Starting secondary school: hacks from those who have made the move

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There’s one thing I wish I had been warned before I started secondary school: Take care in the farmyard. My school, you see, was very rare in that it taught rural studies and had its own farm.

During one of the breaks on the first day, I went for a walk in the farmyard with a couple of my new classmates. Without realising what I was doing, I walked into an ankle-deep gulley that was full of animal slurry. I somehow managed to clean most of it off so the other kids in my class didn’t notice.

Dealing with my mother, however, was a different story. She was not impressed when I returned home after that first day with the little holes in my brand-new brogue shoes filled with manure (yes, brogues, style-wise I was clearly ahead of my time).  

Advising children and parents about the transition to high school

I tell you that story because there are all sorts of things that us adults feel we should tell children before they start school. Being told to take care on the school farm would have been very useful. It would also have been great if someone has told me the “blue fish” rumour was utter rubbish.

Did you have the “blue fish” thing at your school? It was a rumour that seemed to go round many schools in my youth. If you’re not familiar with it, it went like this: An older kid asks a new kid if they’ve ever seen a blue fish. If they younger kid says “no” their head gets flushed down the toilet. It was total rubbish, but it was deeply unhelpful and left most of us new kids utterly terrified of our older peers.

This is the first in a series of articles I plan to produce on what parents and Year 7 pupils need to know about the move to high school (plus parents facing one or two other school transition scenarios). In weeks to come I will be speaking to various experts about this.

On this occasion, I’m taking a different approach. I’ve reached out to some family friends and spoken to some youngsters about what they think mums, dads, carers and incoming Year 7s need to know. These opinions come from youngsters who recently made the move themselves to a sixth former who has some very detailed insights. Have a read as I am sure you’ll find it insightful.

Phoebe, Year 9

Phoebe explained what she thinks parents need to consider:

“Parents need to have a ton of good school supplies, even ones that are not on the ‘necessary equipment list’ because there was no glue on the equipment list but then lots of people got detentions for not bringing any.

“Also, if you’re forgetful you’re in for a lot of detentions. If you forget your book or a piece of equipment you get a detention so it might be good for parents to remind the kid to check they have the right books for the next day. I would also say that parents should only pick up their child from school if they can’t access public transport because in my school the car park is always full.

“Another thing is that after the first day of school, they might have been given a map of the school as it will probably be much bigger than they are used to. If they could go over where they need to go for their lessons that might be useful”

For Year 7 pupils who are starting secondary school this September, Phoebe had the following tips:

“If there is a week before school starts for Year 7s to get used to the school, I would recommend going. Lots of people make new friends in that week and if you don’t go to it, every body already has at least one friend to hang out with or even a group but you’re just there knowing no one. Also, they should try to memorise their timetable.”

Alex, Year 8

Alex suggested Year 7 pupils should keep the following in mind:

“If I could have spoken to myself two years ago when I was in year six, I would tell myself: ‘Not to worry, at the end of the first week you will feel like you’ve been there for years.’ I tend to worry quite a lot. Honestly, don’t worry because it’s not worth it.

“I found it helpful walking the route to school. Familiarise yourself with the route. When you start your first day at secondary school, try and talk to other people to make friends. Everybody is in the same boat you might even make friends for life.”

My top five tips:

  • Don’t worry it’ll be fine
  • Walk the route to school a few times
  • Make friends
  • If you are worrying, talk to family they might be able to sort things out
  • Have fun!!!!!!

Jess, Year 10

Jess had the following tips for parents:

“Try to make sure your child has everything they need and maybe help them pack their bag for the first week because their mind will be all over the place. They will probably have trouble thinking what to bring. Also, if they have everything they need, it’s one less thing to stress about.”

For incoming Year 7 pupils, Jess had the following to say about starting secondary school:

“The main thing to know is that going to secondary school is not as daunting as you think it’ll be. I know it seems like a lot, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it and you’ll soon feel like you’ve been there forever.

“Although it may be sad leaving behind your old school, going to secondary school is an upgrade, trust me! There are so many more lessons you learn and there’s more choice of what you have for lunch. You soon begin to realise you were probably starting to outgrow primary school anyway. 

“There are going to be a lot of people but, in my opinion, that’s actually a positive because there are more people to mingle with. Something I’ve learnt is that friendship groups are forever changing. You almost definitely won’t have the same friend group when you leave as when you join and that’s ok.

“There are cliques in high school but they are not like they’re made out to be in the films. I was surprised when I joined secondary school and found out that friendship groups do mingle with other friendship groups.

“There will always be that big group of girls who are made out to be the ‘popular’ ones. You soon learn, however, that actually they’re made up of lots of little groups and over time they separate and then they don’t seem so ‘popular’ anymore. Being nice is what gets you lots of friends, remember that!

“The main thing to remember is, high school goes too quickly to worry about it. It will soon end and you’ll wish you’d made the most of instead of worrying about it and wishing it to be over.”

Kit Joubert: the sixth former’s view about starting secondary school

Being a sixth former, Kit is a little older than the other contributors but he was clear he could remember his early secondary school days and has some very detailed insights for parents:

“The transition can either be an exciting or a daunting prospect, the latter usually being the case. Change is rarely looked upon positively, however, this opportunity allows students to progress on to the next stage through having “out-grown” primary. Secondary school brings new responsibilities and freedoms: being able to travel further and control one’s progress at school should not be seen as challenging.

“Teachers are honestly the groundwork of the school. They form bonds and are able to offer guidance, moral and emotional support to students. I would advise parents to not only look at the league table and buildings, but to also talk to students on open days to see how they feel. Open days are also a great way to inspire confidence into a child as they can visualise their exciting future.

“If a child is worrying about the transition, instead of comforting them with safe boundaries (e.g. Driving them to school or cycling with them), parents should embrace it as an opportunity to allow their child to grow up. All pupils will outgrow Year 6 by the end of it, whether they admit it or not.

“If a child is introverted, there will be harder walls to break through, the social fear often dominating concern. In this situation, I would recommend sending the student off to a school with friends they have from primary (so long as the quality of education is good!).

“Being able to cycle off on the first day with a group of friends will easily calm nerves and boost morale. Parents should not show fear leading up to the first day or on the day. This could jeopardise the student’s state of mind and always keep a positive image of school as eventually they will begin to adjust. Academically as well, the parents should support their child appropriately with the thought in mind that throughout all of secondary, their young adults will take differently to the material they are taught. Sometimes they will show promise straight away… sometimes it comes much later to them.  Have patience.

“Transitioning pupils can take time to alter into their new environment, but most people will have settled in after a term. Thanks to my parents, I felt excited on the first day – although I was the only new pupil on my street to feel that way. I believe pupils should be excited at the prospect of not being treated like a “child”, learning real science, playing a multitude of real sports, learning musical instruments not to mention the brilliant support teachers will offer.

“At the end of the day, secondary school is part of life. Finding somewhere that a child is comfortable and excited about will enhance how the student embraces the opportunity on both an academic and social level. They should be inspired as this is not an event to be transpired unexpectedly.”

Starting secondary school: Thankfully No blue fish or animal slurry

It’s interesting to see common themes among these hacks: That Year 7s are usually more than ready for the school transition, that travelling to school alone is seen as a positive step and ensuring students have all the equipment they need.

The fact none of these youngsters felt the need to mention blue fish or animal slurry shows times have changed. Either that, or it says a lot about my school days. The less said about them, however, the better!

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