Frontlines – Children’s transition to a new school

Projects that aim to help children step up from primary to secondary school are invaluable, writes Helen Bonnick

It is that time of year again and the pictures are all across the papers and TV. The parent’s nightmare: your child does not have a place at secondary school.

To be offered your second or third choice is bad enough, but to fail to be accepted by any of up to six nominations can be devastating. Some of these children will have a toxic mix of their own disappointment, their parents’ outrage and the attentions of the media, all rounded off by possibly having no school to go to in September and being kept at home.

Increasingly though, there is a recognition that change can be stressful for anyone, whether starting school, transferring midterm, or moving up to secondary school. And the degree of success in making that transition, as in other aspects of our lives, determines how well the challenges of the next stage are faced.

The stories about moving to a new school haven’t changed much – heads down toilets is still high on the list of fears, along with getting lost in what seems an impossibly large and sprawling building.

What is new is that from now to December, schools which take part in transition projects will be helping their pupils to make that move successfully, through a programme of reciprocal visits, workshops, Q and A sessions, taster lessons, perhaps even a sports day! Vulnerable students (and their parents) will be identified for more intensive support: extra visits, linking in advance with a mentor, and then special nurture groups once the move is made.

From being a big fish in a little pond to suddenly being the tiny fish in a very large ocean of sharks may be the last straw for someone whose attendance or behaviour was already “a bit  wobbly”. But if you already know a friendly face – and importantly they know to look out for you and go calling if you don’t turn up – it may be that a bigger wobble can be averted.

All projects generate a huge amount of paperwork, but even when common sense tells you that something is beneficial it still has to be identified, counted, measured, evaluated, and  illustrated. And then it can be reported on, talked about, celebrated, promoted…and maybe funded for another year.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker


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