The New Beacon – Mike Piercy, Headmaster
How involved should the child be in the choice of upper school?
Involved yes, but not the ultimate decision-maker. Often, a child will be influenced by where his/her friends are going, which again should not be the determining factor.
The change to senior school brings children together from different social and educational backgrounds – social development going hand in hand with academic development.
If you are thinking of 13+ transfer, it is good to take your child on a tour of two or three short-listed, achievable schools to give a sense of ambition, probably around Year 5 or 6 (10 or 11 years of age).
How can parents best support their child as they progress from prep school to senior school?
In truth, this is as much the school’s job as the parents’ responsibility. A 13+ school should engender confidence, resilience and independence; the ability to ask for help when needed.
When the child rises to Year 8 the best help at home will be supporting and encouraging him/her to learn to take responsibility for belongings, equipment (the right things to school on the right day), managing workload and homework. These are independent work habits which will serve well in Year 9 at ‘big school’.
What signs should parents look out for that indicate their child is not happy at their new school?
Look out for changes in behaviour while keeping firmly in mind the adolescent hormones pinging around indiscriminately and inexplicably. Grunts and silences are common!
At pick-up or in the evening, review the day but focus on and encourage the positives while listening out for the negatives. Is a new social life emerging: asking friends round, going to their houses, meeting in town? Above all, be patient. Some children, naturally gregarious, will make friends quickly. For many, however, it will take time.
Who should parents speak to if they are concerned their child isn’t flourishing academically?
All schools have different systems but it should be made very clear to you who is the direct contact, the teacher looking after your child’s social and academic welfare. Send an email initially, perhaps, asking for feedback on the teacher’s/tutor’s impressions and reporting what you are seeing at home – or what is worrying you. Good schools will respond quickly – but don’t expect an immediate, daytime response as the teacher is most likely teaching.
Thereafter, regular review and contact if your worries are not assuaged, with the school suggesting and implementing strategies for support.
How much notice should parents take of their child’s friendship group at this stage?
Friends are important but do remember they will be chosen by the child and not by the parents! It is advisable however to take careful notice of (and good to get to know) your child’s friends. Encourage them to visit your home, after school, weekends, sleepovers, holidays and you will soon get a measure of an emerging social group.
Getting to know their parents is always helpful and can also develop your own social group. Teenagers are exposed to temptations at ever younger ages; peer pressure can be difficult to resist and few have the emotional maturity to gauge risk with accuracy – trusting communications with fellow parents can be invaluable.
How can parents support their child with academic work at this stage? Or should they leave the school to it?
Good schools will provide regular feedback on their pupils’ performance, welfare and personal development. Many will provide easy access to assessment scores through online portals which give a good indication of progress and achievement.
Careful (preferably discreet) monitoring at home will indicate whether due time and attention is being given to homework. ‘Discreet’, because communication is as much about listening as it is about talking. Adolescents need cautious care: too much pressure and they will cease to communicate entirely!
Children’s progress, both academic and social, is not a straight line graph: there will be periods of acceleration and deceleration, lumps, bumps and plateaux. Every child is different and there are generally differences between the genders.
Our policy at The New Beacon is to say that we will contact the parent if we are concerned and equally, we invite parents to contact us if they have concerns at home. In the latter case, our response is often simply to provide reassurance. The key is a strong, mutually supportive relationship with the school.
The New Beacon School, Sevenoaks, Kent
01732 452131 newbeacon.org.uk
Sir William Perkins School – Amanda Stebbings, Head of Year 7
Choosing a senior ‘big’ school in the independent education system is much like buying a house. It is a huge investment and, whilst the spec might look perfect for your child, if it doesn’t have the right feel, like a house, you are unlikely to buy it. After all, assuming your child will make the most of the vast array of co-curricular activities on offer, this will become their second home for the best part of seven years of their life.
So, how involved should your child be in the decision?
Very, is the answer. Your child is the one who is going to be taking up residence, so needs to feel comfortable and at home.
At the very least, looking around and signing up for any pre-joining activities which may be on offer, i.e. Year 4 workshops or Year 5 taster days is a good idea. Once the choice has been made, do not be a stranger, keep visiting and attending any appropriate events which allow your child to feel part of the community before their arrival.
When the big day comes and they are standing for the obligatory photo in their new uniform, try to put your own nerves to one side. Experience teaches us that the moment they enter the gates is far more traumatic for parents than the children. Suddenly they are independent, they will probably be using different transport and their journey may well be longer.
Friendships will morph endlessly in the first three years of secondary school and guidance should always trump interference. Encourage them to have a wide friendship group; getting involved in a variety of different clubs is a good way to make lots of new friends with similar interests.
Homework will probably increase from what your child is used to and it is advisable to take an interest in what they are doing. It will probably be vastly more varied than your own experience of homework!
If in any doubt, contact the Form Tutor who will have an overview of how your child is getting on both socially and academically.
Sir William Perkins School, Chertsey, Surrey
01932 574900 swps.org.uk
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