What to expect

Starting secondary school is a significant milestone for any child. Moving from a relatively small primary school to a much larger school will inevitably bring many changes and these can be both exciting and daunting. Your child is bound to have many questions and concerns, and the best way you can support them through the transition is by helping them to understand what to expect and preparing them as much as possible.

On the practical side, starting secondary school represents a change in routine and a shift in responsibility. Your child may have to get them self to school on time, they will have different teachers for different subjects, and they will be given more homework. You can start to prepare your child for these things early on.

On the emotional side, your child is going to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Most children will have been confident and happy in Year 6 at primary school, where they were a big fish in a small pond. Now they will be surrounded by hundreds of new faces in an unfamiliar setting.

How to prepare:

  • Attending the school’s open day is essential. Looking around the school and meeting some of the teachers will really help your child to start to overcome their fear of the unknown. Try to pick up a school map and list of staff names while you are there to look at again before their first day.
  • Go through the school rules with your child so that they understand what is expected of them in terms of behaviour.
  • Make sure you buy their new school uniform in plenty of time as this will play an important part in helping you child to feel like they fit in.
  • Plan and practise the journey to school (several times if necessary). Try to find out if here are any classmates who they could make the journey with. Talk through different scenarios with them, e.g. what will they do if they miss the bus or lose their travel card, and make sure they have all the contact telephone numbers they might need and some emergency money. You might consider buying them a mobile phone too.
  • Resist the temptation to do everything for your child. They need to start taking some responsibility for their own time management and personal organisation. Discuss their new routine with them and encourage them to:
    • Get ready the night before, making sure they have the right books ready and anything else they might need the next day, e.g. PE kit or cookery ingredients.
    • Do their homework in the evenings and plan it to fit around other activities.
  • Make sure the following documents are on display somewhere you can all see them:
    • The weekly timetable
    • A daily checklist, including things like dinner money / packed lunch, travel card, books, PE kit and keys.

Homework help

Homework is intended to reinforce or build on what has been learned in class. It is most useful for your child to complete the homework while the lesson is still fresh in their mind.

You will want to support your child as best you can, but it is important that you also start to help them to become an independent learner.

Try to encourage good habits, for example:

  • Completing homework in a timely manner and not leaving it until the last minute
  • Doing homework in the evenings so that it doesn’t eat into their weekends
  • Balancing work with fun activities, like spending time with friends or watching TV.

When it comes to completing the homework, ask your child to tell you what they have got to do or read the task out to you. Ask them questions to ensure they understand what is required and give them the opportunity to ask for your advice. Over the first year, you should expect to see them gradually become more confident in this area, requiring less and less input and guidance from you.

Make sure you have a great range of books at home that will support help your child complete homework tasks more easily.

Practical ways to support learning at home:

  • Make sure your child has somewhere suitable to work, away from distractions, where it is quiet and they can concentrate.
  • In addition to a table or desk, try to supply them with shelving or storage boxes where they can keep all their books and projects.
  • Keep a good supply of basic stationery items like paper, pens, pencils, a ruler and erasers. They will also need special equipment for Maths, including a protractor, pair of compasses and a scientific calculator. The school should provide you with a list of items.
  • The internet can be a very useful tool, especially when your child has to conduct research for a project. However, it is important to set some ground rules around internet usage and possibly put some parental controls in place to restrict what your child has access to.
  • There will be times when your child will come to you because there is a question that they can’t answer or a problem they are having difficulty solving. Rather than doing the work for them, talk through it with them step-by-step and ask them about the approaches they are using.
  • For some subjects, Maths especially, it is important to be aware of the methods currently being used in schools. It is worth buying a good revision guide at the beginning of the year for each of the main subjects. These can be an invaluable resource when you want to quickly look-up or check a technique.

Key Stage 3

Key Stage 3 starts in Year 7. Some schools teach KS3 over three years, whilst others teach it over a shorter period so that they can begin teaching for GCSEs in Year 9.

There are no formal exams at the end of KS3, however, it marks the start of your child’s secondary education and is an important stage in terms of laying the foundations for GCSEs and beyond.

The new national curriculum for KS3, introduced in September 2014, is generally more demanding than the previous one, especially in the core subjects of Maths and science. This is to ensure students are better prepared for the transition to Key Stage 4 and their GCSEs.

The old attainment levels that were used to assess progress have now been removed. Schools must put in place their own assessment systems to ensure individual students are progressing and have an appropriate level of knowledge and understanding.

At Key Stage 3, the compulsory national curriculum subjects are:

  • English
  • maths
  • science
  • history
  • geography
  • a modern foreign language
  • design and technology
  • art and design
  • music
  • physical education
  • citizenship
  • computing

Tips on supporting specific subject areas at home:

  • Ensure your child gets plenty of maths practice, as maths skills are needed in other subjects like Science and Computing.
  • Reasoning and problem-solving skills are relevant to lots of subjects. You can help your child develop these skills by involving them in all sorts of projects at home, e.g. planning a dinner party (menu planning, working out how much of each ingredient is required, calculating costs) or a decorating job (working out how much carpet / paint / wall-paper is needed).
  • Grammar, punctuation and spelling are particularly important skills and are relevant to all subjects, not just English. For example, it is important that your child can produce written work in all subjects that is accurate and easy to understand. Word games are great for improving vocabulary and checking spelling.

GCSE

During KS4, most students work towards national qualifications – usually GCSEs.

GCSE qualifications are about to undergo changes. These will take place over three years, with the first of the new qualifications – GCSE Mathematics, GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature – being taught in schools from September 2015. The first exams will be in June 2017.

The purpose of the changes is to make GCSE qualifications more challenging and better prepare students for further education and their careers beyond.

The National Curriculum subjects for Key Stage 4 are:

  • English (core subject)
  • maths (core subject)
  • science (core subject)
  • computing (foundation subject)
  • physical education (foundation subject)
  • citizenship (foundation subject)

Schools must also offer at least one subject from each of these areas:

  • arts
  • design and technology
  • humanities (including geography and history)
  • languages

The main changes are:

  • A new grading scale is being introduced that uses numbers to identify levels of performance. The numbers are 1–9, with 9 being the top level.
  • All GCSE courses will now be linear with exams taken at the end of the course in June. There will be no modular courses and re-sit opportunities will be limited.
  • Assessment will be by external exams only. Non-exam assessment (e.g. practical assessments) will only be used in subjects where exams would not properly test the skills required.
  • Where students could be entered for Higher or Foundation Tier exams in the past (according to their ability), science and maths are the only subjects where this tiered system will be retained.
  • Qualifications are administered and awarded by an exam board. The main exam boards are AQA, Edexcel, OCR, WJEC and CCEA (Northern Ireland).

Preparing for GCSE Exams

Most students think that revision is about making sure they know stuff. This is important, but it is also about making sure they retain that stuff over time and can recall it quickly when needed.

Experts have discovered that there are two techniques that help students recall relevant information quickly and consistently produce better results in exams compared to other revision techniques. Helping your child to apply these techniques will ensure have all the relevant knowledge at their fingertips in the exams.

They simply need to: test themselves on each topic as many times as possible; leave a gap between the test sessions.

Here are three essential revision tips to share with your child:

  • 1. Use Your Time Wisely

    Allow yourself plenty of time and try to start revising at least six months before your exams – it’s more effective and less stressful.

  • 2. Make a Plan

    Identify all the topics you need to revise and plan at least five sessions for each topic. A one-hour session should be ample to test yourself on the key ideas for a topic. Spread out the practice sessions for each topic – the optimum time to leave between each session is about one month but, if this isn’t possible, just make the gaps as big as realistically possible.

  • 3. Test Yourself

    Methods for testing yourself include: quizzes, practice questions, flashcards, past-papers, explaining a topic to someone else, etc. Don’t worry if you get an answer wrong – provided you check what the correct answer is, you are more likely to get the same or similar questions right in future!

Wellbeing

It may seem obvious, but if your child is fit and well, their brain will work more efficiently (aiding revision) and they will be better equipped to cope with the pressure and stress of exams.

Encourage them to take regular exercise. Physical activity increases oxygen to the brain, releases endorphins and will give them a break from revision.

Make sure they are getting enough sleep. Not only is it important for them to ‘recharge their batteries’, but many studies have shown that going to sleep after trying to learn something has a beneficial effect on memory.

Your child is likely to get a better night’s sleep if they work with their ‘body clock’. A teenager’s ‘body clock’ is different to those of young children and adults. They are more likely to feel awake and alert if you allow them a moderate lie-in (a couple of extra hours in bed) than if they get up at the crack of dawn.

Finally, help your child to feed their brain. Make sure they eat plenty, drink lots of water and eat a well-balanced diet.

Dealing with Stress

The main source of exam stress is fear of failure and this can have a very negative impact on performance. It’s a vicious circle. If your child dwells on the consequences of not doing well, the thought of exams will become even more terrifying, shaking their confidence and magnifying their nerves further.

Encourage your child to replace any negative ideas with more productive ones. Remind them that the exams are an opportunity for them to showcase their ability and all the hard work they have put in over the past few years!

A practical approach to tackling stress is get organised and put a revision plan together. Once your child has done this and revision is underway, they will feel a lot more in control of the situation, which will help to alleviate some of their anxiety.

You can also talk to your child about strategies for coping with nerves:

  • Point out that nerves are a good thing – they are proof that your child wants to succeed.
  • Encourage them to visualise sitting in the exam hall calmly answering all the questions with ease.
  • Discuss how they can use deep breathing to relax themselves when they start to feel panicky.
  • Get them to put together a playlist of songs that make them feel relaxed, which they can play when they feel particularly stressed.

A Level

A levels are the most popular qualification at Key Stage 5 and the most common entry qualification for higher education.

The Government has started to implement changes to AS and A level qualifications in the same way as they have at GCSE.

The main features of the new qualifications are:

  • Assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills.
  • All courses will be linear and exams will be sat at the end of the course in summer. There will be no modular courses and no exams in January.
  • AS and A levels will be decoupled – this means that AS results no longer count towards an A level (however, they can still be taught alongside the first year of A levels).
  • The content for the new A levels has been reviewed and updated with greater input from universities.
  • The changes will take place over three years, starting with English language, the sciences, psychology, sociology, business studies and economics. The planned starting date for these subjects is September 2015, with the first AS examinations in summer 2016 and the first A level examinations in summer 2017.

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