Starting Secondary School

The move to secondary school means a number of major changes for all children.

Most children will cope with these and feel accustomed to the changes by the end of the first couple of weeks. In contrast the child with living and learning difficulties may take 2-3 terms to learn to navigate his way around the school and may require ongoing support throughout his school days to allow him to fully access the curriculum.

If there has been little preparation for the huge changes that occur between primary and secondary school, this leaves the child floundering and results in difficulties for the child to access the curriculum and makes it much harder for him to make friends. The first few weeks are crucial in developing the new peer group and poor preparation can result in lasting damage throughout the secondary school days.

Initial enthusiasm to support the child may disappear when there is an underlying feeling that the child should be able to go it alone. “How many times should he be shown, can’t he understand it by now, I am not going to mother him any longer” – phrases that have been uttered from time to time. However an analogy could be to consider how one would support a person with visual impairment with a white stick – we would not consider taking the stick away from him after a few weeks because he should have mastered his way around and shouldn’t need it any longer!  However a child with less obvious difficulties does not have a ‘marker’ highlighting his difficulties, so is often seen as lazy, stupid or not really trying as hard as he could.

Encourage independence

Is your child going to have to take a bus to school? If so, and they’re not used to doing this, have a few practice sessions in the year leading up to school. Make the first go on a Sunday or at a quiet time of the day. The school bus can be a scary place, especially when you’re 11 and some of the other students are almost grown-up. Ensure your child knows to let you, the bus driver and teachers know if any bullying occurs.

Setting boundaries

With Secondary school comes more responsibility and, in many cases, greater independence. Your child may walk to school alone, or want to meet their new friends for parties.Rather than waiting for a row to happen, why not sit down with your child and decide on the ground rules; think curfews, parties, and dating... It's worth asking their opinion first, as they might already have very realistic expectations. If you have wildly different views, it's better to get them out in the open and discuss them, rather than slamming doors and stomping feet on the night of a big social event!Agree on boundaries with your childAs a parent, you have to remember that your child is growing up and they aren't the same little baby they used to be. You need to be able to give them space to spread their wings whilst also keeping them safe. Before you sit down to discuss, think about what you and your partner expect and where you might be willing to compromise - it will make it easier when you are sitting around the table with your child.Letting them speak first will also give them a sense that you are willing to listen to what they have to say; it's also key that when you disagree you have reason to back up why you believe you are acting in their best interest. Model good, positive problem solving; confrontation often results in stalemate.

Information and communication

Get to grips with the curriculum as much as you can. We know it can seem like a long way off, but familiarise yourself with the requirements for completing school successfully. Knowing the process means you can keep an eye on progress, and if things are going off track - you'll know.Find out if the school has a website where dates and events are listed. Check this regularly, as information will not always be forthcoming from your child. It will also help you to establish term dates, holidays, exam periods, and so on.Keep the lines of communication open with your child's teachers. Don't expect them to know as much about your child as their primary school teacher did - they don't spend as much time with them. Don't prejudge the teacher based on stories from other parents; make your own judgements and when situations arise, work with your child's teachers to provide the best support network you can.You must also keep the lines of communication open with your child. Try not to interrogate them, but show an interest in what they are doing. Don't pry, but encourage them to share both what they are doing and how they are feeling. Remember what it was like to be a teenager and support them.

Helping the transition from Primary to Secondary school

Visit the school in advance. As a parent, it's up to you to insist that you both attend orientation events.
Maintaining friendships and making new friends.
Homework and time management.
Setting boundaries

Help your child become more responsible

Your child will have to organise him or herself far more than in primary school. They may have a two-week timetable, so you can’t rely on the fact that ‘Thursday is games day’. In the final year of primary, help your child become more responsible for their PE kit, homework and books, so they’re prepared when it comes to secondary school. Get them into the habit of getting their bags ready the night before, especially if they have to leave early to catch a bus, train or get a lift. Have a homework and activity schedule on the wall, which they can use to help them.

Use the school’s website

Take a good look around the new school’s website and encourage your child to do the same. Try to find out about the unfamiliar – the school layout, how they go about getting a locker, do they have prepaid swipe cards for the canteen? Arrange a chat with an older child already at the school if they don’t know any.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones probably weren't around when you were a child at Secondary school (how old does that make you feel?), but there are benefits to your child having one; just make sure you know the school rules about mobiles as each school has their own policy.Set the ground rules for usage and who is paying the bill so that you don't get any nasty surprises, but also let your child know that in an emergency you'll always be at the other end of the line. For the first few days make sure you are available if they call, and send them an encouraging text or two. Don't bombard them with messages or call them - they should be in class - but be supportive and remind them you're there if they need you.Check the school's mobile phone policyRemind your child that a phone should not be used in lessons, and that they should keep it in their bag when they are taking public transport. Remember, you want them to feel safe - not afraid - so limit the horror stories, but make sure you're sending off a street smart student!

Talk about the changes with your child well in advance

Ask your child what they are looking forward to, what they will miss about their old school and what they are worried about at secondary school. Then you have plenty of time to work out strategies and talk through any issues.

Talk about new school nerves

“It can be quite a transition from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond,” says parenting expert Sue.“I have seen a really confident child become very shy because they found the first year so hard. Talk to them about how you felt when you started somewhere new – let them know it is normal to be nervous. Encourage them to ask if they can’t find their way round, or don’t know how to do something – don’t suffer in silence. And assure them that although other people may look and sound very confident, they may well be just as nervous underneath all the bravado.”

Prepare yourself as a parent

Finally, prepare yourself. “I didn’t realise how hard it would be having so little contact with the school,” says mum Mel, from Buckinghamshire. “You don’t see their friends, you don’t know their teachers and you rely on them bringing home notes and messages. It is a big change for mums too!”“Teachers are very conscious that the transition from primary school to secondary is a major step. Staff are aware that the prime objectives for parents are that their children are safe, happy and will develop both academically and socially. This may not happen immediately but if parents take every opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new setting such as attending open evenings, induction events, they can short-circuit many of their concerns.


Encourage your child to sit in the middle of the class, facing the teacher. Help your child to Colour code the timetable and files to help them to recognise which are needed for each day.
Use a see-through pencil case to help your child find their pens and pencils more easily. A backpack is easier to carry than a single strap and promotes good posture and balance.
Any written information such as a timetable, handout or textbook needs to be kept simple. A card could be used to block out information in a textbook. If recording information in a timely way is challenging, ask the teaching staff if homework or other information may be given as printed sheets to support your child or if the child may use a Dictaphone.

Your child may have already learned keyboard skills at primary school. If so, you should talk to the teachers at your child’s secondary school to ensure that suitable equipment will be available for your child.

Supporting school transitions

Resources to help pupils, schools, parents and carers to cope with the changes and transitions they experience during their time at school.

Social Media & Mental Health

A hub of advice to help your family navigate the risks and rewards that social media can bring.

Urgent help for mental health

NHS urgent mental health helplines are for people of all ages.You can call for:24-hour advice and support – for you, your child, your parent or someone you care for help to speak to a mental health professional an assessment to help decide on the best course of care

Youth Unity also run a range of transition workshops in school across London and the Home Counties, if you are a school and you would like to know more please get in touch.

If you require advice or general information please get in touch

Youth Unity work in strict confidence to offer impartial advice and signpost 

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