It’s that time of year again when changes are happening all around us. Spring is slowly changing into summer, secondary school students are preparing for exams and even in primary school children’s minds are turning to next year and what teacher they might have. But one of the biggest transitions of all is the transition from primary school to secondary school and this is the transition that our sixth class pupils are preparing for. They are now in their final weeks of primary school and while they have a lot to do and a lot to look forward to in their final term, including their graduation, their thoughts are also very firmly focused on next year and the big move.
According to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) “The transition from primary to post-primary education represents a significant and challenging step in the child’s educational experience and may present difficulties for some children”. It is widely accepted that parental support is vital during this transition, and for the first few years in secondary school, as pupils negotiate a whole new set of routines and procedures. In addition, as the move to secondary school coincides with the transition from childhood to adolescence, there can be many extra strains placed on families. Yet it is a time when young people still need boundaries and consistent rules, as well as practical support. A paper by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, issued by Co. Cavan VEC entitled ‘The Transition to Primary School: Sharing ideas and experiences of those who have gone before you,’ gives a very comprehensive outline of the many ways in which parents can support their children and help build a strong foundation for a successful time in secondary school. It also gives some good advice for parents on dealing with the behaviour and emotional issues which may occur during the first few years in secondary school as children begin to grow up and assert their independence. The paper can be accessed at: http://www.cavanvec.ie/VirginiaCollege/Publications/Parents%20The%20Transition%20To%20Secondary%20School.pdf
According to an INTO survey into transition to secondary school, there are many concerns facing students at this time. When asked to identify the main challenges, answers included coping with a longer day, increased number of subjects and teachers, the size of the building and number of pupils, coping with a varied timetable, moving classes every 40 minutes, ensuring they have the correct books for every class and coping with an increase in homework. In talking to our own class of 2014 many of the same issues came up. Included also was the fact that for some children they will not know anyone in the new school and also the fact, which figured largely for many of them, that they will go from being the oldest, most senior group in primary school to being the youngest, most junior group in secondary school.
During their last few years in primary school children are being gradually prepared for the transition to secondary school. They are being asked to take increased responsibility for the organisation of their work and school equipment, and for the standard of their work. They are given practical help such as being given homework which does not have to be handed in for a few days, as is a common practice in secondary school, and they are shown the links between the 5th/6th class curriculum and the Junior Cert programme. Children get to work with a number of different teachers in team teaching situations and they get a chance to look at timetables to become familiar with their layout. As well as this pupils are encouraged to become more independent and to make responsible decisions through their SPHE programme and initiatives such as Junior Achievements, and through the committees they can join.
In addition to these informal preparations, a formal secondary school transition programme has been running in the school for the last number of years. This is a structured, four-five week programme which ascertains what knowledge pupils already have in relation to secondary school, gives them opportunities to ask and discuss possible questions they may have regarding post-primary and provides an opportunity to voice how they feel about the move. Some ‘urban myths’ are dispelled and the pupils are given an awareness of possible sources of help when they enter post-primary school. They look at the secondary school websites, discuss timetables, the locker system and uniform, and develop strategies for dealing with any difficult areas. They also become familiar with possible abbreviations that may appear on post-primary timetables. Also part of the programme is some work on the social side of post-primary such as making new friends. In short, the programme provides information on the new system and structures which the young person will encounter, gives them an opportunity to discuss issues which arise for them and enables them to identify strategies which will assist them in overcoming difficulties which may arise. The greatest strength of this programme, however, may be that it provides a forum for children to express any fears that they may have during the process of change. Most pupils appreciate the opportunity to talk about things that are worrying them or to act out various situations through role play and they are often relieved to realise that nearly everyone has the same fears and anxieties as themselves.
For further reading and tips on how to make the transition to secondary more pleasant for everyone involved, see the following article: