Primary to secondary school: making the transition

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The transition from primary to secondary school is an exciting time. With good preparation, you and your child can approach this major milestone with confidence.

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After the familiar surroundings of primary school, the move to secondary school can be both exciting and daunting for new students and their families. There are usually many more students and teachers, new surroundings and a very different approach to timetabling.

Secondary schools tend to have a greater geographical catchment, with students coming from the local area and suburbs further away. It may take some time for your child to adapt to this new and diverse student population, which will include students who are much older than your child.

There are a number of things you can do to prepare for the transition. The start of Grade 6 is a good time to start planning for the move with your child’s Support Group and the secondary school, to ensure your child gets the right supports in secondary school.


Support for transition: tours and orientation

Primary and secondary schools use a range of strategies to ease the transition from Grade 6 to Year 7. In planning meetings with the primary and secondary school, you can ask about the secondary school’s approach to helping new students transition into their school, and what other support might benefit your child.

A school tour is a good way to introduce your child to the secondary school without the busy crowds that can occur at school information evenings. All government schools hold an orientation day on the same day (often the second Tuesday in December). The day often includes a school tour, meeting fellow students and teachers, and taking part in special lessons and activities.


Extended orientation

An extended orientation can give your child a chance to visit the new school a number of times, and to develop some familiarity with the surroundings and teachers.

Teachers at government schools start the school year a few days before students, you can request an extended orientation during this period.

It would also be a chance for your child to:

  • practice their school routines, such as organising their books
  • meet their home room teacher
  • locate their locker, their home room, and the bathrooms, and to generally become familiar with the environment.


Preparation at primary school

Government primary and secondary schools co-operate to ease students through the transition period. Often, secondary students revisit their old primary school to tell Grade 6 students what secondary school is like.

Primary school teachers also prepare children for the different teaching methods of secondary schools. Many primary schools have a team of teachers working with Grade 5 and 6 students, to help them get used to working with a range of teachers, rather than just one classroom teacher.


Secondary school strategies

Teachers from secondary schools often visit primary schools to take small groups for lessons, or to talk about secondary school. Many schools have strategies to support Year 7 students and families, such as:

  • Starting Year 7 students the day before the older students, to allow some settling in time without the hustle and bustle of a full school
  • Arranging the timetable to minimise the need for Year 7 students to move rooms between classrooms. Some schools have Year 7 teachers move rooms, rather than the students.
  • Organising facilitated ‘Getting to know each other’ sessions for the students, to encourage socialising.
  • Organising Year 7 camps quite early in the year, to help students get to know each other.
  • A mentoring system, where older student mentors take part in orientation day and follow-up activities early in the school year. Student mentors are often experienced school leaders or student volunteers.
  • Offering a Year 7 parent information evening and welcome activities, for parents and carers to meet each other and the teachers and school staff.


Other ideas to help your child prepare

Every young person will benefit from different forms of support to make the transition. For many children, a challenging new skill to learn is how to organise themselves to move from class to class, use their locker and ensure they have the right books and equipment with them.

Some ideas including helping your child by:

  • Getting a diary and practicing using it to plan school and home activities
  • Developing and using a visual or written timetable for weekly school and home activities
  • Developing and reading social stories such as ‘Going to Secondary School’ or ‘Catching the Bus’ (see Positive transitions: kindergarten to primary school for an explanation of social stories)
  • Getting organised with a pencil case, workbooks and folders, and a desk or work area at home
  • Practicing using a key in preparation for having a locker key
  • Visiting the school over the January, if possible, to walk around the grounds.

Talk to your child’s therapists or support workers about how they might help.


Practice transport arrangements

Many students transitioning from Grade 6 to Year 7 will spend time in the January school holidays practising the transport route to their new school. If you are going to drive your child to and from school, this might be a good time to establish pick-up and drop- off points. If your child will be attending a specialist school and taking the school bus, you should receive a letter late in Term 4 of Grade 6 with details of school pick-up times.