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Top tips on moving schools (from the experts)

Moving from primary to senior school can be a daunting time for kids AND parents so we’ve picked the brains of experts in the area to help make sure the transition’s a smooth one all round.

We all agree parenting’s a bit of a rollercoaster, right? So far I’ve been negotiating the ups and downs of primary school with my two kids – who knew there was so much admin? Or that they’d run out of school looking like they’d played scrum-half for England after every forest school session, despite taking in waterproofs?

But now Senior school is looming, which is a whole new ocean of unknown to navigate for prospective Year 7s. Current questions infiltrating my thoughts on a daily basis are how competitive is the 11+ really and is it worth the agg? Will they find the transition harder if they’re not at the same school as their friends? How large is the leap academically from prep school to senior school? And precisely when IS the best time to make the move? 

With this in mind, I sat down for a chat with some of Suffolk & Cambs leading lights in education – Nicholas Weaver, headmaster of Ipswich School; Anna Caston, head of year 7-8 Ipswich School; Louise North, principal of Framlingham College and Dr Gareth Lloyd, principal of Stoke College – and asked their advice on the myriad of questions popping up at the moment. Here are the nuggets of info they shared.

How can I help my child prepare for Senior School?  

Anna Caston, head of year 7-8, Ipswich School

However much we may want to freeze time, the transition is coming and it’s best to be prepared. If you’re parenting a child who isn’t exactly on it organisation-wise or who’s concerned about friendship groups, now’s the time to start prepping them for what’s to come. 

Anna Caston, head of year 7-8 at Ipswich School, suggests making sure they know one person who is going to be in their form, because a friendly face on day one can make all the difference.

“At Ipswich School we visit every pupil in their primary school during the summer term of Year 6 – we can then chat to them about who they know and plan their form carefully to include friendship groups if possible.

“Parents can also help by being organised in terms of buying uniform, equipment and completing all the paperwork in good time – children always feel happier when they know what is happening and when. Any last minute organisational panic from parents will rub off on their children.”  

What changes in school life should children expect? 

Dr Gareth Lloyd, principal, Stoke College

The prep / primary years are a bit of a bubble without too many decisions to be made on a daily basis, other than what to eat for lunch or who to play sticky toffee with in the playground. Jump forward to senior school and suddenly there’s less parental involvement yet way more independence. 

Dr Lloyd, the principal at Stoke College advises that your child is going to meet a wider group of peers, “not all of whom will want to be their friend,” so they’ll need to learn how to understand people.

“There will be a wider selection of subjects and extra-curricular activities, so being open-minded about trying new things is important. There will also be a greater emphasis on using technology, so children will need to know how to keep themselves safe and how to respect others, plus there’s an expectation to work independently, which is an opportunity for them to be well-organised and honest in their self-direction.”

How important are friendship groups at this stage? 

Louise North, principal, Framlingham College

Hands up who has made friends at school, university, in the work place and now on the school run? We know we make mates throughout life and yet the idea of parting our kids from their besties when it comes to senior school suddenly seems traumatic. Thankfully Louise North, principal of Framlingham College has some wise words of advice if you’re feeling unsure.

“Friendship groups are important in the mind of a child at every stage. However children are more resilient than they might think and they will make new friends wherever they go. I would advise parents not to be swayed by friendship groups when selecting a senior school. Rather they should be swayed by the education that their child is going to receive.”

So when is the best time to move schools?  

A question that frequently arises among chats with fellow parents is when to move kids to different schools. I have friends who have moved entire counties when their kids hit year 5, so clear were their plans for secondary schools, but is there really a ‘best’ time for this?

Framlingham’s principal Louise North, whose school takes children from 3-18, says she recommends the move being made at the end of Year 8.

“We find that young people who join us in Year 9 at the Senior School are absolutely ready for that move into a more senior environment. They’ve used their Year 7 & 8 at their Prep School to develop more independence and have had the opportunity to take on responsibility in their two final years at Prep School. The challenges of the senior school – and of being the youngest once again – are far less daunting as a result.”

While Dr Lloyd says, “Firstly, reassure your child that if they are moving at a less than obvious point, for whatever reason, there is no reason to be fearful. The school will help with the transition. The most common time to move are Years 7 and 11, although Year 9 is not uncommon (in areas where schools end at 13), and even Year 10 is not that uncommon, to allow for commencement at the start of GCSEs.” 

What’s your advice on surviving the 11+? 

Nicholas Weaver, headmaster of Ipswich School

Extreme competition, expensive extra maths tuition, tears and tantrums (and that’s just you) – any parent who has gone down the 11+ route knows it’s not all plain sailing, more an inflatable life raft you cling to. However, Nicholas Weaver, headmaster at Ipswich School, shone a whole new positive light on things when I asked him how to handle it.

“Enjoy it. I know that sounds crazy…but persuade your children that this is a time to show off what they know. We are not trying to catch them out or find out what they’re missing in their education, we want them to succeed. However, succeeding comes in lots of different forms, at Ipswich we are not looking for perfect scores, we are looking for children who enjoy learning,” he says.

“You can also tell a lot about a school from how it presents entrance test day – we think it is important to make it an enjoyable experience. Believe it or not, we have lots of children thanking us after their entrance exams and one who even said to me that it was their “best day ever!”. We make sure the day is fun and feed them delicious cookies…which might have had something to do with it.”

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