Making the transition to high school

The transition from primary to high school can, for some children, be a difficult one. Some will relish the idea of going to a ‘bigger big school’ but others will be more reticent. Regardless of whether your child is raring to go or not, the transition to high school still needs some management.

Year 6/7 children are caught in a sort of weird position – they are not quite children, yet not quite teenagers; they have the somewhat inauspicious title of ‘tween’. In Year 6 they are big fish in a small pond. They then become small guppies in what could be a sea of endlessly large and more experienced fish. They will go from having one desk in one classroom to any desk in possibly eight different classrooms, none of which has their name on it. From having one classroom teacher and perhaps a handful of specialist teachers to having perhaps eight to ten teachers and maybe even six in one day and each of those teachers probably have another 100 students to teach. The change is big, but manageable and perhaps just a little bit exciting too.

Yes, they are your baby and yes they’re now at high school (and yes you are now old enough to have a high school aged child!). It’s not like going to primary school for the first time where the mums are crying, the kids and crying and the teachers are trying to herd them all into the hall. Your child does not need to see you cry in public; they are a high school student now and no one wants to be the one whose mum cried on the first day. This is a happy time, a rite of passasge for children who are moving from one stage of their lives to the next, one which will take them to adulthood.


keepcalmKids get anxious and they can sense anxiety in a parent too. No matter how desperate your child is to be in Year 7, there will be a little bit of trepidation, a little bit of ‘what happens if…’ and a little bit of ‘where’s my Mum or Dad?’. You need to let your child know that this could be really good whilst at the same time acknowledging that it’s okay to be nervous. Everyone will be nervous. Don’t lie to them. Don’t tell them that this will be a fantastic experience, they’ll love it, they’ll make heaps of friends and all their teachers will be the most fantastic teachers on the planet because when that doesn’t happen, you’ve lied to them. Kids appreciate honesty from their parents and this is the time for it. Yes it could be fantastic but there will be times and days where, for a variety of reasons, it won’t be. Your child needs to know that regardless of this, high school is important and that you will be there to help and support them, but that you can’t do it for them.

Day 1 is not the day to pounce on the Year Coordinator, Head of House or their equivalent. If there is a reason that your son or daughter requires special attention then these people should know about it before the first day of school. Senior staff are very busy on these days and it’s quite possible that they won’t know who your child is at the end of the day. They have responsibility for perhaps 100 or more children depending on how the school allocates pastoral responsibilities. They will eventually know your child, probably within the first week, but not today. If you are desperate to know how your child is settling in, the first day or even the first week is not the time to ask. If you must, then send an email in a couple of weeks asking for feedback. Be aware that getting it will take time, things move slower at high school because of the sheer number of people involved. Pastoral care leaders will need to email teachers requesting feedback, teachers need to reply, those responses collated all of which has to happen while those collecting the information are teaching their own classes.

Please resist the temptation to ring your child’s phone during the day. It will inevitably ring during class time which will draw unnecessary attention to them and they’ll be embarrassed because their mum called to check on them. If you absolutely must, then send them a text at lunchtime just checking in and hoping that all is going well.

Students will need to adjust to a timetable which has them studying particular subjects at particular times on particular days. Many schools use a 10 day cycle with five or six classes per day. It’s important that they have the correct book and/or equipment for the right day and some will probably need help with this so you’ll need to keep track of ‘which day’ it is. If you have a monthly calendar think about writing the number of each week in the Monday box. For example the week commencing Monday 27th January might be week 1A and 2B might commence on Monday 3rd February. You should then be able to compare this to your child’s timetable. Many schools will have student portal access so they can look their timetables up online, but a back up copy on paper next to the calendar or on the fridge is a must as you’re getting into the routine.

Think about a special meal for dinner on the evening of their first day. It doesn’t have to be a big deal or at a restaurant, perhaps their favourite meal at home with everyone around the dinner table discussing the best things that happened that day. Asking ‘how was your day?’ will get you ‘fine’. Asking ‘can you tell me who you met today’ or ‘what was something cool you did today’ will more likely get you a response which is not monosyllabic.

Year 7 students want to be seen as more mature and independent than they were eight weeks ago, but really they are the same child in a different uniform. They still need to be hugged, to be kissed goodnight. They might need help to find the right socks, to pack their bag and haul their stuff to the car or bus stop. All of which will happen under the watchful eye of someone who loves them and who really is old enough to have a high school aged child.

Melissa is a married mum of two little boys aged 7 and 5, lovingly nicknamed The Minis. She has worked as a High School teacher for 17 years and spends her time playing with The Minis, wrangling teenagers and juggling all of this with her long suffering husband Mark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *