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Settling in at secondary school

Tips from Jill Carter and Christine Jenkins

Amidst all the new routines and glaring lights of transition to secondary school, sits the concept of learning. Here is some advice on the ways in which learning differs at secondary school and how you can navigate these new waters.

Homework overload

In the first few weeks my son was at secondary, every evening felt like an intellectual tidal wave. Then, it gradually ebbed away to a manageable level and we fell into a routine.

Keep track of the amount of time it is taking and let the teachers know if your child is spending hours on something which is meant to be a twenty minute piece. Avoid doing their work for them, but do support them with questions and information which could lead them in the right direction. We all learn by being told or shown how to do something and this is not the same as doing it for them. Provide a drink and a snack before they knuckle down, and allow music which, for some learners, supports concentration and creativity.

Your child may be issued a homework planner to keep track of their work. You can use this to write any comments or notes that it would be useful for your child’s teacher to know. A note about a bereavement or illness, for example, which a child can show discreetly to a teacher, may prove very useful if the teacher is about to set a detention for failing to hand homework in! Teachers value this kind of information from parents too.

Lots of teachers

Your child is unlikely to have the same teacher for more than a year in certain subjects. The likelihood is that they will be exposed to different teaching styles and, although this can be very positive, it can also mean that you feel there is a lack of continuity. However, complaining that your child doesn’t have Mr Jones any more is unhelpful – no school is going to rehash the timetable for you. Point out that Mrs Smith is no better or worse, just different, and that learning is not all about whether you love the teacher or not!

In some non-core subjects, your child will have a large number of classes and they may say, 'I don’t think she even knows who I am'. If you taught 250 kids for an hour a week, you might struggle to know every child well! Try to familiarise yourself with the way that subjects work and be mindful of this. If your child only has DT once a week, they are unlikely to have produced a coffee table in a fortnight.

A different curriculum

The secondary school curriculum is not necessarily as accessible to parents as the primary school curriculum. At primary school, your child might say they are doing the Tudors and you would probably have some idea straight away of the sorts of things they are likely to be doing and how to support this theme (local castle this weekend and lots of talk of beheaded wives over supper!). This will not necessarily be the case post-11.

You may have to comb the school website or email subject leaders directly to find out what your child is studying and when. Try to establish the general thread (for example, ‘We’re reading Gerald Durrell’) and then search the internet.

Getting organised

With lots of new subjects and new teachers, keeping all their work organised can be a challenge for your child. You can help by giving them coloured folders to keep the work for each subject together, and encouraging them to check off what they need every day against their timetable. Ensure they pack their bag the night before – but don’t be tempted to do it for them! Teach them how to put a reminder in their phone for anything extra to remember.

You could also buy a key ring with stretchy chain to attach to their bag, to avoid lost locker/door keys, and make sure there is secure place for their bus pass/canteen pass, as well as any emergency money. Talk through any other needs with your child, and make sure they have everything they need to keep organised and ready to learn.

Making friends

Remind your child that everyone is in the same boat when they start. Talk to them about ways to initiate conversation if they find this difficult, and remember that friendships take time to develop – don’t panic if they haven’t made a friend immediately. You could encourage your child to join clubs and become more involved in school life to boost their confidence. This can also be a good way to make friends with pupils in other forms and year groups.