Navigating Major Education Transitions

The journey through school can be challenging, with each stage of an education presenting a new set of hurdles to overcome. Growing up is a challenge in itself; children have to navigate academic pressures, as well as manage hormonal, mental and social demands. In this article we explore the common challenges children will face during their transition through school and provide guidance on how best to prepare for them. 

Making key transitions at any point in your child’s education can be both daunting, and exciting, for them, and for you. Preparing your child effectively for the different stages of their education can ensure they experience a smooth and successful transition. Preparation comes in many forms; choosing the right school, boosting their self confidence, setting out clear behavioural expectations or educating them on what the future holds beyond school. 

In this article, we will focus on  the jump from junior to senior school, GCSEs to sixth form, and finally sixth form onto college or university. 

The Transition From Junior to Senior School

Let’s start with the popular leap into ‘big school’, this most often occurs at 11, or 13 but this guidance also applies to those moving at 7, 8, 9 and 10, too! At this age, most children have to navigate their way around a larger school following their weekly timetable of lessons and activities. Long gone are the days of quiet reading and small social groups. It is time for an increase in workload, new teachers, new friends and a new stage of life. This is often daunting for primary school children, who will go from ruling the roost as the oldest in their school, to being the bottom of the social hierarchy. 

Many children will be concerned about the school commute, making new friends, finding their way around their school, being on time for lessons, and the step up in workload. These are all very common worries and can be easily managed to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

1. Build independence

The first thing you can do as a parent is to start building a level of independence and responsibility in your child. This can be done prior to them starting senior school by giving them increased personal  responsibility – perhaps tasks around the home. Independence can be reinforced into senior school by encouraging your child to pack their own school bag, set their own alarm for school, or manage their own homework priorities.  It is best to find a balance between monitoring them and also giving them the freedom and trust they desire. Finding this balance will build their motivation and confidence. 

2. Regular communication 

Another important process in a child’s development is regular communication, and a willingness to share their feelings. We mustn’t forget that children are still young and sensitive and will need emotional support from time to time. Fostering an environment where your child feels comfortable to share their worries and concerns will be helpful as they enter senior school and the challenges that may come with it. 

3. Reassurance is key

Positive conversations about the move can help eliminate many of a child’s worries. You could do this by sharing some of your own stories from school, getting them excited about their own new chapter in life. Reassure your child that other children will be feeling the same as they are. During the first few weeks of school we advise encouraging them to be social, perhaps by getting involved in different clubs and activities where they can begin to make new friends.

The Transition Between GCSEs and Sixth Form 

The leap between GCSE and sixth form is often underestimated by students and parents. Although GCSE’s have become more challenging in order to prepare for the academic rigor of sixth form, children still find the jump to be much bigger than expected. Most are moving from  studying ten or more subjects to a more enhanced and narrow academic focus at A-Level or IB. Pupils are usually excited about being able to drop the subjects they never enjoyed and the idea of getting free study periods throughout the week fills students with delight. Ideally your child’s previous school will have ingrained a degree of independent learning in preparation for a smooth transition to this new way of working. This is often done through autonomous work projects, compulsory research essay competitions, or presentations. The skills picked up during these assignments are then added to the toolbox of skills needed to tackle the sixth form years. 

1. Promote organisation 

The general trend for most students is an organised and eager start to the lower sixth which then tails off as they begin to struggle with workload or get distracted with social commitments. We advise maintaining a level of understanding and influence over your child by setting out clear boundaries without being overburdening. Encourage them to use their free periods wisely by creating their own timetable to catch up on work, consolidate content, or complete homework. This will allow them to stay on top of their studies and free up time for social events in the evenings and weekends.The key to getting through the demands of sixth form is a good level of organisation! 

2. Reset standards 

If your child was disappointed with their GCSE results and is feeling apprehensive about starting sixth form as a result, it is important to remind them that this is an opportunity for a fresh start. Universities, colleges and employers will be focused on the most recent set of grades they see, therefore a strong set of sixth form grades is essential. You, as parents, should take the time to familiarise yourself with your child’s curriculum and the demands of the next two years, such as University application deadlines.This will better equip you to be able to support them through the two years and engage help if needed.

3. Be consistent 

There is a lot of content to cover over the two years, and it goes into far more detail than at GCSE level.  Encouraging your child to work consistently hard throughout the year by reinforcing the habit of regular study and revision will help them stay on top of workload and help them to consolidate content. Some students have a tendency to overwork so it is also worth monitoring the time spent working out of school hours to ensure they are not overdoing it and burning themselves out. Sixth form is a stressful and demanding time for teenagers and they need time to relax and recover during the week. Don’t let your child give up all their hobbies and interests because they have got lost in their textbooks. Variety will keep their mind fresh and motivated so if they are on a school sports team, in a school play, or performing in the school choir this should be encouraged. Having an array of hobbies and non-academic skills to talk about will also help your child stand out from the rest when it comes to writing a personal statement or answering interview questions. 

4. Stay ahead on University Applications

As if the demands of completing A Levels or the IB are not enough, students have also got to decide what they want to study, where they want to go to university, write their personal statement, prepare for interviews, and if they wish to attend university in the US, start preparing for SATs. Leaving all of this to the last minute can be stressful and result in rushed decision making. Taking a thorough look into university options, visiting them, and speaking to alumni students or teachers about different universities can help with this decision making. Being up to speed on what the application process involves and beginning to spend some time on completing it during quiet times of the term will reduce anxiety. 

The Transition Between Sixth Form and Higher Education  

The final and often most daunting transition is the leap from school into higher education. Attending university or college is not for everyone, but it is still an immensely popular choice for many school leavers in the UK. It is the first real step of independence as children leave the comfort of their family homes and enter their student accommodation. Every student will be feeling apprehensive as it is a new experience for them all, even those that have been back-packing their way around the globe for the last six months. 

1. Maintain structure 

Moving from the structured environment of school and home to the relaxed learning environment of university is often welcomed by students. Some students might quickly lose routine and it is important for them to be aware of healthy habits, such as preparing for seminars and attending lectures. You can not tell your child to be self-motivated, this has to come from within themselves. Part of it comes naturally as they mature. However, you can help them by encouraging them to join clubs and societies which will add structure into their week. This will promote a sense of purpose and drive which will filter into their academic work. As the saying goes “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. Getting involved in clubs and societies can also help them build friendships. 

2. Build relationships with lecturers and tutors

The academic demands and writing techniques required at university level are different to those required at school level and so completing that first assignment can be daunting. No one is in a better position to help than the person who set the assignment. So, if you get a panicked phone call from your child the week before their assignment deadline, encourage them to go and speak to the professor in charge of their module. They will be able to guide them through the assignment criteria and break down what is needed to achieve a good mark. Although higher education is a time to learn independently you must keep reminding your child to use the teaching resources they have at their fingertips and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It won’t happen overnight but the aim is for them to become autonomous and productive with their learning, putting aside office hours for work and freeing up time for fun. 

3. Maintain regular communication

It is always good to check in on your child every week or so to see how they are getting on with life in general, but also their academic studies. Remind them that it is OK if they are struggling with work and extra help and support can always be arranged. The odd visit from parents is a good idea. It is also a good opportunity for you to meet some of their friends and get a feel for their lifestyle. If your child is reluctant to speak and wants to be left to their own devices then another good option is to send them goodies in the post, for example some snacks and a handwritten letter. 

If you, and your child, would like any help and guidance at any point during these transitions then please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our education consultants.