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Managing the move from junior to senior school

Former Director of Admissions, Edrys Barkham, looks at ways to manage the move from junior to senior school.

As nervousness for the Common Entrance (CE) starts to take hold for some children, parents, who are always ahead of the game and have already worried about CE for many months, will now be feeling twinges of nervousness about their child starting at senior school. Will they manage the workload? How will they organise themselves? How will they cope with the older pupils? Will they sleep? Will they eat? Will they wash? Once you start worrying, the questions go on and on!

The transition from junior to senior school can therefore be a stressful time for both children and parents. What can you expect as your child settles into their new school? The change in routine, food, and activity can lead to feelings of dislocation and being a bit lost. Interactions with new people can result in unexpected reactions, which cause uncertainty and can result in a loss of confidence. Identity is defined by the roles we play and the responsibilities we take on; the transition from the top of a junior school to the first year at senior school involve change in roles and responsibilities. Whilst this can promote feelings of excitement and anticipation it can, at the same time, trigger feelings of pressure and defensiveness. New relationships have to be established and new support structures developed. Change affects the way children think about themselves and as they develop new habits, vocabulary and ways of thinking, a new self-identity emerges. The transition process can take between 6 -12 months and there is much that can be done to make this process as easy and successful as possible.

Adopting a new school routine is one of the key ways in which new pupils start to feel they belong to a wider community. At Bryanston tutors meet their new tutorial pupils every day for the first couple of weeks to go through the daily timetable and help them plan out their extra-curricular activities and preps. In the junior boys’ houses the housemaster can focus entirely on their new charges and remind them of what they should be doing, when they should do it and where they should be. With small numbers of new girls in each house, the housemistress is able to help the girls individually and notice if they are struggling to cope. Housemasters/ housemistresses (hsms) and tutors both play a vital role in helping to explain the culture of the school, allowing children to understand the reactions and behaviours of those around them. Peer mentors and house prefects are important in helping new pupils make sense of the school’s expectations of behaviour. Through all these regular conversations, new pupils learn how to communicate effectively, which, in turn, helps to establish trust so that they know where they can go for help and advice. In tutorial, tutors identify the positives in their tutorial pupils’ lives, help them discover their strengths and talents and, through conversation, clarify their roles and responsibilities at the school. Establishing good relationships with staff and making new friends help new pupils to develop resilience and build confidence. 

However, the process of settling in is not always smooth and parents are often the first to be told this, sometimes in a tearful conversation. Whilst this conversation is likely to leave your emotions in tatters, the fact your son or daughter has unloaded on you often means that they feel better and they head off to be with their friends, leaving you thinking you have a distraught child. Usually, the reality is they have bounced back and feel fine; a quick conversation with their hsm can reassure you all is well. 

Allowing children to learn their own strategies for coping with change is a necessary skill for future life. If they learn how to deal with issues of identity, relationships, roles and responsibilities and reactions of others, with the help and guidance of their tutor and hsm, they will be better prepared to manage the multitude of transitions they will meet in future life.

The move from junior to senior school can be challenging, however, it is important to remember it also brings with it an exciting array of new opportunities and challenges. Each year we survey our new D pupils (year 9) at the end of the autumn term, partly to help us understand how they are settling in and also to identify any areas for improvement. Among other things, they are asked which three words best described their first term at Bryanston. The results of this year’s survey show that although they found it interesting, challenging, different, exciting and tiring, most also said it was fun!