Starting secondary school

Many parents start worrying about secondary schools (usually which one) before their child is out of nursery. Leaving aside the 'where', this is to help you with the 'how' because you're bound to be a little (OK, a lot) anxious if secondary school is looming and your not-so-little one has to make the move to big school

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The move from cosy primary school, where parents chat at the school gates, to a huge secondary school, where your children will be horrified to see you within a mile of it, is difficult for parents as well as children. To help you with the transition, we've distilled some advice from Mumsnet Talk.

Preparing your child for secondary school

The biggest change for your child is that, suddenly, the responsibility for what they do at school shifts from you to them. Hurrah. You no longer have to see the head if your child is late for school – it's your child who gets the detention.

If you're a compassionate (or even half-decent) parent, you'll help your child avoid a detention every lunchtime. The secret is personal organisation (theirs not yours). Some children are better at it than others, but the more you've expected them to do for themselves at home, the better they'll be at managing what's expected of them at school.

Your child will go from having one teacher to a whole host of them and will be expected to bring the right books to the right lessons. You can help by providing a cardboard box or some of that expensive trendy storage stuff, into which your child can put the books they bring home from school for homework. Put labels on the boxes for the various subjects. This is not cool but it is helpful.

Practise the journey to secondary school

If your child has to travel to school alone, do at least one trial journey, going over alternative routes/means of transport home in case their usual way is disrupted (as can happen on public transport in many cities).

Children whose schools are not within walking distance probably do need a mobile phone (if you haven't succumbed already) but do suggest they don't get it out in public. The risk of being mugged is a good argument for not getting the uber-expensive model your child will undoubtedly ask for. 

In the first few terms at secondary, it's worth persuading your child to get to school early. If your child travels on public transport, it will be less crowded if he or she leaves a little earlier and they'll be less stressed if they get to school with some time to spare to get organised for the first few lessons. 

Be prepared for the fact that, if your child does have to get up earlier, they can really feel knackered as the term wears on. This problem can be avoided if (guess what) they go to bed at a reasonable time.

  • Equip them with the skills to travel to and from school - buses/trains etc - with LOTS of gradual practice. What if the bus breaks down, what if they get on the wrong train, platform etc? Theas18
  • I sewed a pocket in the bottom of my daughter's school-bag. It holds a £10 note and change so she can get an emergency taxi, pay her or a friend's bus fare if ticket runs out, gets forgotten etc. MadeOfStarDust
  • When you do the run through of the journey, point out the shops/friends houses/libraries etc that would be fine to go to if your child was worried or being hassled by other kids or had lost the fare home or whatever. soyabean

School uniform

    If your child needs a uniform, you'll probably by this stage in your child's life have realised it's best bought early in the summer holidays before it sells out.

    Don't believe everything your child tells you about how they will die from embarrassment if you buy them a regulation skirt, but do compromise. No one wants to look like the school geek on their first day and, at most schools, subverting the school uniform to some degree is de rigueur.

  • If you can get to a secondhand sale, do so. Invest in new when they've stopped growing. scaevola
  • Don't buy a coat till October at the earliest, in case "no-one" wears coats. Similarly with bags/pencil cases, unless you know what is cool, make do with old/cheap ones till your child has worked out what's acceptable. IShallWearMidnight
  • Get your child to look at what the students are actually wearing, as opposed to what is on the uniform list you have been given. Especially see what footwear, sportswear and bookbag styles are popular (and accepted). This knowledge helps a lot when you buy uniform. tigermoth
  • Uniform, especially sports kit, will be "lost" and will disappear for entire terms (if it ever returns). Make sure you have spare items, secondhand sales are ideal. Do charge your child for items that are lost as it does reduce the frequency. alreadytaken

Personal organsiation

If you can help your child get ready the night before, it will make the mornings less stressful for you both. If your child is having to get up earlier that she's used to, she'll undoubtedly be (even more) grumpy in the mornings and move at (even more of) a snail's pace.

Plus, if you can encourage your child to lay out their clothes or uniform for the next day, you'll promote good habits instead of encouraging a learned helplessness than can persist until 18 and beyond.

Parents often complain that their children even lose their shoes at school (and, in fairness, it's hard for kids to keep track of everything) but your child does need to know that if they don't put something away in their locker at school, no one will do it for them. And for you, the parent, them not doing that can be very expensive.

  • Put their locker key / house key on to some sort of chain and attach it to the child / clothes or bag somehow. DS1 has a split ring keyring attached to his school trousers and then the keys clip on with a caribiner. None lost yet! ThreeBeeOneGee
  • Be sure to get them in the habit of packing bag the night before. Copy the locker key if you get one, and the bike lock key. TheWave
  • Get a storage box for EVERYTHING school related (books etc) so it all stays in one place. You could tape a copy of the timetable into the lid. JenaiMorris
  • Put all relevant phone numbers in their phones, including local taxi company and school. headlesslambrini

School events

If you have a good relationship with your child, encourage him or her to check the timetable the night before school. If you don't have a good relationship, this could tip it over the edge. On the other hand, finding your child's gym kit is filthy on PE morning is not helpful.

  • Search their blazer and bag once a week for letters they have forgotten to give you. Also check the school website calendar for events, and if you want to go, pester them to bring you the letter. lljkk
  • If your school has a computer page for parents LOOK at it - EVERY day - they sneak things up on you! MadeOfStarDust

Helping your child settle at secondary school

Secondary schools are vast. Some schools have helpful strategies such as letting the year sevens start one day before the rest of the school (so they can get the hang of the school layout) or letting them out for lunch five minutes earlier than the rest of the school (so they have time to settle before the school empties into the dining hall). But it's still a huge new space to get used to.

How quickly your child settles in depends a lot on them. Good form tutors will watch out for your child and you can speak to your child's tutor after the school day finishes (usually 3.30pm) if you have concerns once term starts.

  • If there are any maps hanging around at open days/evenings/visits, or if there's one in the prospectus or on the website, then nab one and spend some time looking at it with your child. Being able to find your way around early on gives a child huge confidence and popularity. roisin

Making friends

Schools often let you suggest someone your child would like to have in the same form as them, which can help in settling, although friendships change remarkably quickly in the first few terms.

A form tutor can also put your child next to someone in the class who will be supportive, but your child will need to develop strategies to cope with what is often a noisy, busy school and this takes time.

It can be helpful to give your child some idea of what to expect – that it isn't always easy to makes friends and that friendship groups do change early on. You can reassure them that things almost always work out and they'll be able to deal with it.

If you hear of friendship disputes, remain a beacon of calm reassurance. Resist the temptation to tear up to the school yourself and instead wait to see if your child can deal with it. It depends how open your child is to talking to you about these things, but you should encourage him or her to tell you if they feel bullied or excluded, and ask them why they think it's happening. But if you're still worried talk to their tutor.

  • Tell them not to concentrate on finding a 'best friend' (for girls especially) but to try and be friendly to as many people as possible. The best friend thing will sort itself out later. frogs


All change is difficult and most children manage, but it's not uncommon for children to have panic attacks occasionally (reassure them and try to find out why) or to feel overwhelmed. If there's something wrong in their class and they're unhappy (maybe the dynamic just isn't right for them) schools will sometimes move a child into another tutor group. Schools often have mentoring systems, where older children, who may have struggled further down the school and developed ways of dealing with it, mentor younger children having similar problems.

  • Secondary school is much more caring nowadays. My daughter's school has a buddy system and she had two children to care for. She's totally besotted with the boy she's been given, she says he's like a little angel, with a cloud of blonde curls. suedonim

Switching from state primary to private secondary

If your child goes to a private school, they may find it harder to settle if they went to a state primary school first. They may feel the children who went to preparatory schools know more than them and already have friendship groups.

Children do catch up: academically, it can take upt to three years; friendships happen faster. Comfort yourself by thinking of the money you've saved doing it this way round. Money that can be used for therapy (for either of you) later.


Homework can become a battleground and you may want to try to tackle it before school starts, asking your child when they think they'll fit it in. Be prepared for them to lie. Most children will want to come home from school, watch TV and go to bed.

Most teachers think it's best for children to have a break for half an hour and then do their homework. They shouldn't have more than half an hour to an hour of homework a night and it shouldn't be a priority in the first term.

A fair (and increasing) amount of secondary-school homework requires a computer, for researching facts, finding pictures, typing up essays, even creating presentations. Most schools and libraries have computers schoolchildren can use for homework but it's undoubtedly easier for your child if she can just use a computer at home.

Most schools provide children with a weekly planner that contains their school (and homework) timetable, with a space at the end of each week for the parent and teacher to write notes to each other. Before your child gets the chance to deface it, photocopy their timetable and stick it somewhere your child will see it. This will enable you to challenge your child when he or she swears they don't have any homework.

  • Try to step back from getting involved with the homework too much. They need to learn what happens when they don't hand it in on time or when they hand in substandard work, and Y7 is the best time for this. ThreeBeeOneGee
  • Sticky-back plastic for covering their school books is a MUST! gazzalw
  • Set up a folder on the computer for each subject. Also important to teach them to save their work as they go along. And back it up every week or two. ThreeBeeOneGee
  • We thought we'd planned ahead by setting up a computer downstairs for homework but we didn't think about a printer. And what was homework for the first few days? Print out loads of pictures of your family/historical events/German landmarks etc to cover your RE, History, German exercise books with - gah! Porpoise
  • DD's planner is not just to check homework is done; it also has preprinted notes about what's going on at school for parents and children, for the whole school year. I'm all for independence in secondary school kids, but I don't know one that doesn't need a shove now and again. MaureenMLove

Dealing with your own feelings

It's a wrench to see your child going off to secondary school. It's another landmark, another sign they're more grown up and that much more independent.

But cast your mind back to the little person you left on that first day at primary school and how you felt then - you've both survived (more or less intact), haven't you?

  • What I found hardest was the completely different relationship you have with the school, MothershipG
  • Your relationship with the school and with other parents is likely to be very different to primary school. Encourage your child to invite friends around. alreadytaken
  • This is the big transition for you. They go from being children to mini-teens in the space of less than half a term. meditrina
  • They will have friends that you don't know. They will want to go places that they have never been. They will go to friends' houses and you will think "but I don't know the parents. I don't know what type of family they are. What if they are [insert whatever horrible thing you like here]. But... you can't stop them growing up. You have to, for the most part, hope you have raised them in the right way and have faith they won't do anything ridiculous. But...sleepovers and parties? Always verify that with the host parent. TantrumsAndBalloons

Liked this? Try these:

Starting primary school

School uniform essentials

How to help your child with homework


Last updated: over 1 year ago