A student’s transition from primary to secondary years can be an exhilarating experience, yet also frightening and frustrating. So while most students will cope admirably with the transition and feel accustomed to the changes after the first couple of weeks, it is vital that steps are taken by both the school and parents to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible.
The Importance of a Smooth Transition
“There have been many studies carried out into the effects of transitions in secondary students,” shares Matthew Roberts, Assistant Head Teacher at Al Rabeeh School, Abu Dhabi. “This research concluded that a poor transition can contribute to a negative impact on wellbeing, future difficulties with learning, and students not achieving their full potential. Transitions are found to be most useful when the schools have strong links.”
He continues: “The role of both the primary and secondary school is the most vital in transition between settings. An effective working relationship between the two schools is crucial. Schools with the closest links are found to offer successful transitions.”
Simon Corns, Headmaster at Brighton College Abu Dhabi agrees a smooth transition can mean better results. “It is essential that pupils are secure and supported at all points of transition as they move from one phase of education to the next. The better the experience for them, the better they are apt to perform,” he says.
What to Look Out for
Transitioning from primary to secondary years is a time of anticipation and apprehension for students and parents. New surroundings, new friends, new challenges, and new choices will all have to be tackled. With this in mind, what can parents do to help make the move simple and trouble-free?
Ulrike Suwwan, Educational Consultant at the German International School Dubai, believes that parents can support their children best by allowing them to get along with this transition at their own pace. “This sometimes requires parents to consciously let go and step back, while giving the child the chance to explore different strategies on how to overcome challenges, building resilience and self-esteem along the way.”
“There are many reasons why a student may be unhappy in a new school, but most can be addressed and solved,” Simon Corns shares. “It is often difficult to tell whether it is simple trepidation about being placed in a new environment or whether there is a more serious underlying factor. As a rule, if a child seems unhappy, I would strongly advise parents to contact the school and see how the child is when they are not around. Sometimes the picture is complex, so all concerns in the initial stages are worth mentioning, allowing the school and parents to work together to find a solution.”
“A student newly joining a school or a section in the school will be closely monitored by his or her teachers,” says Amal Shahine, Principal at Horizon Private School – Branch, Abu Dhabi.“If they notice that the child is not adapting easily to the new environment, the teachers will contact previous teachers, as well as the parents, in order to learn more and find ways to help the student adapt quickly.
“Parents should directly inform the school if they notice that their child is not interested in coming to the school in the morning or is not happy when going back home in the afternoon.”
When moving to secondary, students should be brimming with excitement at the chance of a new challenge in a new school, but a little concern is normal too, even healthy, with Sheela Menon, Principal at the Ambassador School Dubai, saying: “Entry anxiety is common. To allay it, going to the school orientation helps, and for parents connecting with other parents, who have experienced and seen it all before is good. This helps to normalise fears and most students will feel assured within the first week, with the school routine establishing a sense of familiarity.
As students transition through school, we must also remember that what and how they are learning is also changing.
“At this stage of their education, there are also increased expectations on their academic performance,” shares Matthew Roberts. “Children become more aware of the importance of their learning, as they creep towards the years of formal qualifications, such as GCSEs, IBs and High School Diplomas. Students have to deal with these pressures, all whilst learning about social rules in their early teenage years, which is a lot for a child aged 11 to be carrying on their shoulders. It’s a difficult task as an adult, think about your first day at a new job or university!”
Sheela Menon adds: “Don’t be surprised to find that your child doesn’t want you to be as visible in secondary years as they might have been during the primary years. Remember that children will still need your support outside of school, and that it’s all part of the way they develop that sense of being independent.”