of the school including the frequency of bells, the location of lockers, where their base room and other key practical rooms are.
- Involve your child in buying schoolbooks, uniform, P.E. gear etc. Involve them in more decision making from now on. Empowerment works.
- Talk to your son/daughter about the length of the school day, how a timetable works and how they are going to travel to school. Trial runs are good. Leave early for school each morning to minimise this anxiety. 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 checking the school’s website for updates.
- Ensure as many of their subject teachers know about their exact strengths and difficulties. i.e. The information on their ‘Education Passport’.
- During the first term, if possible, visit the school every so often to meet their subject teachers, tutor, and year head. Always keep an eye on their journal for teachers’ notes.
- Get your hands on or draw up a map of the school to promote familarisation.
- Consider that it may take your child time to adapt to a new classroom, new activities, and new subjects. Ensure they build in down time each evening to maintain freshness and enthusiasm for the next set of challenges ahead. Unlike Primary School, every week differs.
- Organising Issues: Purchase materials for each subject. School booklists and stationary lists (from their website) are the first port of call here. The website theschoolrun.com is useful for an insight into each subject and Introductory worksheets.
- 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.
- Talk about and help clarify the Locker process. Many kids get bogged down with this.
- Advise them to use their mentor/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 Timetable and Calendar on the fridge at home as a family reminder to all.
- Encourage them to sign up to a few clubs and society’s on ‘club’s day’ in September.
- Re-enforce the Important habit of recording Information, especially in relation to homework. Check their Journal weekly to ensure homework is being recorded properly.
- Get the 3-way communication going i.e. Teachers-Parent-Student. In primary school, it was more about the Teacher-Parent link. Start including your child in more conversations as appropriate from now on. This allows them to be involved and take more ownership.
- Do as much preparation for the next school day the night before as you can. Get them 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.
- At secondary school, the days are longer. Encourage them to start their day with a healthy breakfast or give them some dried fruit or yoghurt to eat in the car if in a hurry.
Part 2 of Insights on transitioning into 1st Year will be published online in two weeks’ time. Don’t miss it. Do contact me if I can advise in any way. Click #JoesJotter for more. Joe
To view last weeks feature article on ‘Summer Nutrition suggestions for Students’, click here.
More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.