Parent adviser Michaela's tips for starting school

Micheala -helpline -pic -from -BBC

This month thousands of children will start a new school - whether that's moving into secondary education or starting school for the very first time.

Our parent adviser Michaela, who works on the special education team of our helpline, speaks to parents every day about their child's education. In this blog Michaela shares her top three tips for making sure you and your child are as prepared as you can be for their new adventure.

If you prefer you can listen to these tips instead in our latest podcast.

I am a parent adviser on Contact's free helpline. I've written this blog to share with you a few of my top tips for starting school. These tips can be applied whether your child is moving to a new school or starting school for the first time.

Starting school can be a scary time for many children, particularly children with additional needs. You may have worries about how they will cope with the new environment and what kind of support they will get, especially in the early weeks as they settle in. These are my top tips.

Share information early

My first tip is sharing information early. The preparation process should begin once you have confirmation of the school your child will be attending.

First, let's look at children moving from one school to another. You will provide information in admissions and registration forms, but it is important that your child's old school shares as much information as possible with their new school. This will help the new school plan how it will meet your child's needs.

Some children have an Education, Health and Care - or EHC - plan. This is a legal document that describes a child's special educational, health and social care needs. Sharing information may be a different process for these families. Advisers on our helpline will be happy to provide more information if this applies to you.

If your child does not have an EHC plan, it may be useful for your child's previous school to create a profile of your child that can be given to the new school. This can include details of your child's particular difficulties, such as with concentration, communication or mobility. They may want to provide details of the adjustments needed to support your child's learning, like writing aids, extra time for tasks or visual timetables. And strategies that help them manage school life, such as a buddy system or time out.

If your child is starting school for the first time, you can provide this kind of information to the school yourself. But do not worry if you haven't done this before your child starts. There will be a chance to do this once the term begins.

Become familiar

My second tip is to become familiar. Most schools invite parents and children to visit the school and meet key members of staff.

If you do not receive an invitation to visit, it may be worth asking for a visit and a meeting with the schools special educational needs coordinator - often called a SENCO. This is a good opportunity to build a good relationship with members of staff and for you to ask questions about the setting.

Visiting is also a chance for you and the staff to see how your child responds to different aspects of the setting. This will help you think about what they might enjoy and what they might find difficult when they begin.

Again, do not worry if you or your child did not get the opportunity to visit the school beforehand. You can always become familiar with the school and meet key members of staff once your child has started. If you do have concerns, find out how you can effectively communicate with the school as soon as possible.

Get creative

My third tip is to get creative. A lot of the foundation in preparing your child to start a new school can be done at home or with the family.

Your child will be faced with new situations in their new school that they may be unsure about. It can be useful to use stories to explain new situations. For children going on to primary school, these stories can be about lining up for class or going to the dinner hall. For children moving to secondary school, these stories can be about moving from one class to the other and making friends.

Another effective preparation tool is making an 'All about my new school' booklet for your child. This can include lots of pictures of the school and basic information about members of staff who your child will see often. Whenever possible, practice the morning routine and journey with your child.

As the new academic year gets underway, keep communicating with the special educational needs coordinator and your child's teachers. It may be worth suggesting that the school begin using a 'home-school diary'. These are diaries in which parents and teachers can write notes to one another about a child's learning, behaviour and support. Communication needs to be open and active between home and school, and these are one of the most effective ways of making sure that's the case.

Adjusting is a process

Discuss changes regularly with your child. Adjusting to new routines is aprocess. Let your child know that everyone will understand if it takes a little while for them to figure out how to manage it all. That includes their teachers, friends and you.

If you want to find out more about preparing your child for school or have any worries about your child's support, please call our free helpline. Thank you for reading.

Written by Contact at 17:54