Starting Year 7: reflecting on the first half-term

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A couple of months ago that my eldest daughter started secondary school. It’s a huge milestone for any youngster and something I’ve wanted to write about for ages because it has been a real roller coaster with highs and lows. It’s not just a change for Helen, but for the entire family. Having mulled it over for a while, here are a few reflections on what it’s been like, having a child starting Year 7.

Reflections on starting Year 7. A table with hand sanisitier and disinfectant on top of it.
Starting Year 7 has been the easy bit. Dealing with the impact of COVID-19 has been the difficult part.

It’s a significant leap

As a family, I think we’re all a bit surprised that the leap from primary school to secondary school is so large. There is a lot to remember. There are homework schedules to adhere to, books that must be taken in on various days, classrooms to be found in a new school environment and so on. It’s a lot for an 11-year-old to take in and while Helen has done very well, we have followed some advice (in this blog post) and helped her pack each evening to make sure nothing gets forgotten.

Independence takes on a whole new meaning

The trust you place in your child grows enormously and very quickly. You have to give them a certain amount of money as they may need food or have other justifiable outgoings. They’re also making their own way to and from school and that’s quite an adjustment for a parent to make, let alone a child!

I have found it quite amusing talking about this to parents with younger kids. They often adopt a look of absolute horror as they realise their youngster may one day be packed off to school on their own!

The impact of COVID-19 No.1: The new normal

That pernicious virus, COVID-19, is upsetting everything and its impact cannot be underestimated. Starting school, any school, in 2020 is not the same as starting in any other year. Across the land, Year 7s are not only adjusting to new educational settings, but a whole new set of rules.

My daughter’s school has similar rules to many others. One-way systems are in place and facemasks must be worn when walking around the premises. I don’t think the kids are cooking anything in food technology classes or doing science experiments because of the risk of implements passing COVID around. To adulterate the classic Star trek quote: “It’s school, but not as we know it.”  

What really bothers me is the lack of sports or afterschool clubs. While I would never encourage my children to do too many extra-curricular activities, Helen hasn’t had the chance to mingle with kids who enjoy the same activities she does. The opportunities to build new social networks and friendships for all of the kids has been reduced and I find that quite sad. Starting Year 7 in 2020 is definitely a unique experience.

Graphic displaying classic Star Trek quote.

The impact of COVID-19 No.2: Difficult to build a school community

I was realistic to the fact I’d have less face to face contact with teachers at Helen’s secondary school compared to my youngest daughter’s primary school. That’s simply the way of the world as kids become more independent.

COVID-19, however, means us parents can’t go into the school at all. Any contact with teaching staff has been via Zoom or email. There has been no ‘meet the tutor’ events, no ‘meet the headteacher’ or PTA fundraising events. Various events were planned, but all were cancelled. There’s been nothing, nada, rien.

Again, it’s the same picture across the land. Every school is applying similar restrictions.

Unfortunately, this leaves me feeling like I’m at arm’s length from the school. As parents of a child starting Year 7 in 2020, we’re simply not as embedded into the school community as we could be. I find myself worrying about the long-term impact of this and of forming and maintaining relationships with teachers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been very impressed with the contact I’ve had with the school. Even so, relying solely on digital communications is not a way to build up a strong school community in the long term.

The role of technology

As a parent, the increased level of digital communications is very noticeable. Privacy campaigners no doubt have a thing or two to say about this, but the apps us parents have access to mean we have a very good idea what the kids are doing.

With a simple swipe of an app, Mrs Adams and I can be reassured Helen has registered in both the morning and afternoon tutor groups. We know exactly when homework has been set and when it must be handed in and we also have a pretty good idea what food and drink Helen has purchased from the canteen.

Us mums and dads can keep a track and ensure work is being done. Bunking off school (something I can honestly say I never did, although the same cannot be said for many of my classmates) is much, much harder and that’s no bad thing in my eyes.

Following on from what I said above, all this information is providing a good insight into the school day and school system. In the absence of face to face communication with teachers, it is the next best thing.

What does the future hold?

Those are the main observations I’ve made, but I wonder what the future holds? Those starting Year 7 have had a strange introduction to secondary education (I’m sure it’s a similar thing for kids starting in Reception class as well). Will they get to participate in inter-school sports events, will there be any school trips, will they do any cooking or science experiments?

With a second national lockdown imminent, there’s probably less chance of any school children, regardless of their year, being able to experience these things any time soon. Us parents, meanwhile, must be prepared for the possibility of sudden school closures, home learning and communication with schools remaining digital.

This isn’t the start to secondary school I envisaged for Helen. Nonetheless, I think the teachers have done all they can. It’s just such a shame COVID-19 is casting a shadow over everything.

Do you have a child who has started in Year 7 this year? Maybe you have a child who started in reception class? What are your thoughts about how things have been managed? Do leave a comment below, it would be interesting to hear what you think.

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