Going to secondary school: what to expect
The transition to secondary school means big changes for your child. For example, your child’s friendships and peer group, schoolwork and school environment are all likely to change.
Friends and peers
When your child goes to secondary school, they’ll meet new peers and make new friends. They’ll also need to work out where they fit in a new peer group.
At secondary school, your child will:
- learn across a wide range of subjects
- work with different teachers in different classrooms with different teaching and assessment styles
- become more responsible for their own learning
- have a heavier and more complicated study and homework load
- learn a new and more complex timetable.
Your child will have to adjust to a new school campus, find their way around, get to class on time with the right books and materials, and possibly cope with new transport arrangements.
These changes can be particularly challenging for children with disability or other additional needs, and children living in rural or remote communities.
It’s natural for children to have mixed feelings about moving from the familiar to the unknown, and learning new ways of doing things. For example, children might be:
- excited about new friends, subjects and teachers
- nervous about learning new routines, making new friends or wearing a new uniform
- worried about handling the workload or not fitting in.
When children are making the move to secondary school, you have the biggest influence on how smooth the transition is. Your child’s friends do influence how your child feels about the move, but your support has stronger and longer-lasting effects.
Preparing to start secondary school
You can help to ease any worries your child has about starting secondary school by preparing your child in the months and weeks before term begins.
Here are ideas for practical preparations:
- Make sure your child goes to any secondary school transition and orientation programs in the last year of primary school.
- Involve your child in decision-making where possible. For example, you could discuss transport options to and from school.
- Practise taking the route to secondary school together, to build your child’s confidence about travelling independently.
Here are ideas for working through mixed feelings and worries:
- Talk with your child about what they’re most looking forward to and what they’re worried about. Actively listen when your child shares their feelings and worries about secondary school.
- Reassure your child that it’s natural to worry about going to secondary school.
- Encourage your child to look at the positive side of the move to secondary school. For example, you could highlight the new extracurricular activities your child could try.
- Talk with your child about keeping in touch with old friends and making new friends.
- Share your own high school experiences or the experiences of friends and family.
During the transition to secondary school
Here are some ideas to help with the practical side of the transition to high school:
- Try to arrange for a parent, grandparent or other close adult to be home before and after school for the first few weeks after your child starts secondary school.
- Work on routines for before and after school. This could include making time for homework, hobbies and sport, and relaxation before bed.
- Try to make sure your child eats healthy food, gets plenty of physical activity and gets plenty of sleep. This will help if your child is feeling tired.
- Try to make your home as comfortable for study time as possible. For example, make sure your child has a quiet place to study, away from distractions like the TV or a mobile phone.
These ideas might help with worries about getting to know people and making new friends at high school:
- Reassure your child that it’s common to worry about making new friends.
- Find out whether there’s a buddy system at your child’s new school and encourage your child to be involved in it.
- Let your child know that new friends are welcome in your home. Encourage your child to invite new friends over, or be ready to transport your child to their houses.
- Help your child explore new opportunities. Learning a musical instrument, trying a new sport or joining a drama class are great ways for your child to meet new people and get involved in school activities.
- Encourage your child to keep in touch with their old friends so they still feel socially connected.
You could try these suggestions for handling emotional ups and downs:
- Be prepared for ups and downs. Adjusting to change takes time, but if things don’t settle down after the first term, talk to your child’s home-room teacher or year coordinator.
- Remind your child that it’s natural to feel nervous about starting something new. For example, you could share how nervous and excited you feel when starting a new job.
- Talk to other parents to check whether your child’s experiences and feelings are similar to those of others. Sporting and school events are good opportunities to meet other parents.
- Stay calm. If you’re calm and reassuring you’ll help your child feel confident about getting through the start of secondary school.
Signs your child might be having difficulty at secondary school
If children are struggling with the transition to secondary school, they might:
- not want to go to school, or refuse to go to school
- say they feel sick on Sunday nights
- seem uninterested in schoolwork or new activities at the new school
- avoid talking with you about school or friends
- seem low on confidence – your child might say they’re dumb or nobody likes them
- get lower marks than they used to.
If your child is having trouble, don’t wait for things to improve on their own. Try to get your child talking about how they’re feeling, let them know that it’s OK to feel worried, and see whether you can work out some strategies together.
If things don’t improve within 2-3 weeks, consider speaking with your child’s teacher, year level coordinator, welfare coordinator or GP.
The transition to secondary school for children with disability and the transition to secondary school for autistic children can be challenging. You might need extra time to plan your child’s transition.
Your feelings about your child starting secondary school
Your child’s transition to secondary school is a big change for you too. Your relationship with your child’s primary school might be ending, and you’re likely to have a different sort of relationship with your child’s secondary school.
It’s normal to have mixed feelings about these changes.
Talking to other parents, particularly those who have gone through high school transition before, often helps. It might ease your mind to know that most children find things a little hard at first but settle in during the year.
Also, other parents who are experienced at your child’s new school can often answer small questions and give you helpful tips about how things work at the school.
And don’t be surprised to find that your child doesn’t want you to be around at their secondary school. But although your child is developing more independence, they’ll still need your support outside of school.