6 of the best ways to get off to a great start at secondary school

Secondary school physics
Your "baby" is starting Year 7 – but are you ready to be a secondary-school parent? We asked Parentkind’s Policy & Communications Director and mum of two Michelle Doyle Wildman to share her "big school" parent experiences and tips.

Whether your child has a year or days to go, the prospect of starting secondary school is charged with excitement – and perhaps a little trepidation. Undoubtedly it’s a big step and it’s never too soon (or late) to start preparing. 

Schools are increasingly mindful about this transitional phase, with teachers taking considerable time and care to ensure that children know what to expect and are equipped through student passports, school visits and try-out or induction days. Parents, clearly, also have a vital role in helping make this move as smooth as possible. However, as many of my fellow parents have observed, "I know Little Johnny will be fine, it’s me who needs an instruction manual!". So whether it’s coping with the emotions of seeing your child grow up or finding out how a new school community ticks, mums and dads also need to make some changes too.

Moving on from primary-school routines

We accompany our little darlings in and out of primary school while doubling as chauffeur, hairdresser, medic, beast of burden, coach, baker, etc.! And although it seems that five minutes after leaving Juniors our not-so-little darlings need to fend for themselves, many of our children want and are ready for more independence. And, as parents, we should go with it.

Parents may be surprised by how much they miss the buzz and comradery of the playground. However, your child going to secondary school need not mean the end of being involved in a school community.  Being linked in will ultimately help your child in the weeks and years ahead so do figure out what works for you  - whether that’s taking part in what the PTA has to offer, keeping in touch online or supporting extra-curricular activities. Although your offspring would die of embarrassment if you waited for them at the school gates after school, kids do seem proud if mum’s team beats the teachers’ table at the PTA Quiz night or dad is organising the BBQ at the school fair.

Of course, if your child has any health issues or specific needs, it is important to start talking to the school about this as early as possible. Provide staff with as much information as they need to build their understanding of your child and strong relationships from the off.

Secondary transition: 6 ways parents can help their children…

  1. Support them in becoming more independent. My son’s rite of passage went from solo trips to the letter box to the successful acquisition of the family supper from the local fish and chip shop.
  2. Show that you have confidence in them. Not every child will be worry free, so find the right time to talk anything through with them and agree that you will step in only if they need support.
  3. Practise the travelling-to-school drills. Many children will have to negotiate buses and trains on their own for the first time. Talking through some of the scenarios they may face, reminding them of how to keep safe and taking them on some dummy runs over the summer holidays is strongly advised. The strategic use of mobile phones can be particularly helpful here!
  4. Make time to support learning at home. Homework in Year 7 is a big step up so be on hand with some calm support. Be prepared to lend a hand on the infamous ‘build a model of…’ type tasks. Timely and gentle support from parents undoubtedly helps kids learn and flourish.
  5. Be patient and prepared for a few tears. Your pre-teen may be a bit tired and emotional at times, so they will need you to be at your most understanding and unruffled. They will also need you to provide a fully-stocked fridge!
  6. Create a homework station. Make sure your child can easily access a computer (and ideally a printer), digital camera and craft materials. After-school homework clubs can help kids get into the homework habit and provide helpful resources. Organise a space at home specifically for your child to focus on study and store their not-inconsiderable number of books.

Secondary transition: 6 ways parents can help themselves…

  1. Take a deep breath and let go! More often than not your child will stroll into their new school without a backward glance and as if they own the place!
  2. Build your new social network. Go to all the new-parent events to chat with your child’s form tutor, meet members of the parent association and swap notes with other parents. Their phone numbers and email addresses may come in handy when faced with homework confusion or lost property over the coming months. See if children going to the same school can meet during the holidays, to make friends and line up some everyday travel companions.
  3. Play your part in life at your new school. Being visible in school shows your child that you see education as important. Participating in a parent body such as the Parent Teacher Association is a way of meeting people, deepening your understanding of school life and making things better for your child and her peers.
  4. Build a bond with your child’s new school. Keep in touch online and take part in school consultations. Show your support at parent-teacher consultations, rugby matches or concerts – they probably won’t tell you, but your kids really appreciate this.
  5. Get organised. Parents can reduce the chance of a meltdown (theirs or their child’s) by putting time aside to rigorously fill out every form, arrange every payment, register for school communications, and sort out school uniform and other kit well in advance. Do seek out the school second-hand uniform shop for a few bargains, too.
  6. Keep well stocked. Label EVERYTHING and stock up on (the easily lost) house / locker keys, school ties, watches, protractors and water bottles. Another top tip is to encourage your child to pack their bag (themselves) every evening from day one, to help avoid breakfast-time panic.

You won’t believe how quickly you will all get used to big school. Good luck and enjoy the ride!

Michelle Doyle Wildman is Director of Policy and Communications at Parentkind (previously PTA UK), the leading membership organisation for parent bodies nationwide. Follow @Parentkind or like Parentkind on Facebook.