The transition from Primary to Secondary education is a time of critical changes for young people. The start of this stage brings with it new learning environments, more responsibilities, and, in addition, new educational demands for students. Experts agree that it is an exciting time for many students, offering the prospect of new friendships, new subjects and new challenges; however, this newness is precisely what can become a source of anxiety for young people. Gregg Taylor, Year 6 teacher at The British School of Barcelona explains that ‘it is fundamental to present the transition from Primary to Secondary as just another stage in the student’s learning process and, to this end, it is advisable to carry out an engaging transition plan throughout the year, so that, when the time comes, both the students and their families know what to expect and can take on the novelties with complete normality and calmness’.
Among the recommended activities in this transition programme are visits to the new facilities, meetings with next year’s tutors and teachers, team building activities with Secondary students, as well as informative talks with families to introduce the new compulsory subjects and options, the assessment system, complementary activities, and their children’s new routines. ‘The aim is to make the first day of the educational year as familiar as possible — the classroom, the tutor, the day-to-day logistics — so that the experience is as enjoyable as possible’, explains Ciaran McDonagh, Head of Year 7 at BSB.
How Can We Help Our Children? 5 Key Aspects
Gregg and Ciaran have worked together throughout the year to implement a transition plan together with the BSB Student Support department. ‘Most children adjust well to Secondary education: they feel ready to take this new step and are even excited about the opportunity to start something new and experience new things. For others, however, the idea of change can be distressing and, therefore, they need more preparation and support. This is where the role of parents and the close relationship with school are essential’, says Gregg.
They both focus on 5 key aspects that we can put into practice to facilitate their adaptation to this new stage:
- Encourage a positive and open attitude towards change. Working on resilience and managing emotions among pre-teens is essential to cope with the continuous changes they will experience, both physically and psychologically, at this age. Reminding students that the transition from Primary to Secondary can provoke mixed feelings, that this is very normal when experiencing any change in life, and highlighting the need to take care of one’s own mental health is more relevant than ever at this time, as well as encouraging them to try out some self-care strategies and see what works best for them.
- Help them identify what they are looking forward to and what they might worry about. ‘Reflecting on what they have been discovering about the new school year and analysing which changes excite them and which ones upset them are very interesting exercises for young people. Encouraging them to share their feelings together allows them to find out how each of them is coping with the same situation and to alleviate possible anxiety through peer support’, recommends the BSB Secondary teacher.
- Identify personal strengths and goals that they would like to achieve in Year 7. ‘Our year-round transition plan involves meeting students in their own Primary setting to identify areas where they may need more support next year’, explains Carol Coleman, Director of BSB Student Support. ‘Working together to identify their strengths and goals is an activity that allows us to get ahead of the curve and be able to work on the strategies needed to ensure a smooth adaptation.’
- Empowering them by building their confidence and independence. With the new school year, young people will have to adapt to different school routines and a new system of self-organisation and self-management, now that the figure of the teacher as they have known it to date will no longer be present. ‘Empowering and supporting them to take steps towards independence, however big or small, and allowing them to take on small responsibilities at home will give them stability and security, as well as greater confidence to explore their new environment and seek out new experiences’, says the BSB Primary teacher. ‘The best thing parents can do is support their children, encourage them to organise their homework independently, praise them for all the things they do well, and help them overcome any obstacles they may encounter.’
- Ensure that they know how and who to ask for support. It is important for young people to know that they are not alone if they feel worried, and that talking about their problems or concerns with friends, family or trusted adults will help them feel better and reduce their anxiety. To do this, it is important to help them identify who they can turn to when they need to and to think about the possible solutions or strategies to deal with their worries. ‘Encouraging them to talk to older students who have recently gone through the same experiences is also key to smoothing their transition into this new and exciting stage of their lives’, concludes Ciaran.