Helping the transition to secondary school is of primary importance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am


My son is in Primary Six and is getting stressed about moving to secondary school. He already struggles to organise himself, and he's worried about having to go to lots of different classes and having more homework. He also worries that he won't be with his friends.

The transition from primary to secondary school is a big change for students. The demands on your son's organisational skills will certainly be higher in secondary school because he will be working with a more complicated timetable, dealing with a range of different teachers and moving from room to room for different classes. It is important that he prepares himself for this.

Most secondary schools have significantly improved their transition programmes in recent decades. Compare this with the current adult generation - many of whom had never set foot in their new secondary school before being thrown into the lion's den on the first day. These days, pupils often have more than one visit to their new school to experience the structure of the day and get used to the new expectations. Sometimes they attend talks by former students on difficulties they had when entering secondary school and how those can be avoided or at least be prepared for. There is also a good deal more liaison between primary and secondary teachers, sharing detailed information about students so they can receive extra support if necessary, whether academically, socially or emotionally.

Although children lose the security of having one main teacher, most secondary schools have developed good pastoral systems, and pupils often have a home room or tutor group teacher with whom they have contact most days.

The next couple of years are crucial for your son socially. Identification with peers is very important for boys around the age of 12 or 13. (For girls, this crucial age tends to be even younger.) Moving to secondary school is a great opportunity for your son to meet new friends from different schools, as well as keeping in contact with his primary school friends if he chooses. The close friendships he develops in the first years of secondary school will possibly be for life.

The next three years, as your son makes the transition from child to young man, is a time when he will need your support. Try to make family life stable and happy. Make sure he knows that you are there and try to remain connected to him. Boys going through pre-puberty or puberty have a great need for love and support even if they are not verbal or open about it.

The key skills that your son needs to develop are responsibility and independence. It is vital that he understands the reason he needs these skills and the importance of making a good first impression in a school he may be attending for the next seven years. Make it clear that it will be frustrating for him and his teachers if he constantly forgets to hand in homework or carry to school the items he needs.

It is vital that he avoids the negative impact that disorganisation would undoubtedly bring. Help him to develop a daily checklist for homework and items he needs. Have an easily accessible central area for storing textbooks and homework books that could be organised in various subjects.

Secondary schools tend not to pressure children with too much homework in first few weeks. Depending on the curriculum, it may not be as different as your son thinks. Some secondary schools are starting to follow a more inquiry-based curriculum, which follows more closely the structure and type of learning in some primary schools.

Children are surprisingly resilient. Although your son may initially struggle with organising himself, he may surprise you. By the end of year seven (or Form One), children usually feel comfortable in their new environment.

This school year should not be seen as a preparation for something else. Rather than worrying about the next stage of his life, help your son focus on enjoying his final year of primary school - his final year of real childhood. Soon he will be a small fish in a big pond, so help him enjoy and appreciate being a leader and role model of his current school, where the younger children look up to him. Make it a time that he will look back on with joy and satisfaction.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong