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Navigating Major Education Transitions

The journey through school can be challenging, with each stage of 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 navigate major education transitions. 

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 navigate the major education transitions from junior to senior school and GCSEs to sixth form.

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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.

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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. 

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