Top tips to help when your child changes schools

9 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

These tried and tested tips were prepared by a special educational needs teacher and a group of parents to help parents and children navigate changes of school, for example from nursery to primary, or junior to secondary, or if you move and have to start school in another area.

In this article

Talking to the school

  • Arrange for several visits to the school to familiarise your child with the site and buildings and the new route/journey to school.
  • Ask permission to take some photographs of the school and main areas and use them to recall visits with your child and prepare them.
  • Make contact with the teacher responsible for pupils with additional learning needs. In England this is the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). In Wales they are called an Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator (ALNCo) and in Scotland the Additional Support for Learning team (ASL). Every school has one!
  • Ask the school for a copy of a school map to help your child learn the location of classrooms, the school office, toilets and the canteen/lunch hall. Put a copy of the map in the homework diary.
  • Get a copy of the school prospectus or pupil handbook for you to read and share with your child – most are on school website.
  • Ask for your child’s timetable well in advance so you can prepare them for what to expect.
  • Ask for a home-school diary to record your child’s progress, and for you to also share any concerns. This then travels to and from school to keep you informed.
  • Ask what supervision/help is available for unstructured time such as before and after school, break and lunch time.
  • Suggest strategies the school can use to help your child if they experience anxiety or become upset.
  • Tell the school about any medical conditions, sensory difficulties or special dietary needs, and ensure that they share this information with all staff.
  • Speak to your child’s tutor or Head of Year and ask for regular feedback about progress, including academic work and social interaction. If you have any concerns, share them and find a solution.
  • Find out what transport your child will be using so you can prepare your child.

Preparing your child

  • Talk with your child about their plans for changing school, how they feel, above all, be positive and praise your child for every achievement, encourage independence and boost self-esteem.
  • Involve your child with each part of the process, and help them see the progress they have already made by going through old school books, and photographs. Make the experience positive.
  • If your child is traveling independently, practice the route and have a plan should any problems arise, emergency numbers and what to do if you miss your bus, your stop, or your bus is late, etc.
  • Discuss the new school rules with your child at home and make sure they understand what happens if they break them.
  • Try the new school uniform on at least a week before so that you can find out if there are any problems, which need addressing. If your child has sensory needs, wash the uniform to give it a familiar smell and feel. New clothing can be itchy or cause irritation: cut off any unnecessary tags and labels.
  • Above all, be positive, praise your child for every small achievement, encourage independence and boost their self-esteem at every opportunity.

Getting organised

  • Ensure that your child has the correct stationery and equipment for their pencil case, for example spare ink cartridges!  Clear plastic pencil cases are cheap and help children see they have all their equipment.
  • Have two spare cheaply filled pencil cases at home for emergencies as your child may panic if they lose equipment.
  • Encourage your child to become independent and more organised. If they’re able to, suggest that they pack everything they need for school the night before, such as schoolbooks, homework, dinner money, sports kit etc.
  • Make sure your child knows your mobile/home telephone number and address and consider giving them a phone card for emergencies.
  • Have a good routine for the morning and evening to give your child a familiar structure. Make a visual day planner/checklist.
  • Keep a regular supply of change for dinner money and the bus and remember to give your child the correct amount each day.
  • Give your child a purse/wallet/key ring that can clip safely to their trousers/school bag so that it does not get lost or fall out.
  • Check your child’s homework diary and schoolbag each evening and make sure that you see all letters that come home from school.
  • Make sure that your child has the correct equipment for school such as the necessary ingredients for food technology.
  • Colour code your child’s timetable to correspond with their exercise books and laminate. Display a copy of the timetable on the fridge and in the child’s bedroom for everyone to see.
  • Use different colour-zipped sleeves to keep all loose stationery and handouts for each subject.
  • Make homework part of your child’s routine and to help with organization, construct a visual planner/timetable. Clear a space somewhere for them to work quietly at home, preferably away from the TV, computer and other distractions. Make sure that they label their homework and write the date, title and their name on it if it is on a loose sheet.

To think about for secondary school

Here are some tips covering the main areas of secondary school life.

Travelling to school by bus

If travelling independently, your child needs to know:

  • Where to wait for the bus.
  • Using the bus pass or having the correct money.
  • the times of the bus.
  • Allowing enough time to reach the bus stop.
  • Who to go to with problems.
  • What to do if the bus doesn’t arrive.
  • Where to get off on the way home.

Children will also need help in coping with the social situations that often occur on the bus journey, such as noise, teasing and so on. It would be helpful for your child to travel with someone they know for the first few days. A trial bus run before school starts would also be helpful – speak to the school about this.

The geography of the school

Give your child a map with as much detail as possible, using room numbers with descriptions. Help them learn various ‘landmarks’, which you can use to describe locations. For example, room A13 is the room for English lessons at the top of the stairs near the library.

It is worth spending time navigating the school and learning the important places: tutor room, library, toilets etc. Some schools have a ‘buddy’ system and the buddy could help with this.

Following a timetable

This is one of the most complicated parts of school life to adjust to, especially if the school uses a two-week timetable. In primary school your child is taught by one teacher and usually in the same classroom. However, at secondary school there are numerous teachers and learning locations.

To simplify the timetable, try using:

  • Symbols to replace initials for subjects, for example instead of Gg for Geography, you could use a picture of a globe.
  • Colour coding for subjects.
  • Teachers’ names written in full.
  • Clock faces instead of times or period 1.
  • Room numbers with descriptions.

Make sure you have a copy of the timetable prominently displayed at home.

Using lockers

Your child needs to:

  • Establish where the locker is (again using ‘landmarks’).
  • Find out if the school office has a spare key, and what to do if they’ve mislaid their key.
  • Top tip  – attach the key to a belt ring or in a wallet with dinner money.

School diaries

In the homework diary it is useful to attach a clearly defined map of the school and a timetable.

Simple and clear instructions, for example, ‘what to do if I lose my dinner money’ can help to eliminate stress. If your child becomes very upset when it rains at break time, a few simple instructions entered in the diary will help school staff to assist them.

Ask the school to use the diary to warn you and your child of upcoming dates or changes to the schedule. Then you can discuss any worries with the school.

When possible, the learning support assistant should be responsible for checking that homework information has been correctly entered. School staff should also make a note in the pupil’s diary if a letter is given to the child to take home.

Added responsibility

At secondary school, your child has complete responsibility for their pencil case, books, equipment, PE kit, cookery items, and so on. Using checklists can be very useful. Laminated cards, for example detailing uniform, could be used. Checklist/s could be written in the homework diary.

Some children cannot manage to organise lockers/books/equipment at school, and end up without equipment and books in lessons, or just carrying around huge numbers of books. Where this is a problem, the books can be kept in a box at home and you can ask the school to help your child to sort out what is needed for the next day’s school each evening.

Procedures for break and lunchtimes

Your child needs to know:

  • where to go/queuing procedures/where to sit
  • procedures for taking a packed lunch
  • what lunchtime clubs are available

Where they can go to for help

Break times and lunchtimes (before or after eating) can be a problem because of the lack of structure, the noise and the movement. Many pupils benefit from access to a quiet ‘refuge’. Find out where they can go and who to go to for help. Make sure they know how to ask for help if they’re feeling anxious. Bullying can also be a problem. All schools have an anti bullying policy.