Starting Secondary: Year 7 tips from a teacher on graduating to big school
Welcoming my Year 7 tutor groups was one of the biggest privileges of my teaching career. I watched each and every child like a hawk on their induction day and first days, scanning their faces and listening to the intonation in their voice to detect exactly how they were feeling. I am sure as parents you do exactly the same when they come home. I filed away every scrap of info parents gave me in our brief chats too, eager to help each child find their place.
Secondary teachers might seem strict, some fall into the ‘don’t smile ’til Christmas’ brigade, but on the whole, teachers just want to create an orderly learning environment where we can tune into your children’s minds and truly help them grow. Working with parents to achieve this is crucial. When the parent, teacher and pupil triangle is in full flow, you get the best learning.
So as an ex Year 7 tutor, what advice would I give to parents? What do teachers really want you to know, what can you help with, what shouldn’t you worry about? These are my Year 7 tips.
Schools have changed a lot since I was at school. I now have my own children approaching secondary school. So many of the silly rumours that circulated before I started Year 7 - or first year as it was then - about people flushing heads down toilets turned out to be nothing more than that, rumours.
Schools have even stronger positive behaviour and anti-bullying policies these days, but children do seem to worry about things that will never happen while forgetting to get excited about all the amazing, exciting, thrilling things that definitely will happen! So if you can, try and focus them on the fun stuff by looking at the school website or prospectus together, and talk through any fears, without making them feel silly for worrying of course.
Remind them that it’s a new start for everyone. No matter how confident they might seem on the outside, inside everyone is a little nervous and will find change tiring in their own way. Whether it’s navigating teacher personalities, making friends, not getting lost or keeping up with homework, all children have worries. Little things like trying on uniform, practising tying a tie and walking the new route to school can help to overcome nerves.
Encourage your child to join in with extra curricular activities and to be open to new friendships too. Everyone in Year 7 is new to the school, not everyone knows everyone and many of the activities are new to everyone. Year 7 is a great time to widen your friendship circle, try something different, or to build confidence by developing an interest from primary school.
Let them know it is okay to be themselves. Suddenly they are in a much bigger year group, but you can guarantee that there are all kinds of personalities and skills across that year and over time all children learn what it is that inspires them, makes them shine and makes them happiest. We’re all different.
Supporting your Year 7 child with organisation is the biggest gift you can give them. Suddenly they have to go from one classroom to many. Take time to look at the map of the school with them and ask them to point out where their classes are. You could walk through a day and get them to show how they move from class to class on a map.
Packing the right equipment each day is challenging at first. It can be very tempting to pack everything so nothing gets forgotten, but this makes their bag very heavy and doesn’t teach organisation skills. A timetable stuck on the fridge can be a useful prompt to help your child learn to be organised. Try just to supervise this bit, and resist the urge do it for them. They need to learn to do it for themselves. As well as a timetable perhaps consider a small day of the week whiteboard with a list of what they need to remember each day - this way they can add reminders for extra things that crop up too.
Having space to store all their books and equipment and a desk area with supplies for doing homework is an essential Year 7 tip. Personalising a new desk area can be fun preparation too. Getting your child into a good morning and evening routine around emptying and repacking bags really help to ensure that letters, cookery ingredients, sports kit etc are always ready to go. Soon enough they will do it themselves, they all get there eventually.
Just as school rewards children for their effort and achievement, children feel all their hard work is being noticed when parents reward them too. A first day, first week, first half term treat doesn’t have to be expensive, but can go a long way to encouraging a smooth and successful transition.
Adapting from one class teacher to subject-specific teachers is a big jump. Suddenly your child will have lots of personalities to understand, rather than just one. We all manage our classrooms in very different ways, drama classrooms need different rules to science labs, and that can be a lot to take on in the first few weeks. Chances are the teacher your child hates in week one, will be the teacher they never ever want to forget by the time they leave. All teachers are human, give us a chance! Talking through strategies for managing different people and situations can really help children to form positive relationships with their new teachers.
Don't be afraid to talk to us. We know you are the experts on your child, and that working together is incredibly powerful and gets the best results. Whenever I had time I liked to call home to tell parents about children I’d ‘caught’ being good or those who I couldn’t seem to motivate - this always helped us move on quickly! When parents of special needs children took the time to relay helpful strategies I always paid close attention. Teachers may be time poor, but they know how much time a little parental input can save in forming good classroom relationships in the long run.
Sometimes teachers can be hard to contact, so email addresses can be the most efficient way to communicate. Form tutors see your child at the start and end of every day and will be experts and spotting changes in behaviour and will hear about issues that crop up in other lessons. Classroom teachers can help with concerns in a particular lesson, and Subject Leaders are also great contacts for subject-specific issues. Heads of Year have dedicated time each day to manage issues that arise for their year group. There are lots of people who can help.
Secondary school can feel harder to get involved with as a parent than primary, but there are still opportunities to contribute and have fun. Parental involvement in children’s education from an early age has a significant effect on educational achievement and continues to do so into adolescence and adulthood. Ask about opportunities to volunteer, from sport to drama, to trips, to PTA and governors, there are always skills schools need.
The first few weeks are the hardest, but research shows most children have shifted towards positive terms to describe their feelings about transition by a couple of weeks in. If your child still seems unsettled by half term, have a chat about strategies to help them settle with their form tutor or head of year.
Wishing you well with your transition! If you have any Year 7 tips for managing the transition from primary school secondary school, please let us know in a comment below!