Joe McCormack

Twenty top tips for making the leap into the big pond of secondary school

There are so many genuine concerns for students as they make the leap into the big pond that is secondary school. Over the next two articles, I will provide some information and direction to help you as a parent to reduce the stress of this unique transition. I have broken the first part of this feature into two elements. One being the differences between Primary and Secondary school followed by my Top twenty tips for Transitioning from one to the other. Part two of the feature can be found here.

The main difference between Primary and Secondary School

Subjects and settling in:

· All first year students will take Irish, English, Maths, Science, History and Wellbeing (excluding exemptions).

· Students may get a chance to sample subjects in first year before committing to them.

· Various extra-curricular activities such as debating, drama, science club etc available.

· It is a great idea for students to join clubs and make new friends. You might remind them of some of the skills of making friends; good eye-contact, smiling, showing interest in other children and reciprocal conversational skills. Making friends is a key element to settling into secondary school.

· The more exercise they get the better. I did a little study of twenty footballers I coached previously, and they performed better on average academically compared to those in their year.

· If your child enjoys a specific sport/club, it is a good idea to get to know the teacher who co-ordinates this.

· It will be exciting for your child to start new subjects – woodwork, home economics and metalwork etc.

· Students should give each subject an equal amount of homework time for the first month to give each one a chance.

· I would advise students to complete the homework of their less favoured subjects first each evening.

· Advise your child to enjoy their secondary school experiences. This takes any early pressure off them.

· My ACE Tip: The better your child’s teachers know them, the better working relationship in class they will have with them.

School structure

· The Subject Teacher – most teachers teach two subjects and may spend up to six classes with your child.

· The Tutor/Form/Home Room Teacher – involved in Attendance, Day to Day and maybe discipline.

· The Year Head - Home room teachers report to this person, but they may also deal with serious discipline or pastoral care issues.

· Deputy Principal and Principal – Admin, Organisation, Events, Final decisions etc.

· Students are usually divided into 4/5 groups of 25/30 (depending on the size of the school) with possible class names being: 1a, 1b., 1c, 1d, 1e. They stay with this base class for core subjects: Irish, English, Maths, Wellbeing etc. The majority of schools have mixed ability classes in first year. This helps with socialisation. “Mixed-ability grouping in first Year leads to improved progress in literacy and numeracy and can give students more confidence as learners’.

· Students are usually mixed based on Information from their Education Passport from primary school and performance in entrance tests.

· Streaming may occur in some subjects in second year. This is where students are grouped by their ability – Higher and Ordinary. e.g. Maths

· The student council body suggests ideas and raises student related issues with management. Usually one student is nominated from each class or year. This is their vehicle for discussion and influencing change. The head girl/boy and deputy head person are usually elected by the student council.

School day to day:

1. It’s important to have a big breakfast each morning e.g. Porridge with fruit or yoghurt. They will need something substantial to sustain them until little break when they can have a snack. Advise them on the sensibility of not eating their main lunch at 11am and being hungry for the afternoon then as a result.

2. Roll call, locker access and lunch are at certain times. If your child is a bit scatty, make sure to advise and help them to be organised for these situations. Ask them to speak to their class tutor or mentor if any issues here (as applicable).

3. Get them to copy out their timetable into their journal to get used to it. Colour coding subjects on this timetable can help track their progress for the week.

4. In some schools, the students travel to the teacher’s rooms. In other schools, the teachers move around, and each class has a base room. Movement may be reduced from now on. Having the correct materials for each class every day will be Important.

5. Moving around a new building can be disconcerting for a child. They can get lost and that’s upsetting for them. Tell them to tag on to one person from the class for the first few weeks.

6. Many schools have gone to hour long classes to facilitate the new Junior Cycle.

My ACE Tip - During the first two weeks settling in, they will be tired each evening. Maybe plan so that extra-curricular activities outside school are minimised during this period. After this fitting in period, plough on with these as normal.

Twenty ACE Tips for Transitioning into 1st Year

1. Talk with your child, listen to their views and concerns and answer any questions they may have about the planned move. Talk to them about individual subjects. Help them plan their evening.

2. Many students get anxious about assessments. You can explain that they are to help the school to learn more about the supports that students may need. Advise them to speak with the individual subject teacher if they are concerned in any way about a subject.

3. Try and bring them inside the school before it starts. This is to familiarise students with the school at a time when there are fewer students in the building. They can learn about the layout of the school, get to know some of their new teachers and become familiar with the operation of the school including the frequency of bells, the location of lockers, the noise and movement when classes end and what happens at break times.

4. Involve your child in buying schoolbooks, uniform, P.E. gear etc. Involve them in more decision making from now on. Empowerment works.

5. Talk to your son/daughter about the length of the school day, how a timetable works and how they are going to travel to school. Trial runs are good. Anticipate where they may get anxious during the day. Leave early for school each morning to minimise anxiety.

6. Talk regularly over the next few weeks about the new school rules, P.E. arrangements, the canteen, lunch breaks, uniform and the timetable. Know the policies of the school and constantly check the school’s website for updates.

7. Ensure as many of their class teachers know about their strengths and difficulties. i.e. The information on their Education passport

8. Visit the school every so often to meet their subject teachers, tutor and year head.

9. Get your hands on or draw up a map of school.

10. Consider that it may take them a while to adapt to a new classroom, new activities and new subjects. Ensure they build in down time each evening to maintain freshness and enthusiasm.

11. Organising Issues: Purchase materials for each subject. School booklists and stationary lists are the first port of call here. The website theschoolrun.com is useful for an insight into each subject and Introductory worksheets.

12. If possible show them a few little skills around note-taking. Their class teachers may not get the opportunity to work on this vital skill.

13. Talk about and help clarify the Locker process.

14. Advise them to use their Mentor/Buddy and class tutor as best they can.

15. Getting clever at knowing what equipment is required for each class is important: i.e. protractors, setsquares, colours, stencil sets, rulers, pens etc. My Tip– write down each teachers’ instructions here. There is no need to carry all their books all of the time. Put their Timetable and Calendar on the fridge.

16. Encourage them to sign up to clubs/society’s on club’s day.

17. Re-enforce the Important habit of recording Information, especially homework into their Journal. Check their Journal each week for homework progress and teacher notes.

18. Get the 3-way communication going: Teachers-Parent-Student. In primary, it was more about the Teacher-Parent link. Start including your child in conversations as appropriate.

19. Do as much preparation for the school day the night before. Get them into the habit of having the uniform out, bag correctly packed by the door, lunch ready etc. This again will reduce stress levels in the morning.

20. At secondary schools the days are longer, so try and start them with a healthy breakfast or give them some dried fruit or yoghurt to eat in the car if in a hurry. Part 2 of transitioning will be published next week. Don’t miss it. Joe

To view more of Joe’s Jotter features, click the hashtag #JoesJotter

More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his ever popular ACE Maths Solution Books for the Junior and Leaving Certificate can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copies today!

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