Transition Between Schools

Your child will move schools at some stage in their life. Most commonly, this happens at the end of Year 6, when children move from primary to secondary school. Others may move from middle school to high school, or change schools because the family move to a different area. Whilst this guidance applies to the transition from primary to secondary school, much of it is relevant to, and will help you cope with, any school change.

Moving school can be a daunting or challenging time for both children and parents. Facing new people, places, lessons and structures, children often feel apprehensive. It can take a while to adjust to the new environment.

To help your child settle in, find the balance between supporting them and allowing them to increase their independence. Address any issues well before term time begins.

How schools ease the secondary transition

Many secondary schools work together with primary schools so children know what to expect.

  • Secondary teachers will come down to primary schools to introduce themselves or teach a class
  • Open evenings and events give children and parents a chance to look around, and try out fun activities (science experiments, basketball)
  • Whole primary classes will go out, together with their primary class teacher, and visit the secondary school. They will be shown around and might be taught sample lessons, just to see what it’s like. They may spend a whole day – or even a week – at secondary school in the summer term, so they know what to expect in September
  • Summer Schools – the secondary school might run a fun week’s activities so children can make new friends and get to know teachers and school facilities

Reassurance and support

Inevitably, children will wonder what to expect – and may even be fearful. Older children love to tell horror stories to scare youngsters! Encourage them to talk and listen to their concerns. Reassure them that feeling nervous is perfectly normal. Share your own stories of how all went well in the end.

Attend open days. Familiarise them with their surroundings. Show them how to use the school map/layout and become familiar with where the classrooms, toilets, cafeteria etc. are. Identify areas where they can stop and gather their thoughts if they do get lost.

Positive spin: this is a fresh start. They can forget the past and reinvent themselves.


Help to build their confidence about starting school.

  • Remind them how proud you are of them – for who they are, not just what they do
  • Compliment them on how great they look in their new uniform
  • Praise them when they try hard, as well as when they do well
  • Talk through how to look confident (without arrogance). How they carry themselves influences how others treat them – as well as what they say and do


Travelling to school may be a big change, too – from walking with you or friends to perhaps taking a bus to a new school.

Find out if any of their friends will be travelling the same route.

Speak to other parents to arrange a ‘test run’ for the children to travel together before term-time starts – by walking, lifts or public transport.

Preparation and organisation

In addition to reassuring and encouraging your child, another key to a smooth and stress-free move to the ‘big school’ is helping your child to organise themselves and become more independent.

  • Encourage your child to take responsibility for their appearance and get their school uniform and PE kit ready
  • Get them into the habit of packing their school bag the night before, to avoid rushing and forgetting things
  • Ensure that they have dinner money, mealcard or packed lunch with them before they leave the house


Your child may be moving up to ‘big school’ with friends, but encourage them to be open to making new friends.

  • Encourage them to treat others in ways they would like to be treated
  • Suggest that they approach other children
  • Teach them how to interact and be friendly
  • Help them to empathise with others and see things from their point of view
  • Helping others who seem shy or are struggling will boost their own confidence and self-worth, and build friendships
  • New schools offer exciting opportunities. Getting involved in after-school clubs and activities can build friendships


There will be a significant increase in workload and expectations.

Make sure that your child has a quiet space in which to work, and they may need access to a PC/laptop and internet for researching work. 22.5 million UK households have WiFi, but libraries and school homework clubs can also provide homework facilities.

Help your child to develop organisational skills. Most secondary schools supply diaries/planners. Encourage them to record their homework tasks in theirs, with the due date. Then help them to schedule when to fit each homework task into their week.


Bullying is one of the main concerns children have when starting at a new school. A survey carried out by Bullying UK showed that 55% of children have been bullied at some point and 42% of children were worried about internet bullying. Children might even feel that a particular member of staff is picking on them.

Don’t dwell on bullying too much, but explain that it will not be tolerated by the school. Show them the CBBC website if they need support. Let them know that they can come to you or a trusted member of staff if they are upset, or feel vulnerable.


Ensure that your child feels supported, and understand what they will encounter from day to day. Remind them that you, their older siblings and others have successfully made it through.

Find information online. A couple of articles for starters are: parents' transition survival guide, and transition tips for parents.

You can only do so much to help. Your child needs to face new challenges themself to become independent. If you have helped them to feel confident, prepared and reassured, this is a sound base from which they can fly.

  1. Transitions are a necessary part of life. During the course of our education, how many transitions do most of us make?
    There are generally three or four transitions - nursery to primary, primary to secondary, secondary to college, and possibly college to university. However, some children attend different infant and junior schools whilst some go to middle and upper schools. In addition, when families move home children have to adapt to new schools. Even changes of year involve adjusting to new teachers and new classmates. All in all, children have to be adaptable!
  2. The move from primary to secondary school can be very stressful! Which of the following is NOT a reason why children starting secondary school may feel pressured?
    Of course, children go from being the oldest at primary school to the youngest at secondary! It is a time of great upheaval - the school is much larger, with more buildings and more people. Children must also take on much more responsibility and have much more work to do. All of this on top of the changes their bodies are going through and social pressures make the move up to secondary school probably the most stressful of all transitions
  3. Secondary school children will have more books and equipment to organise each day than they did at primary school, so they may find it difficult to stay on top. How should you help them?
    Secondary school children are expected to take responsibility for their own organisation so resist the temptation to do everything for them. Instead, remind them each evening to check their timetable for the following day and to pack everything they will need. This should put an end to the last minute panic of a morning
  4. Even if your child doesn't FEEL confident, they can APPEAR to be. Three of the following four options can make us seem confident - but which will not?
    If we lack confidence we try to make ourselves smaller by slouching so an upright posture makes us look and feel better. When we are uncomfortable in our surroundings we tend to avoid eye contact, rush our speech and mumble, so looking at people as we speak whilst taking our time and speaking clearly makes us seem in control. Aggression is different to confidence - in fact, it usually stems from fear and will not make us look good at all
  5. Moving school is never easy but doing so part way through a school year due to a change of address is even harder. Which of the following are signs that your child is not settling in?
    Many children will not tell their parents if they are unhappy at school so it's important you look out for warning signs. In addition to those mentioned, other signs include worsening behaviour, less concern for punctuality, a change in personality, a lack of social activity... the list goes on. If your child seems unhappy then talk to them and find out why. If your child won't talk about it then you may need to speak to the school
  6. Secondary school children are given much more homework than they are at primary school. A 2017 study by the OECD found that 15 year olds in the UK do how many hours of homework on average each week?
    That's the 32nd highest in the world. Children in China are set almost 14 hours homework! Until 2012 the government said that teenagers should be set between 4 and 7.5 hours homework each week but schools are now free to set as little or as much as they wish
  7. Bullying is a concern when starting a new school and there are many myths surrounding the issue. Which of the following statements about bullying is true?
    Bullying is neither normal nor acceptable. Children who bully will often behave similarly as adults, unless they are challenged early. It's not in our genes to bully, although it is often learned by example - victims of bullying, usually at home, may well become bullies themselves.
    It's important that your child knows what to do if they are bullied. They should not hit back, as this will get them into trouble. Much better to report the matter to the school - and to you
  8. At secondary school, children have many more teachers than they do at primary school, and they may not get on with all of them! Who should you talk to if your child says one of their teachers is bullying them?
    The first thing to do is to arrange a meeting and try to resolve the problem. Be polite and listen to the teacher's point of view without accusing them of anything. If this is not helpful then you should ask to speak to the head of year or the head teacher. Keep a record of all conversations and take notes you can refer to later
  9. Which of the following people are most likely to settle into their new school with ease?
    Settling in is all about self-esteem. Confident children are less likely to be bullied and more likely to have a wide circle of friends. To boost their confidence, pay them a compliment every day. For example, tell them what a good job they have done mowing the lawn or looking after their pet. Each time you praise them you are boosting their confidence and self-esteem
  10. There are lots of horror stories told to new starters about what awaits them in secondary school. In a poll for the BBC, which of the following stories was the most feared?
    These were the four most feared tales. Of course, the vast majority of what new starters fear never happens. One in every seven 11-year-olds thought they would be made to do the homework of a 15-year-old but how likely is that really?

Author: Linda Innes

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