I wrote this blog about starting secondary school a couple of years ago, but I’ve made some additions in 2021 for COVID times. Goodness, I was worried enough back then, but I’m sure you are panicking now. But honestly, nothing has really changed – the secondary schools are well used to welcoming newcomers and they have got used to COVID too. Trust that it will all be OK in the end.
I’ve put my 2021 additions in brackets and italics – I’m hoping in a later version I will soon be able to remove reference to the pandemic again.
You probably have no idea where the time went to, but suddenly you find yourself with a child who is starting secondary school this year.
Everybody seems to document the first day at primary school, but by the time the children are starting secondary school, so many mums have gone back to work, and there aren’t nearly so many of us blogging about it.
Yet, I don’t know about you, but I found this transition the most terrifying of all. My daughter went from a one-form entry primary school, that we could walk to in 10 minutes and where I knew all the mums, to a secondary school 12 miles away, with 150 students in each year, and we knew none of them.
She started to commute by train and bus, catching her train at 7.08 am – it was so hard and so terrifying to let her go …
The secondary uniform seems so impossibly big and grown-up, and the list of kit they give you, that they have to pack and keep track of – it’s hard to imagine that your baby 11-year-old will ever get to grips with it all.
I’m here to tell you that it does get easier, but you do have to relax a bit and let the transition happen. The more scared you are, the more nervous they will be too.
I’m safely out the other end now, with my daughter going off to university this year (that’s a whole different blog!) and my son starting sixth form at a different school to my daughter, which is also 10 miles away from us in the opposite direction from her school.
Yes, I’m a crazy mother, but they were both settled and happy, and at the perfect school for each of them, and that is the moral of my story.
What was terrifying just a few years ago, just seems like normal now. My babies are now fully-fledged teenagers and it’s all fine!
So let me give you a few tips. Starting secondary school can be terrifying for you and for your child, but you will be amazed how soon they will adapt and it will all seem normal. These are my top bits of advice.
Get to Know the Parents
You may be lucky enough to already know some of the parents at your child’s new school. In which case make sure you use whatever network you have.
There will still be a lot of new people for you and your child to get to know and this can be scary for both of you.
Any opportunity you get to get to know the parents of children in your child’s class – take it! If you get an opportunity to go along to the school for a parents’ induction, coffee morning, or whatever, be that parent who takes all the names and numbers of the others and gets a What’s App group set up. If it’s a Zoom call (2021 edition!) go with it – join in with the chat and see if you can get some contact details. Some schools might be proactive and give parent contact details to you – other schools won’t – I had one of each type of school but it all worked out in the end!
In amongst those parents, there will be one or two that have already put several children through the school, and they will be the ones who will show you how it all works (and take you through all the COVID stuff) and put your mind at rest.
At my son’s school as we approach September 2021, we still haven’t been told (as at 17th August) what the back to school procedures look like this year, and this is because the school still doesn’t know, as government regulations have a habit of changing at the last minute. Those of us at the school are more than used to this, but I can imagine the new year 7 parents are going crazy with worry. But I promise you, it will all be OK – you will get the details eventually if you don’t have them and your child will adapt.
You will get precious little feedback from your year 7 child – it’s a big leap for most of them, and when they come home they will be tired and possibly overwhelmed. They won’t have paid attention to the things you want to know, and they will be no help at all. But the parents’ group will be a lifeline.
If you can build a network of friends at the school, you will have alternative transport options if public transport breaks down or if things go wrong with your day. You may also hear about things that are going on at the school that your child has conveniently forgotten to tell you about, like a school trip, a mufti day, or a requirement to bring cakes or charity money…
When your child has forgotten their homework or comes home without a sheet they need, eventually, they will be able to phone their friends and get it sorted out between them. But in the beginning, you will be able to help them by tapping into the parents’ network…
Mobile Phone time
If you haven’t bought your child a mobile phone yet, they will certainly need one at secondary school. Some schools have very strict rules regarding when they can and can’t use their mobiles, but even so, they will still occasionally get to use them in lessons for quizzes and similar, and their fellow students will find it weird if they don’t have one.
A mobile phone is particularly necessary if your child uses any kind of public transport to get home. If possible get one on the same network that you have, so that you can use Find My Friends or similar to track them.
After my son had been at secondary for approximately three weeks, one night he accidentally got on the wrong bus home. He phoned me and said “Mum, I was on the wrong bus and I just got off it, but I have absolutely no clue where I am” Thankfully I was able to track him and go and pick him up from where he had got to – good lessons learned for both of us – it didn’t happen again.
Word to the wise as well – get a phone that allows you to set a data budget and Parental controls – it’s scary how much data children can burn through left to their own devices….. here are some suggestions for child-friendly handsets
If your child is going to a school that you have had no contact with before, then it is quite likely that the whole family will be exposed to new bugs and viruses this winter (even with masks, weekly COVID tests, and hand sanitiser every ten minutes…)
As the weather starts to get colder and the nights get longer and your child gets more and more exhausted, they are very likely to come home with nasty colds, flu, and sicky bugs, and they will probably share them happily with the rest of the family. (2021 edition – you might be lucky and escape all of this until the social distancing regulations ease – this could be one good thing that has come out of COVID)
The year my daughter started, we were all so ill, with bugs that seemed to hang around longer because we had not built up immunity to them. When my son started at his school, down we all went again with a different round of really nasty bugs. My husband and I were as sick as the children, and I never get ill.
I’m a great fan of essential oils for immune support, but whatever your particular home remedies are, make sure that you keep all members of the family well dosed. Dose them up with multivitamins (especially vitamin D) and don’t forget the nit spray too. You may think that secondary pupils don’t get that close to each other, but trust me they do!
Check the Food
One thing that I was worried about when my daughter started secondary was that instead of having a packed lunch which I had lovingly prepared with nutritional balance, she was going to be set loose in the canteen to eat whatever rubbish she chose.
Thankfully she found the food in the canteen at her school even scarier than I did, so she has continued with the packed lunches for now, and I know she gets a good square meal.
I still need to watch my son a bit more closely. He tends to spend a lot of money in the canteen and I get a report of what he is eating each day. I do have to talk to him now and again as he does tend to eat a lot of rubbish and not so much healthy food. I send him in with fruit as a snack so at least he eats something healthy in the day.
This is one area where it is worth having regular conversations with your child. Over dinner one night I found out that neither of mine really have time to eat at lunchtimes. The queues are really long and then they get maybe 5 minutes to eat and it’s back to the classroom. They never saw fit to tell me because it was just normal for them. Maybe not all schools are like this, but it is certainly worth knowing, then if you have to send in snacks you can do so.
You may find that your child is less inclined to talk to you when they come home from school each night. If they are introverted like mine, they may need some time when they first come home, to go upstairs to their room and chill out away from all the crowds for a while.
But whenever you spot an opportunity, do keep a dialogue open. What are the teachers like, what are the other children like, what’s particularly good, what’s particularly bad?
Keep an eye on them too. Are they just tired, or do they seem unhappy? Do you feel like something is bothering them? A mother’s intuition can go a long way here. If you feel something is unusual or wrong, then see if you can get to the bottom of it.
Try and keep it casual, but if they do start telling you things, good or bad, then take time to listen and respect their point of view. If they don’t like a certain subject, do they just need more help and home support, or is there a real problem with the teacher? if they are clashing with another student, try to find out what is behind it all.
If they are talking about bad stuff that is happening, maybe check it with your What’s App group to see if any other parents are hearing the same thing, then if necessary you can take it up with the school, or provide help if you can.
Changes are Coming
When they get to secondary school, your child is going to start paying much more attention to what their peers are doing, and sadly, less attention to you. You will probably find many more requests to do things that you have not permitted before, and you will find yourself making up the new rules as you go along.
What age is the right age to be able to go to town with their friends? What age is the right age to watch a 15 movie? What age is the right age to wear high heels at the weekend or to have your ears pierced? What age is right to start dating? What is the correct bedtime in term time? How long should be spent on homework each night and how long on screens or interacting with their friends? Can I be a vegetarian?
These and many more tricky questions will come your way thick and fast when they are starting secondary school, and probably much quicker than you expected or hoped. Expect to have your politics and world views challenged, and your religion too if you have one. But if you keep an open mind, you could find that you learn a lot too.
By the end of year 7, you will probably not recognise your little one – the increase in confidence and independence that comes with secondary school is amazing and wonderful to watch. They will be changed, and almost certainly for the better. But expect to have your authority seriously challenged…
The other big change though is the workload and the degree of concentration that they will have to start using each day. Most secondary schools have 5 one-hour teaching periods each day – that is substantially more real learning than they did at primary school. Homework becomes much more real, arrives most days, and has shorter deadlines.
You can expect your child to be exhausted, overwhelmed, and forgetful.
Some schools are very hot on homework being done to schedule and there may be many other rules too that they need to learn and get used to. Don’t be surprised if your child racks up bad behaviour points at first – a lot of schools come down quite heavy on the discipline in the first year to chivvy all the children into line.
You may need to help your child with organisation a bit at first – get them to unpack their schoolbag each day – help them to pack it for the next morning, check the homework schedule and make sure that they get into the routine of doing it. Check that the sports kit comes home regularly for washing and that they have it all (and no bits of other people’s kit) (Make sure that they always have masks and hand sanitiser too)
But hopefully, your intervention should not need to be for long – sooner or later they all adjust to the new way of life and cope in their own way.
Starting Secondary School will happen whether you like it or not – so get used to it
At the end of the day, your little one is growing up and they need you a little bit less than they did when they were small. It happens to every mum and every child – it’s what we sign up for. This time is just one where they make a big giant leap, and it can leave you with a lump in your throat…
You still have a lot of things you need to pay attention to, in order to steer them through secondary school (not least a constant demand for money for this and that), but it is nowhere near as hands-on as primary, and at the end of the day you really have to sit back a bit and let them learn to fly.
Maybe they will make a few mistakes, maybe they will do things they regret and maybe some bad stuff will happen and you won’t be there to save them, but that is part of what they are there to learn about. It’s not just the academic lessons, becoming part of a community, finding your place and getting along with others is part of the whole secondary school experience.
As for you, you can pay attention a bit more to your younger children if you have them, or enjoy the extra bit of spare time that you get each day. You could take up a new hobby, start a business or a job, or whatever takes your fancy.
As your child is starting secondary school, so you can start to rediscover a bit of yourself…. so make the most of it.
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