The transition from primary to secondary school can be a big adjustment for parents and carers.
On this page:
- Adjusting your role
- Find a key contact
- Trial different ways to communicate
- Student-parent-teacher interviews
- Disclosure and confidentiality
- Get involved at school
Adjusting your role
After a long relationship with your child’s primary school, you will probably need to adjust your role and establish new ways to work within a secondary school framework, particularly if your child is in a mainstream school.
Parents and carers usually have less contact with the secondary school community as children become teenagers and travel to school independently, whether on public transport or on the specialist school bus. Communication can also be more of a challenge, because your child is likely to have several teachers if they are in a mainstream school.
You should be made to feel welcome and encouraged to contact the school with queries. However, developing regular communication and a positive working relationship with your child’s secondary school certainly requires work on both sides.
“If you gave my son some big task, he’ll say, ‘Can’t do it, never going to do it’, and you won’t be able to budge him. But if you break it down, he’ll do it. It’s quite simple. But only one of his teachers would do it.
It was also about going up to him, and quietly saying on the side – ‘Are you okay? Do you understand my instructions?’ Or rephrasing it, ‘You know when I said such and such about writing that passage, what did you understand by that?’ Getting him to verbalise what he understood. Because sometimes if he didn’t trust that teacher, and they asked if he understood them, he’d just say, ‘Fine, understood it,’ – when actually he had no idea. Then his anxiety would increase, and his behaviours to deflect from his anxiety and the fact that he wasn’t writing would come in.
So some teachers would pick that up. Every year I insisted on every team leader getting all of his teachers to attend an SSG. The teachers that did attend on quite a consistent basis were the ones that gave a toss, and actually made an effort to A) understand him, and B) adjust the curriculum and help him through.” – Megan
Find a key contact
Finding effective ways to keep in touch might require some trial and error, and a good deal of persistence on your part. But you can make it work. A critical step is asking the school, early in your child’s school year, who they recommend as a key contact for you – a first port of call for queries, and for keeping in touch with how your child is progressing.
Your child’s home-room teacher is often an important central person to keep in touch with. In some schools, the year level co-ordinator or the inclusion support teacher or integration coordinator might be your best contact.
Trial different ways to communicate
Formal communication should still take place through regular Student Support Group meetings, twice-yearly student-parent-teacher interviews, school newsletters, school websites, and school reports. Schools can provide access to language interpreters if needed, including face-to-face interpreters for important meetings, and the telephone interpreter service at other times. Tell the school well before a meeting if you need an interpreter.
As in primary school, informal communication might include emails, phone calls and a communication book. This is a book that travels between home and school in your child’s bag; it can work well, provided that you and the school staff write in it and check it regularly. Talk to your key contact staff member or discuss with the Student Support Group what type of communication methods will work best for you and the school. Agree on a communication process to trial, and later review how this is going in the Student Support Group meeting.
“Sometimes schools are too busy to share everything, so I make it easy for them by saying, ‘Patrick has a tutor at home on a Monday night, I’d really love to know what you’re doing in maths at the moment. Could I just have that information, so the tutor can go over that with him?’ Making it manageable for them to help me.
In high school, putting things in writing assisted, because often the welfare person might also be a vice principal. They’re a very busy person. And phone calls weren’t always reliable to catch them. It’s sometimes a bit harder to put into words what you might like. It can become really long and messy. So I’d try to really think about – what outcome do I want here? And how can I help them want to help me, in this thing? It’s not always easy to do. It takes a little bit of practice.
It worked best to keep things simple. Sometimes sharing, ‘He forgot his lunch today. I’d really love to catch up with you on Friday about 1, 2, 3 points,’ is probably all you need. And then there’s a sense of keeping in touch. I found that if I kept in touch too much, that wasn’t well received.” – Tania
Student-parent-teacher interviews are an opportunity to meet your child’s teachers, get more detail about the information provided on the student report card, become more involved in your child’s learning and provide support where needed. They provide a valuable opportunity to have a discussion with some of your child’s teachers who don’t attend Student Support Group meetings. You can also use the meeting to arrange longer appointments with some of these staff if needed.
Disclosure and confidentiality
Disclosure is when facts or information are revealed to someone. Your child has a right to privacy and any information about their disability, medical condition or support needs must be treated with the utmost respect, and not disclosed unnecessarily and without your and/or your child’s permission.
However, it is important to provide the school with enough information to ensure they are fully prepared and can comprehensively plan for your child’s individual needs. The school should treat this information confidentially.
- Find out more about confidentiality and your child’s personal and medical information.
Get involved at school
Parents and carers are often less involved with their child’s secondary school (especially in mainstream) than they were at primary school. However, parents and carers are still valued members of secondary school communities, and there are various ways that you can still contribute and be involved. This helps build your relationship with the school and staff, as well as other families and students; this in turn can help you support your child’s social development.
All schools have School Councils and there may be committees, working bees, or a Parents and Friends Association. Many schools have social functions and fundraisers for families, and parents and carers themselves may organise social events to get to know other families. Consider participating at a level that suits you, your child and family.