Transitioning from primary to secondary school is a change that hundreds of thousands of children have to navigate every year. A new environment, new friends, new teachers and new routines all ensure that this is one of the hardest changes that children face during their early school years.
Many parents will remember their own experience of making the jump from primary school to Year 7, and whilst schools look very different these days, the underlying challenges remain the same.
At Paro Tuition, we’ve put together a guide on how you as a parent can help to make your child’s journey from primary to secondary school as smooth as possible.
By the time your child reaches the end of primary education, they will have grown accustomed to 6 years of activity driven lessons in a comfortable and familiar environment. Secondary school education is much more rigid, with a stronger emphasis on academic discipline, formal assessment and pupil behaviour.
The practical changes are immediately obvious, but it’s important to understand that the move to Year 7 isn’t merely a physical one. There are also a complex set of emotional adjustments to consider. Your child will be separated from friends that they’ve formed a strong bond with throughout their lives, and from the very beginning, they’ll be held to a markedly different set of academic and behavioural standards. They’ll also be asked to manage their own time and carry out learning activities with minimal direct supervision.
We’ve worked with schools, parents and students to identify the most concerning issues surrounding this transition, and throughout this guide you’ll find detailed chapters exploring these challenges, along with tips and resources you can use to equip yourself with everything you need to support your child.
Outside of structured national testing (SATs), primary schools take a mostly qualitative approach to grading students which is a great way to give an overall picture of how children are performing.
While some secondary schools take a similar approach for younger students (e.g. years 7 – 9), some also begin to grade students in line with the GCSE grading system.
The current GCSE system uses a 9 – 1 grade scheme to measure how well students are performing. This can be difficult for parents and students alike to understand, as it is not immediately clear what students should be aiming for – and it is not the same as the old letter system, meaning it can be difficult for parents to draw parallels from their own experience.
Understanding the grading and assessment system your child’s secondary school uses is necessary when keeping an eye on how they’re progressing through the education system. Without this, you won’t be able to identify where your child is doing well, or where they might need some extra support.
It’s also important when managing your child’s self-confidence. A switch to using the GCSE grading system means it’s easier for children to compare their performance in class – which can lead to difficult conversations if your child feels they’re not performing in line with the rest of their peers. By understanding how grading works, you’ll be in a better position to understand and support your child.
As your child gets older, having a good understanding of the GCSE system will also put you in a position to advise and support them if they have aspirations of entering further education (FE) or pursuing a vocational route to employment. Colleges and FE institutions set out entry requirements that list what grades your child will need to achieve prior to being enrolled onto a course.
Below is the mapping of the current secondary school grading system to the old lettering system which helps provide some context to the 9 – 1 structure, along with an example of the typical approach to grading used by secondary schools.
The above table shows how the old letter grades map into the current 9 – 1 GCSE grading system used by secondary schools.
Some schools will use a 5 year progressive grading system, meaning that target grades will progress as your child progresses through secondary school (e.g. the target grade for a student in Year 7 may be a 2, up to a target grade of 6 by the time they reach year 11).
Others will instead set target grades within each school year (e.g. students may have a consistent target grade of a B in every year). It is important to contact your child’s school to understand which approach they use, to know what your child should be aiming for each year.
This is important to consider when understanding your child’s performance. If in year 7 your child is performing at a grade 2, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re performing poorly (given this maps to an E/F in the letter system), as the grade is progressive. Contacting your given secondary school and asking for an “expected grade” for your child can provide better context as to where they should be performing, instead of just using the above mapping table.
Example Secondary School Grading Card
When using the 9 – 1 grading system, schools will often display your child’s performance using a table like the one above. To add some clarity, some schools will use a “Target Grade” for your child, so you can see if they’re performing in line with expectations. Depending on the school, sometimes this “Target Grade” will represent the minimum grade your child is expected to achieve.
Tabled grade reports like this will often be accompanied by an explanation of how schools use these grades. Here for example, these grades are used as a progressive view of your child’s performance as they move through the secondary school years. The “+” and ”-” provide additional context here, showing how secure that grade for your child is (e.g. a 2+ shows that your child is ready to progress to a 3).
Each school’s method of grading will slightly differ, but most will provide a specific guide to help you understand exactly how they will assess your child.
Primary school classes aren’t separated out per subject type. Pupils are taught multiple topics within a single classroom, with one teacher acting as the sole point of contact for parents.
School pick up provides a very easy way to check in with their teacher and ask important questions on their progress such as how your child is settling into class, what their behaviour is like, what they’re learning over the coming weeks and how their homework is progressing.
At secondary school the situation is markedly different. Your child will be taught by multiple teachers for different subjects, sometimes having multiple teachers for the same subject. This means often that there is not a single point of contact that you can speak to get a complete view of your child’s day to day.
In order to be able to support your child as they progress through secondary school from both an academic and emotional perspective, it’s important for you to have a good overview of how they’re settling into their new school, their workload and their day to day challenges.
With this, you can give them the necessary support they need – whether that’s helping them build their confidence in new environments, or giving them some additional support with their classwork to help them meet the demands of secondary school.
School portals are a great online resource – they are a one-stop-shop that you can use to keep up to date with what’s going on in your child’s school life. They house various pieces of key information, including who your child’s teachers are for each subject, what they’re currently covering in class, homework tasks and key term dates (e.g. test dates). They can sometimes also contain behavioural reports from teachers, so you can get a quick view of how your child is settling into class.
Your school should provide you with the details of what portal they use, and how to access/navigate it early on in your child’s first year of school. Make sure to bookmark the page and check it frequently to keep up to date with what is going on.
Parents’ evening is one of the few opportunities you get to have one-on-one time with your child’s teachers throughout the school year. It’s a great time to hear about how your child is getting on at school. However, you won’t get much time with each teacher, so it’s important to use your time wisely!
We’ve put together some key questions that you can ask your child’s teachers, so that you can get the best out of your time with them;
If you want to support your child’s learning from home, you can also use generic syllabi in order to understand what your child is expected to know during each of their school years.
Ask your child’s school for an online copy of each subject’s syllabus, to keep track of what your child is learning from week to week. This will allow you to converse on the same level as your child when speaking about their progress, and what topics are on the horizon.
Perhaps the biggest change between Year 6 and Year 7 occurs in the amount of homework your child will be expected to complete, in addition to their class work.
Primary school homework is far less intense than at secondary level, and children generally have a lower set of expectations placed on them. In primary school, homework is usually simplified to include one or two pieces of work a week. Tasks are relatively straightforward, and normally set around topics that have benefited from extensive coverage in the classroom.
In secondary school, pupils are expected to complete homework tasks – including managing their time and adhering to deadlines – for a variety of subjects each week, and for multiple subjects on the same day. Your child will need to remember what they have learned in the classroom (either by going over what they have written in their workbooks, or re-reading key parts of a textbook), and apply that towards a series of questions or structured tasks.
Homework helps teachers gain an understanding of the level that your child is working at, and is often assessed alongside standard classwork to form an overall picture of a pupil’s educational progress. It also helps your child retain knowledge that they learned in class, by giving them practical examples to work through.
The benefits to completing homework assignments on time aren’t purely academic. Giving your child the freedom to manage their own workload develops crucial life skills that will serve them well as they progress through and even beyond school.
Building a homework routine
Creating a customised homework schedule with your child will help to set your child’s expectations for the coming term. A routine can help promote an environment where dedicating time to homework is the norm, rather than an annoyance, to avoid any last-minute homework cramming.
Sit down with your child and their timetable, and draw up a schedule that details dedicated times that need to be assigned to homework, which meets their school’s expectations and works around any personal commitments they have which may inhibit them from completing homework throughout the week.
It can also help to work with your child to differentiate between different kinds of homework projects, and how best to approach them. Longer tasks may need to be spread over a few days, whereas shorter tasks can be completed in a single session. Promoting academic rigour builds skills that your child will need later on, when preparing for classroom tests and exams.
Managing your child’s independence
Once you’ve created a homework schedule, it is important to hold them to account, by checking in with them regularly to ensure they’re keeping to the agreed routine.
The trick here is to give your child a helping hand to ensure that they’re meeting their deadlines and managing their time effectively, while also giving them the space to feel like the work they’ve produced is their own. There may come a time when they’re not able to rely on parental guidance when managing their own time and working towards deadlines.
Show them how to start and maintain a homework diary, to ensure that tasks aren’t missed and they have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them throughout the week. Make sure your child keeps their homework diary up to date, and work with them to schedule their assigned tasks.
Creating a workspace/environment
Providing a functional environment that your child can use to complete homework can also be a help. A dedicated working area at home minimises distractions and helps to build a positive association with completing homework on time, and to a good standard.
If space permits, try and create a homework environment that’s separate from their usual living space, to get them in the right frame of mind when they sit down to start a task (e.g. using a dining room instead of their bedroom).
If you see that your child is restless when completing homework, they may be struggling with a specific task and are subconsciously (or consciously!) on the lookout for a distraction. Use this as a cue to sit down with them and work through a difficult question, to get them back on track.
Use 3rd party resources to supplement your child’s learning
The step up from primary to secondary school work means that there will often be times where your child is struggling with a piece of homework that they’ve been set.
If this is the case, there are a number of free resources you can use to supplement their learning, and offer a helping hand to guide them through difficult tasks.
The most emphatic changes that occur during a child’s transition from primary school to secondary school revolve around them building an independent mindset that will serve them into adulthood.
This isn’t limited to academic independence. Whilst they’ll be asked to manage their own time when it comes to completing homework tasks, revision and exam preparation, quite often the most difficult set of challenges are centred around making new friends, and interacting with an entirely different peer group than what they have grown accustomed to.
Primary schools feature smaller class sizes, and are staffed by teachers who are more inclined to monitor pupil interactions, given the age ranges they deal with. At secondary school, your child will be expected to react to unfamiliar situations in a proactive way.
For some pupils this comes naturally, whilst others can sometimes struggle to grasp what’s required of them. Each pupil adjusts to their newfound independence differently – as a parent that knows their child better than anyone else, you’ll need to find a way to ensure that you provide them with the requisite level of support, without being too overbearing.
Given the importance of school, it can often be tempting for parents to micromanage every aspect of their child’s educational life. However, it’s vitally important to ensure that children are given the time and space they need in order to demonstrate that they are able to function as both a learner, and an individual.
The interpersonal and organisational skills that your child develops in secondary school act as a foundation for how they will go on to conduct themselves as an adult. This can be a daunting prospect for any 11 year old to take onboard, and it’s important that, as a parent, you’re able to help them make the step-up to an inherently more complex academic and social environment.
Journey to school
The journey to a new school provides a great opportunity for your child to demonstrate some independence. It’s an opportunity for them to show you that they can manage their time, and be trusted with a new responsibility.
To ensure they’re ready for this, if their journey to school requires a new route, make sure you practice getting to school with your child on time, especially if it involves public transport. It’s also useful to set a clear expectation of how long this journey should take, so your child is arriving home from school within a reasonable amount of time.
Managing their timetable and getting organised
One of the biggest challenges with secondary school is the relatively complex timetable your child will need to navigate.
Learning to manage their timetable, and remain organised will ensure that your child is able to navigate to their classes correctly, have the right books for the right lessons and bring the relevant homework tasks to class.
Having a large printed version of their timetable in a visible location at home (e.g. on the fridge) will act as a reminder to your child of what lessons they have on a given day, so they can make sure they know what to bring to school, and where they need to be.
It’s also useful to ensure they have a version of this on their person while at school, especially early on, to make sure they can navigate their way to classes correctly and not get lost.
It also can be useful to build a night-time routine around their timetable. By ensuring that they have their uniform laid out, the right books in their bag, and any additional items they need (e.g a P.E kit, ingredients for cooking class etc.) can make sure that your child is not rushing around in the morning, and reduce the risk that they are not prepared for their day.