Settling In At Secondary School

20/10/2014 11:10 | Updated 20 May 2015

Unhappy schoolgirl walking alone in school corridor

How is your child settling in to secondary school? After the anticipation of starting a new school has passed, some children find they have problems around friendships, homework or the sets they are in.

As a parent your instinct is to want to sort it out – but is it always best to step in early or should you stand back for a while and allow issues to resolve themselves?

Jason Wing, headteacher at Neale-Wade Academy, Cambridgeshire, explains: "The most common issues for Year 7 children are getting lost in the school and not being with their friends from primary school.


​These initial anxieties tend not to last long but a school should keep a close eye on children who have come from a small primary school and who may feel isolated.


Anna Ni Chiaomh, head of Year 7 at King Alfred School, London says: "It is a challenging time for all children and parents, some more than others which is why it can be hard to judge how your child is coping.

"Our advice is to see their form tutor as a first port of call because they will monitor the academic, social and emotional progress of your child." Not all secondary schools set children in Year 7 but many do, especially for English and maths. If you think your child is struggling or finding the work too easy, what should you do?

Wing advises: "Give your child three or four weeks to settle in. Look at the work your child is producing in their exercise books and for homework to see if it's at the right level. We look at prior attainment from KS2 SATS and good schools will have liaised closely with your child's primary school. Your child should be producing work on a par with their best work in Year 6 and showing signs of progress even within a few weeks."

And homework? Many children struggle with timing; they have a lot to get through. Wing suggests: "Make sure your child knows the hand-in dates so they spread the work over the week. We see children who are tired and emotional because they have stayed up too late doing work that was not due in for several days.

"If they are struggling with the difficulty of work, encourage them to do what they can then tell their teachers they found it too hard. Sometimes the whole class may have struggled and the teacher needs to adapt their expectations."

Cathy had problems with her daughter Jennifer. "When she started her new school she found it hard to tackle the amount of homework she was given. Unlike her older brother who settled very well, Jennifer needed reminding all weekend that she had homework to complete.

"I had to be very hands-on, making sure it was done before last minute on a Sunday night. She quickly took a dislike to some new subjects and it has been a real struggle to get her to do those subjects, and I've had to persevere."

It's also important to talk to your child because sometimes they don't want to bring up issues that may be trivial to adults. Open communication about how easy or hard they find school and how they are settling in should be an on-going conversation so that you are aware of potential problems before they escalate.

Children with some kind of special needs can find the transition harder. Wing suggests: "Parents should ensure that the SENCO knows about their child's needs and this ought to have been communicated by their primary school. If not, and you think your child is struggling, contact the school and make an appointment with the SENCO."

Trudi, whose son Alex was diagnosed as dyslexic at primary school, encountered problems at secondary school. "Alex was assessed by an educational psychologist in Year 6 and told he would be allowed extra time and a scribe in all his formal assessments.

"When he moved to secondary school I met with the learning department to discuss his needs. We were reassured that he'd receive extra time as well as support at other times too. It soon became clear that Alex wasn't happy and was struggling.

"I stood back for several weeks but then felt I had to act. When I went into school to discuss my concerns I found that no support was forthcoming. Alex became very unhappy and his confidence suffered.

"Next, I went to meet the Director of Years 7 and 8 who implemented changes, so that Alex's needs were brought to the attention of his teachers once more. He's now encouraged to ask for help, is much happier and has made huge progress."

Coping with the curriculum is only part of settling in though. What if your child hasn't made any new friends or even the 'wrong' ones? Educational psychologist Teresa Bliss has this advice: "Don't jump in too quickly. Allow your child time to settle in, which may take several weeks.

"There is no perfect number as far as friends are concerned. Some children are happy with only one or two friends, so don't assume they need more. It's easy for us to equate few friends with unhappiness or unpopularity but this isn't necessarily so. If you feel your child hasn't made friends, try to build up their empathy skills so they find it easier to communicate with other children."

If you are concerned your child has gravitated towards the wrong kind of friends, maybe those who are disruptive in school, Wing has this advice: "You can ask for your child to be moved from their current teaching group. This can be tricky but most schools will monitor the situation.

"We notice that some of the friendships children form initially don't last, and a natural order soon settles with children forming new friendship groups."

The overall advice from the experts is monitor your child's progress, don't jump in too soon, but do know who to contact if problems persist beyond the first half term and make an appointment to discuss with the school.

Making Connections at Secondary School

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