How did that happen?

Naomi Looker, Head of Year 7

For a parent of a Year 6 or 7 child, the conversation is familiar, how can it be possible that our son or daughter is off to secondary school already?! No one seems to be able to believe that the milestone has been reached and that there is no going back to the days of playground pick-ups, impromptu conversations with the class teacher who has known your child since they were four and of course the nativity plays. Transition from primary to secondary education is an immense step full of opportunity, freedom and excitement, often peppered with anxiety and confusion for the child and the family. pupils from Ipswich High School sit on a wall at the campus and overlook the River Orwell

Overseeing this transition of hundreds of children in the past six years as Head of Year 7 has shown me a lot about the intricacies and nuances of the process.  My personal experience as a parent of one Year 9 son, a Year 7 daughter and a Year 4 son – who has seen it all before, but is yet to have his own experience of high school life has given me the most understanding of the variances in each child’s approach to their own transition to secondary education.

The wrench and the joy of sending the little four year old off to Reception Class is not dissimilar to the feeling that fills us as we wave our eleven year old off on the school bus.  This time around we are sending them into a bigger world, one that they are probably very keen to be a part of but don’t really know where they fit in yet. We have strong and often high aspirations for our children; we want the very best for them but we are plagued by our own personal experiences of school, of the mistakes that we made and the urge to move heaven and earth in order shelter them from inevitable adolescence.  Transition from primary to secondary education is a family experience; it changes things and we aren’t always ready for it.

The most striking observation that I have made from working with 11 and 12 year olds is the vast discrepancy in development, be it emotional, academic or physical.

So what can we do to safeguard our children during this potentially turbulent time?  I think that the answer lies in this observation.  The differences between the children are so varied, their expectations and desires differ so much from each other’s (and often from our own); how can there be only one answer?  No two children are the same.  Some will need a little help setting up a good homework routine and will then confidently run with it, whilst others will need consistent support every day to make sure that they are organised; and that’s alright.  Some will be very sensible when carefully choosing their snacks from the school canteen, others will not be able to regulate their spending, overcome by the excitement of choice.

When children join us at IHS in Year 7 or move through from our Prep School to the Senior School, this is our priority. To identify what each of the pupils needs and to ensure that we give them the necessary guidance. Time, understanding, friendly monitoring and trust are fundamental.

With the move to Senior School can come longer days and new friends who we may not have ever met. This is where we need to trust; trust the children and trust the school as they begin to have more independence. When it comes to a parent’s relationship with a school it works best when there is an open dialogue, keep the school in the loop, and let them know when things are tricky at home or if your child is struggling with their friends or with the work.  Don’t expect the school to wave a magic wand and make it all better but do trust that you and your school have a common goal.  Let the school know if you think that they could have done something differently and let them know if they have done something well.

But there is a balance to be had between building trust and being involved. At this transitional stage we need to keep them close as they are not ready to go it alone just yet.  They need to be listened to without judgment and interruption; sometimes they will tell us things that frighten us or make us angry. Aim to dwell on positives and listen to, acknowledge and deal with the negatives calmly, even if what you are hearing makes you furious.  We’ve got to give them the tools to deal with their own battles, and demonstrate how to use them.

We have to be careful not to let our own past experience, expectations and aspirations tint the way that we perceive our children’s current experience.  Moving up to the Senior School is a road with a lot of bumps in it, sometimes big pot holes and road blocks and together we’ve got it covered.  But as for the question ‘how does the time go so quickly?’ who knows, perhaps the Science Department can help me out with that.

Interested in joining Ipswich High School in September? Limited Year 7 places available for boys and girls. Email for further information.