Covid-19: Moving From Primary to Secondary

How are international schools in Singapore preparing students for that all-important step up from primary to secondary? This year in particular the transition needs extra attention and care with Covid-19 obstructing many Year 6 celebrations and traditions that help prepare students for the big step.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Do you remember your first day at secondary? The time you jumped from being a big fish to a small fish in the sea of secondary school? It’s a time of change and the end of an era for your child – and however big they may look in the primary playground, they will suddenly look very small in a crowd of teenagers.

This August, in light of Covid-19, Year 6 students will be taking their first steps into secondary school with a host of new challenges to overcome. After several weeks or months of living in quarantine and switching to distance learning, how will 11-year-olds transition from primary school into a secondary classroom setting for the new academic year? speaks to secondary experts at international schools in Singapore to find out how they are helping to smooth what could otherwise be a bumpy journey.

How are schools managing the transition to secondary?


The end of Term 3 is usually the time when students look forward to their 'jump up' day – the time when they find out who their new teacher and classmates will be. Schools hold induction days – also referred to as transition, or transfer days – to familiarise themselves with their new routine and class. However, campuses in Singapore either won't fully open until August, or they will partially open with social distancing measures in place. This means that this will be the first time such an important transition in your child’s education will be dealt with virtually.

Clair Harrington-Wilcox, head of junior school at Tanglin Trust School, says that the school is using online platforms to manage this transition.

“If we are back in school on June 2, we intend to follow the usual process of transition for Year 6 to 7, but we expect to give live, virtual updates across the classrooms to ensure social distancing. Children will be able to meet their secondary teachers virtually and experience virtual taster lessons from their new tutors. Through May we are conducting our programmed sessions remotely such as the Head of Year meeting with the Year 6 Council on Zoom.”

“Counsellors are also often involved in the class mixing process, at all transition points. In addition, our Friends of Tanglin outreach group have been calling every family to support individual concerns.”

Similarly, Nexus International School will arrange a week of transition for its Year 6 learners to experience school life as a secondary learner – and if off-campus learning is still ongoing, then the transition from primary to secondary will happen online.

Students at all-through schools such as Tanglin and Nexus may have an advantage over children coming from standalone pre-schools or nurseries. They will already be familiar with the campus, know some of the teachers and be part of the school community (for example, getting involved in house events from day one). Sir Manasseh Meyer International School (SMMIS) also has the advantage of being a small all-through school with less than 500 students and a very close-knit community.

SMMIS principal Elaine Robinson explains how Grade 5 students are now getting to know their secondary teachers online.

“Prior to the circuit breaker, the students in Grade 5 had an opportunity to spend a day in secondary school – our annual Transition Day. They spent time getting to know teachers, students and exploring some of the opportunities they will have next year in secondary school. They joined the secondary school for some special assemblies, memorials and celebrations, and they have continued to do this throughout the circuit breaker period via live meetings on Microsoft Teams.

During the circuit breaker period, the Grade 5 students have a full day of synchronous learning and have plenty of time to talk about their transition to secondary school. We are planning a graduation ceremony for them that will be meaningful and a true celebration of their achievements and their move from primary to secondary school.”

As well as leaving primary school ‘virtually’, students in Singapore may be starting the next academic year with some form of remote learning still in place. As you’d expect, schools are preparing for various scenarios. Robinson outlines SMMIS’ plans for the next academic year, saying:

“If we are still using our remote learning platforms in August, all new students will meet their teachers 1:1, will be given a peer buddy from the class and will be welcomed through the live lessons.”

How will schools address any gaps in learning?


After weeks of distance learning during the school closures, some children may find the academic jump to a secondary school curriculum more difficult. Schools need to address any gaps in learning as children return to the traditional classroom. This could be achieved, for example, by delaying the start of the full academic timetable and dedicating the first few days of term to icebreaker activities that would normally be run during induction days in the summer term.

This is also a time when school counsellors and learning support staff should be identifying any learning gaps, as Claire Holmes, head of school counselling at Tanglin, explains.

“Our counselling team (at Tanglin) are an integral part of the transition process, which includes running support groups during remote learning to ensure students can discuss any concerns. The Learning Support team also ensure that pupils with individual needs are well planned and catered for, both remotely and if able to return.”

Peter Hart, head of secondary at Nexus, suggests that we need to look at how distance learning has equipped students with new skills.

An example of this is how the Year 6 team has been able to adapt the PYP Exhibition, a six-week long project that ends the Nexus Primary Years Programme.

Hart said: “Off-campus learning has provided learners with amazing opportunities to explore this theme. Learners are learning how to present online; how to cook; how to get involved in community projects supporting the more vulnerable during this challenging time.”

Hart added: “Parents do not need to worry that their children are ‘missing out’ on learning and look to provide extra tuition during the summer break. Our off-campus learning has ensured the core skills are being taught and this unique situation is giving children a host of new skills, such as online communication and personal organisation.

"However, we do encourage parents to foster social interaction for their children during the break once the circuit breaker eases, while adhering to whatever new guidelines the government may hold in place. It is always beneficial for children to spend time and meet one another physically.”

On another positive note, Robinson also believes that distance learning has equipped her students at SMMIS with skills that will prepare them for a secondary education.

“Remote learning is giving the Grade 5 students an unprecedented opportunity to develop their autonomy, organisation and ability to self-manage their learning in an independent setting and get a feel for managing moving between classes and teachers, managing resources and their time. This has all been developed whilst still maintaining the connections, support and familiarity of their primary school classes and teachers.”

How are schools marking traditional end-of-primary celebrations?

Year 6 students will miss many important milestones this year...

This year’s cohort of primary school leavers will miss out on an important part of their educational journey. From pranking the teachers to end of year graduation balls, these students may not be able to enjoy the emotional landmarks experienced at the end of primary.

There are hopes that many events can still be held on campus, albeit with social distancing measures in place, as Harrington-Wilcox explains. “At Tanglin, we have held remote sports events and live streamed music events. This will be adapted depending on whether we are back in school on a staggered numbers basis or still in remote learning. We are awaiting further instruction from the government before committing to graduation plans. Several options are being discussed.”

At SMMIS Robinson said that all end of year ceremonies and shows have been designed with social distancing in mind; instead of invites, parents may be sent log ins to join live events online.

“Graduations and award ceremonies are important moments for our students, they are rites of passage, rituals, which we will ensure are still meaningful, if a little different than usual. All our graduation ceremonies will adhere to the social distancing measures in place, even so, they will still be meaningful and memorable occasions for our students. We don’t want our students to miss out on these important life events, so we strive to plan and prepare memorable events that can run remotely.”

Nexus has already held virtual graduation ceremonies for its Year 13 leavers.

We threw a “teleconference graduation party” recently for our Year 13 learners since we could not meet in person. It was a wonderful time for everyone to say their final goodbyes; concluding their time at Nexus (tears were much evident!) and also providing them a proper closure to their secondary life."

How can schools prepare students socially and emotionally for secondary school during Covid-19?


The move from Year 6/Grade 5 to Year 7/Grade 6 is challenging at the best times. It’s a time when they’re going from being the biggest in the school to the smallest, they switch from having one class teacher to a different teacher for every subject, and they are taught a more demanding curriculum.

Harrington-Wilcox highlights the key challenges that are addressed at Tanglin: “The usual mixture of excitement and trepidation. Whilst it is normal for students to find the transition into senior school a challenge, a vast majority thrive in what they see as a more grown-up environment.

“Different students take different times to adjust, but the key challenges are finding their way around a large campus with different lessons in different locations, getting used to new classmates, becoming self-organised with their schoolwork, homework and lockers. They may need parental support with organising themselves and learning to read a timetable to check they have everything they need and are on top of their homework. We use a buddy and mentoring system to help guide the students through his process.”

And Robinson says SMMIS will help to reassure students and ease anxieties.

“Students at SMMIS will make the jump from primary to secondary schooling with the same group of peers, classrooms and campus, easing the burden of being apart from friends during this time. Students know they will be reunited before too long, whether it is before or after their transition to secondary school and their primary teachers will still be there on campus to ease them through this transition and support their next steps.”

How can parents prepare their child for secondary school?


The move from Year 6/Grade 5 to Year 7/Grade 6 is challenging at the best times, and there will be mixture of excitement and trepidation. It’s perhaps never been more important for parents to step in and help address the most common worries and smooth the transition to secondary school.

Robinson (SMMIS) encourages parents to keep children active throughout the long summer break.

“After the challenges of the past few months, I would strongly recommend offering activities that their children enjoy. We are living through a massive time of change for all of us and that’s even before the transition issues you are asking about. These past few months have seen a huge change for the students' lives.

“As it is highly unlikely that any of us will be leaving Singapore over the break, I would recommend that parents encourage their children to find a camp or classes that will motivate them: anything active: dance, soccer, robotics. Activities that will get them out of the house and back into a social environment, and a daily routine. For some the transition back into social activities will be very challenging. Get the children out and about, ask them what they would like to do.”

Hart (Nexus) suggests how parents can manage their child’s new-found independence.

School will seem much bigger and learners, especially if they are transiting from Primary to Secondary, will all of a sudden seem to have choice and freedom. For some parents this new-found independence is hard and difficult to embrace. It is advisable to reduce any micro-management and try to maintain good communication with your child about their learning and also their emotional needs, which is always tricky as the teenage years approach rapidly.

“Talk to your child about change as being normal and that it will feel difficult sometimes. Do not panic at the first event which you deem to be negative – growing up is tricky and we all make mistakes on the way. Maintain good communications with school – make sure you attend its welcome events and parent workshops. At Nexus we hold workshops on a regular basis to support parents’ understanding of our curriculum and our approach to learning.”

Harrington-Wilcox (Tanglin) offered some more advice for how to prepare your child for school during the long summer break, saying:

“Parental input and modelling can have a huge impact on a child’s initial experiences of a new school year or a new school. Simply modelling excitement and positivity for the year ahead, the opportunities for new subjects, new teachers and classmates, can do wonders for setting children up for a positive start. Finding a good balance between having a break from school and not forgetting everything is key!

Reading for pleasure, a mix of fun and educational trips or days out, plenty of exercise, and learning some life skills is a great way to use a summer break, but there is no harm in more intensive activities/camps etc if your child is interested.”

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