Tips To Give Your Secondary-Starter an Edge

Mobilising and motivating teens can be tough, so we turned to seasoned pro-Brian Horwell, Head of Secondary at Safa British School for advice on getting your teen back to school with a starting edge...
Tips To Give Your Secondary-Starter an Edge
By C Hoppe
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August can be a time of apprehension and uncertainty as thousands of students look towards the change from primary to secondary school, and in light of the past years’ challenges, it is essential that parents take a more proactive step than ever, writes Brian Horwell, Head of Secondary at Safa British School. 

A ‘New School’

Even if students are moving from primary to secondary in the same school, there will always be differences and this can lead to students feeling nervous. One of the big challenges students face is the change from being in a ’fixed’ class with a tight knit group of friends, to suddenly being in a range of classes with other students and teachers they do not know. This year this challenge will be especially relevant, as students have spent the last year in their class bubbles, with limited interaction with other students in their schools.

It is key to reassure students that all students will be in the same boat, whether they are new to a school, or have been there since FS1. Not being in the same class as their best friend from the previous few years is not a problem!

Instead, the movement to secondary is an opportunity to grow those social circles and be excited to make new friends. This may seem daunting, but talk to your child about the opportunities and encourage your child to:

  • be positive in meeting other students, maybe even practicing some sentence starters
  • join groups and clubs that interest them, as they will make friends with students of similar interests
  • having a range of different subjects in different classrooms, will mean that students will be seated with a range of different classmates, this is an excellent opportunity to meet new friends

It is also key to reassure students that the best friendships take time to develop, and it is not a competition to be popular on day one!

Using Technology

Due to the last 18 months, lots of schools have reviewed their Use of Technology policies, and many schools now operate a ‘bring your own device’ policy. Students having their own devices provides an opportunity for seamless learning from school to home, and does show a shift in how teaching and learning is innovating in the 21st century. There is no doubting the huge potential that technology can have is supporting student learning, but this needs to go hand in hand with recognising the potential pitfalls and challenges as well.  My advice is for parents to:

  • Set firm boundaries in relation to screen time
  • Set clear expectations of where devices can be used in the house, and it is appropriate to have discussions on what applications are being used
  • Talk through students’ responsibilities, as well as the local laws and rules in the area
  • From a parent perspective, I would also advise monitoring the wifi usage, and setting up periods of time when students are not able to access the internet… especially at times when they should be sleeping!
Secondary school offers many new and exciting opportunities 

Stay Connected

In recent months, school life has increasingly been getting back to ‘normal’ with increased opportunities for students to take part in sports and extra-curricular activities. There is no doubt that the year ahead will be quite ‘fluid’ in how schools operate and when new activities can be introduced. Schools have had to adapt their communication style – with onsite parent meetings still restricted – and most have invested in using technology in relation to parents’ evenings, showcasing events and other areas of their communication. Ensure you are as up to date as possible, by updating your email addresses and phone numbers, so you are fully aware of the opportunities your child has at school 

It may be worth checking your junk mail, to ensure the filters are set correctly, so you can put the schools email address on your ‘safe list’.

Avoid the Domino Effect

Moving from primary to secondary does mean a significant increase in the number of teachers your child will interact with. In the past you had one main point of contact, and probably saw your child’s class teacher most mornings at drop off or pick up. In most cases, your main point of contact will be the form tutor or head of year, and this relationship between the school and parents is just as important as when at primary school.

Drop an email to the tutor, introduce yourself, and keep those lines of communication open. When you are talking to your child, ask them how things are going, and if you have any concerns – let the school know. We all prefer to deal with the ‘small’ things, and in most cases, these can be sorted quickly, without them having to grow into more challenging problems.

Being Prepared

One of the main ways to reduce anxiety on returning to school is for students to feel as fully prepared as they can be. The below is a list of some top tips for starting the year:

  • Most school will have sent out their return to school information, and this may include a range of stationary needs – some schools will required different colours for class work, self- marking, peer marking etc. Get that pencil case sorted, so there are no obstacles for learning from day one
  • Time management, it is important for students in Secondary school to become increasingly independent, but there are some practical steps parents can take to support them
  • Set up a fixed bedtime for during the school week, we all know teenagers can be grumpy on occasion, but this is increasingly evident if they have been gaming or chatting into the early hours!
  • Home work… as teachers we regularly have feedback on this and the time it takes for students to get into a routine. The answer is the routine! Set clear expectations and negotiate when and where this will be completed. For my children, they have a fixed 40 minutes from Sunday to Wednesday after school, and then don’t pick up a school book till Saturday afternoon, when they plan the week ahead
  • Packing school bags, this should be done by your child, but you can help them establish their routines by asking them if their laptop is charged, what books are packed and if they have all of their equipment

With thanks to Brian Horwell, Head of Secondary at Safa British School.

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