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Entering the snake pit: how to help your child transition to secondary school

Maya Griffiths

Maya Griffiths

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secondary school classroom

The cuddly, cosy atmosphere of primary school is soon to end for year 6 children across the country. At the end of the summer they will be joining secondary school, with new social dynamics and a heavier approach to education.

‘The transition to secondary school can be an exciting time for children and marks a new phase in their lives,’ says Debbie Pattinson, Digital Counselling Manager at Fegans. ‘As with any change this transition can bring uncertainty. Whilst most children manage this transition really well, for others it can bring out feelings of anxiety, stress and nervousness’.

The effect of the pandemic on year 6 children

The pandemic has caused extra potential problems for the thousands of children about to enter secondary schools.

In a recent survey of 1000 teachers by YouGov, 75% of teachers reported feeling their children are academically unprepared for their next stage of schooling. Furthermore, 79% said they believed children not to be socially or emotionally ready.

With all this in mind, how can we prepare kids and help them cope with the transition to secondary school?

The role of parental support

As the people best-placed to support children, parents have an important role to play. Parents are most likely to be the ones who listen to a child’s fears and anxieties. You can also use the summer holidays as time to undertake activities that can help ready them.

Suggested strategies to support and prepare kids

Talk and listen

As a care giver you can assist your child through this transition period by encouraging them to talk about their feelings around their new school. ‘Discuss with your child what aspects they may be looking forward to and ask them if there is anything that they may be worried about,’ suggests Debbie.

Get to know the uniform

Purchase the uniform quite early and encourage them to try it on during the holidays. For some, regularly trying the uniform on can help them become more used to it.

The journey

Practise the journey to school route together, especially if they’re getting the bus or train. Familiarity with the route can help them feel more at ease.

Knowledge is key

‘It can be helpful to assist your child to explore their new school. Have a look at the school’s website and encourage them to participate in any induction days,’ says Debbie.

A sense of independence

‘Empower your child by supporting them to take steps towards their independence by encouraging them to take on small responsibilities at home, suggests Debbie. ‘This will help to build their confidence. Praise them loads and notice all the things that they are doing well.’


Ultimately, the greatest source of strength for any child going through change is knowing that they can fall back on a parent’s love and support. ‘By providing your child with stability and security it will give them the confidence to explore and test their new school and seek out new experiences,’ adds Debbie.

Speak up

If you’re unsure about how the school will handle aspects of the transition, or how your child will cope, don’t be afraid to contact the school, and say what you’re concerned about. It’s likely that they can help with any concerns and can put your mind at rest.


Encourage your child to join clubs at their new school. Secondary schools usually offer a wide variety of clubs and activities, which not only help kids find new interests, but vitally, they introduce them to new like-minded friends. It’s also a positive way to spend their free time at school, gain new skills and build confidence.

What do secondary schools do to help children transition?

Many secondary schools request knowledge of the children from the primary school teachers.

On top of getting to know their new students, some of the ways that secondary schools aid transition include:

  • primary school visits
  • induction days
  • new entrants evenings, where pupils meet their tutor group, and head of year.

Schools may also offer a ‘buddy program’, in which new students are matched up with an older pupil. This can help as it can comfort new children to know someone in the older years, as well as gaining a feeling of belonging and familiarity of the wider school.

In cases of major worry or fear, you may wish to ask your child’s school about whether particularly anxious children can be placed with another child they know and are comfortable with. It’s possible, however, that the school may take the view that encouraging kids to make new friends from the start helps widen their friendship group and overcome anxiety.

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