Beginning secondary school is a large leap for any 11-year-old. As parents, it is inevitable to worry about how our children will adapt to their new environments, how they will rise to the new expectations we all have of them and ultimately, whether they will be happy.
Mrs Emily Harrison, Head of Year 7 at Farnborough Hill, has guided countless new girls through their first few months and reflects on some of the questions that might be at the forefront of your mind right now.
Your daughter may not be a morning person - that is perfectly normal and something that we can continue to struggle with in our adult years! It can really help to do some practice morning runs to school over the summer holidays. Knowing the route and what time she needs to be up and about may help with one less first day nerve for your daughter. Once term starts, encourage your daughter to introduce herself to any Farnborough Hill pupils waiting at the same train platform or bus stop. They will always be happy to help. I would recommend you also plan for the unexpected, such as a train delay or lost ticket. We always encourage independence but be ready to offer a helping hand.
Uniform and School bags
During the first few weeks when your daughter is finding her feet and getting used to her new routine, it can really help to lay everything out the night before, including her school bag. Trying on her uniform a few times over the summer will help make it feel more familiar too. With fewer books and almost only an iPad to carry, packing her back should hopefully be a breeze but it is still worth not leaving it to the last minute. Don’t forget to remind your daughter to charge her iPad every night too!
Talking of devices, when your daughter is given her iPad, we will talk to her about our School Code of Conduct and IT Acceptable Use Policy. It is really important that the girls are comfortable with how we use iPads in School and you can help them with this by reinforcing the policies at home. We will help the girls become expert users of Microsoft Teams and OneNote, but you might want to occasionally check into their Teams with your daughter. It will give you a great insight into how your daughter is engaging with school life.
In the first few weeks, have a copy of your daughter’s timetable visible at home for you all to refer to. Encouraging her to learn what lessons she has and when, will help her become more self-reliant. If she remembers things through colour-coding for example, you could highlight certain lessons together and include any clubs they have chosen along with equipment needed for each day. As a school, we use the SOCs calendar. You, and your daughter can download this onto any mobile device and see, at a glance, what is happening that day.
Finding people, places and things
This is perhaps the biggest worry for us all when we start anything new! For the first week, teachers will walk the girls to each lesson so that they can learn their way around. Encourage your daughter to meet up with her buddy as well as she will be able to share lots of insider tips and tricks. There will also come the inevitable moment when your daughter loses something. My advice would be to ensure everything, absolutely everything is named including items such as keys or mobile phones. Be reassured we will help – trust me, I am regularly scouring the school looking for belongings and they almost always turn up.
Work Space at home and Prep
For some of our new Year 7 girls, this is their first experience of formal Prep. Teachers will offer lots of guidance but, in reality, you are at the coal face when it comes to Prep. Having a copy of the Prep timetable at home is incredibly useful – whilst your daughter might not have Prep set in every subject each day, the timetable can be a valuable aide memoire! You may need to be more involved in the early weeks to help her juggle co-curricular activities with Prep. I would suggest they always do Prep on the day that it is set but sometimes this just doesn’t work and your daughter might need help scheduling it for another day. Most Prep set doesn’t have to be done immediately but there will be a deadline that your daughter needs to keep track of.
Homework so far may have been done at the kitchen table, which for some might still work well. However, I typically find that the girls really appreciate having their own space at home for everything to do with school. Their own desk, study light and storage space for school bits and pieces, as well as perhaps a whiteboard for them to jot down reminders. Girls are very welcome to come along to Prep Club and I would actually suggest doing so quite early on in the first term, so they are familiar with how it works. Some girls really benefit from doing their Prep at school so supervised Prep Club is open to all every day until 6.00 pm.
If your daughter does do her Prep at home, keep an eye on how long it is taking – each subject should take a maximum of 30 minutes. Try not to let her continue on longer than the recommended time but if she insists on continuing, I would advise highlighting where she got to at this point, so teachers have a clear idea of how long it took her to complete. If you are worried about how long Prep is taking or have any other Prep concerns, do get in touch with the subject teacher via the School Office. They will happily help.
You may feel that your daughter will need a couple of terms to settle into secondary school and that joining clubs may be all too much at once. I disagree! The more she puts into school life, the more she will get back. Joining co-curricular clubs are one of the best ways to help her settle in quickly. She will meet people with similar interests as well as get to know more staff. Some of our clubs have older pupils helping and so are a great way for your daughter to make friends beyond Year 7.
We all ultimately want our children to make friends. Your daughter may already know girls in her year but there will be plenty who don’t. We arrange daily activities at break and lunch time during the first two weeks to help the girls to mingle and chat to one another and this gives them a great foundation from which to grow healthy and positive friendships. You can also help by encouraging her to chat to as many of her Form Group as possible – help her practice introducing herself or asking questions of others might boost her confidence in the early days. From experience, I know that the more time girls invest in getting to know as many people as possible, the better. The girls will all mature at different rates and their social needs will change at different times. For some, their friendships will change several times throughout their time at school and, however uncomfortable this process can be, it is really important they develop the necessary social skills to cope.
And finally, don’t forget we are here to help! Starting secondary school is a big step for parents too and having contact details such as the School Office or Head of Year to hand (you can find these in the Parent Handbook) means we can support you quickly.