High School Transition

Year 6 children were recieving their high school decisions last week and everyone of them and their nervous parents were in my thoughts.

This time last year we were in that position. Waiting desperately to find out if we had been given a place at our first choice.

When we received the email informing us both twins had been offered a place at Oxted School, the school we were hoping for, I thought that was the end of our stress.

A bottle of champagne and a nice dinner out marked the end of a stressful couple of years of reseach, opinions, school tours and Ofsted reports.

About three weeks after we found out the boys had got into Oxted, a Facebook post appeared on my thead.

Latest Ofsted Report shows school is failing its pupils’.
Our first choice school had recieved a ‘Requires Improvement ‘ grading from Ofsted.

I looked through the report and managed to rationalise most of it.
In fact, the report didn’t concern me half as much as some of the comments being made by parents and people from the community about the school on the facebook post.

Comments were being made about ‘teachers turning a blind eye to bullying, knife threats, picturing a school that worries more about uniform that its student welfare.

Pupils being assaulted and nothing being done’ it just sounded like every mums worst nightmare.

It was too late to apply for another school so I turned for a brief moment to the thought of private education….for all of 10 minutes.

I worked out it would cost about £850,000 to send all our children and that is before University costs!

Everytime I popped into town and met someone with a child at the school I spent 15 minutes quizzing them.
I spoke to ex pupils and current pupils and everyone gave me the same feedback.
It is a large school (over 3000 pupils) and there will always be bad stories, unfortunately the good stories never tend to make it to social media, but overall the feedback was positive.

I emailed the head teacher with my concerns and ten minutes later I recieved a reply inviting me to pop in and see her.

She explained exactly where she felt the school was lacking and how she planned to tackle the issues Ofsted had raised. She assured me that the door was always open if we ever had any more concerns.

Right. I was reassured. I could start looking forward to my twin sons new life adventure.

September arrived but, unexpectedly, that first week was probably the hardest of my whole ‘mum life’.

We were so excited, the boys had all their uniform, pe kit and lesson equipment ready and off they went.

I had spent the previous two days watching all my other mum friends from primary school post what a great first day their kids had and I couldn’t wait to do the same.

I spent all day with an excited knot in my stomach, waiting to pick them up and find out how their first day at high school had been.

I couldn’t wait to hear about all the friends they had made and wonderful teachers that they had met.

It was nothing like what I had expected.

They hated it.

They told me they had made no friends and they wanted to move to the school that all their old pals had gone to (they were the only ones from their primary school to go to Oxted).

They were so upset, both of them, they were crying and begging us not to send them back.
I was devestated, and even though Mike is much more laid back when it comes to schooling than me, he couldn’t hid his dissapointment too.

I completly and irrationally thought back to the Facebook comments earlier in the year and decided, despite spending two years researching secondary schools, I had screwed up.

My boys were not happy, and that was the one thing I wanted for them.

I posted my feelings on Instagram. Negative posts is not something I usually share but a friend had told me, as a parent blogger, it is important to share the sad times of parenthood aswell as the funny.

It really helped me and acted more as reach out for some support. I was shocked at how many other parents said their children were experiencing the exact same feelings.

Even though I felt like crap, I didn’t let the boys know, I adopted my usual positive manner.

‘It is your first day, you didnt have any friends on your first day at primary school, look at you now.’

‘It seems hard and strange now but give it a couple of weeks and you will feel differently’

‘I felt exactly the same on my first day at High School’

They were not convinced so I made a deal with them.

I told them if they threw everything into this half term, if they joined extra curricular activities (enrichment) as the school calls it, and If they tried their best with school and homework and by the October half term they still felt the same I would look into different options.

I had no intention of moving them unless it was really effecting them but it was important for them and our relationship that they understood I was listening to them.

After that I became a ‘pushy mum’.

I found the list of the enrichment activities and went through all the various clubs with them.

They offered everything from science, art, drama, dance, table tennis and all sorts of sports. We agreed on a few each and I insisted they try, even if it was just once.

Harrison went to Football and Rugby after school, Mikey went to drama, trampolining and hockey.

Mikey put himself forward for the Christmas play and had a great time at the school roller disco.

Harrison joined cross country and was invited to a inter-school meet within his first three weeks at school.

I honestly believe that the enrichment activities they have put thselves forward for has helped their transition in secondary school.

Needless to say, by October they had completely changed their mind about leaving Oxted.

I am hoping this might help other parents struggling with children moving into secondary school.

Extra curricular activities not only helps new pupils create friendships with people with similar interests but representing your school also embeds a sense of pride in your child and their school.

Within two weeks the boys were happy at school, within two months they were really enjoying going into school.

Now, half way through their second term, they love school. They have made incredible friends, represented the school in various sports and drama. They enjoy their lessons and learning and respect their school and teachers.
Their parents evening was fantastic and I am so complementary and over the moon with the school.

The parent – teacher communication is spot on, the oppertunities are in abundance and the standards and expectations are high.

The school is also wonderful at sharing and celebrating students achievements, whether they in school or out of school.

So here is what I have taken from my first experience as a mum moving from Primary to Secondary school.

– Don’t stress to much about other peoples opinions. What suits others may not suit your children, just go with your gut instict.

– Encourage them to embrace all the oppertunities that the school offer. If they resist, push them. It is nerve racking for them, but it is well worth it and a good life lesson for them to push outside their comfort zone.

– Keep an eye out for newsletters and emails. My boys are not always great at relaying information from school and gone are the days a letter is popped in their book bag.

– When you hear about kids fighting at a school, don’t panic straight away. The boys have witnessed a few fights in their seven months and I worried at first. Untill they explain that the ‘fights’ are basically a couple of pupils pushing eachother and getting their handbags out.

– If you have any questions or concerns go straight to the school. Headship teams understand parents concerns and should be on hand to put your mind at rest.

– Become part of the school community. I dont mean you have to join the PTA (everyone who knows me knows that is not me). However, offering to help at school events means you are helping support and becoming part of the schools community.

– Speak to your children. The boys and I have a very open relationship. I ask about their day at school, friendships, teachers, schoolwork, social media and general life. When they speak to me I try to never judge. I dont want them to ever worry about telling me something.

– Keep in touch with friends from primary school. It is important for them to still have the familiarity and safety their old friendships bring.

– Have realistic expectations of teachers and the school. Educational bodies are under a huge amount of pressure and need your support.

Oxted School has been, so far, the best decision we have ever made for our boys and I hope it continues.
I absolutly thrive on watching them grow, the friendships they are making and the experiences they are having.

I am not suggesting it is a perfect school, but after a year of analysing I have come to the conclusion that no school is.

Please share or tag any friends you have that are going through this transition.

I would love to hear what tips you have for making the transtion smoother for year seven pupils and parents.

Prehaps my other post on choosing a high school might help

Choosing the right Secondary School

I asked aome of my wonderful blogging community for their top tips on starting Secondary School and here is what they had to say.

Sarah at www.kippersandcurtains.com

If they are walking to school – do a few practise walks over the summer hols so that they get used to the time it takes and the route. Find out if the school has a club on during the hols so they can familiarise themselves with the building and won’t feel so daunted.

Debbie at www.myboysclub.co.uk

Practice the journey to school and getting ready including full uniform, packing a bag and leaving the house at a certain time – especially as if it is different. Our morning routine totally changed. Also keep giving them more responsibility for their own routine.

https://www.myboysclub.co.uk/2018/08/preparing-your-child-for-secondary-school.html

Claire at www.mymoneycottage.com

My son started high school last September. Take every opportunity you can to visit the high school with them before they start so that they know their way round as much as possible before they start.

Cherry at www.thenewbytribe.com

There are a number of things that will really help! Firstly, make sure you accept any open days/evenings/holiday dates etc that the secondary school offers your child – they’ll often put on several things for up coming Year 7’s and if you can get your child to them all then it’s a great way for them to get to know the school and other children. Also, spend some time going through the new school’s website – look at the photos, check out the newsletter and the comings and goings a the school – it’ll help your child get to know what the school is up to, and will also give them a chance to know names and faces of teachers before they start. If they are starting somewhere they will have to walk to or bus to, do that trip a good few times before they start so that’s one less thing to worry about on the first morning. Also, most Primary schools will do lots and lots of transition – they’ll learn how to read timetables, how to read maps etc which always helps!

Choosing the right Secondary School

I thought about the boys future before they were even born.

I looked into primary schools, high schools and nurseries.
Obviously, if I was going to raise the next Prime Minister or Richard Branson I was going to have to make sure I made the right decisions with regards to their education.
It seemed like it was forever before we would have to make any decisions, yet it has flown by in a blink, and a decade later, here we are.

Throughout the years though, I have realised the most important thing is that they are happy at school.
If they are happy the rest should fall into place….right?

Well, that’s what I thought until this year.  With the boys finishing year five in a couple of weeks, and high school choices looming only a few months away, I feel like a huge weight is on my shoulders.

Time has caught up with me and I’m starting to face the reality that there might be more to choosing a secondary school than just making sure the boys are happy.

I was happy at school, too happy. 
I was happy messing with my friends.
I was happy trying out my latest make up technique in science class.
I was happy thinking about what lads name I would scribble over my homework book.
I was happy planning how to get out of my next PE class.
Happiness defiantly didn’t help me knuckle down and get the best GCSEs I could achieve.

I went to my local state secondary school.  It was a good school but like most schools you get out of it what you put in. 
The expectations never seemed particularly high.  That coupled with my lack of self disapline ment I was a typical ‘doing ok, but could do better’ kid.

Although my life has turned out better than I could have imagined, I know my school days were more of a social education rather than an academic one.

Seventeen years later and I struggle to even help the kids with their homework.
I do my nine times table using the ‘finger trick’ and I was convinced my last son shared his name with a historical British King.  Turns out, apparently King Arthur was a legend?!

Please bear this in mind when you read my blog and notice spelling or grammar mistakes 🙈

However, let’s not knock the social skills and enjoyment you need to experience in your teenage years.

I do believe some of the qualities that helped me succeed in my career and help me run our businesses now were created at high school.

With a husband that attended a prestigious private school, we really do have experience at both ends of the British education system.

So this leaves me wondering about the twins.
What school would suit them? The big difference between them and me and their dad is that they LOVE learning. 

We have taken them to see the school that Mike went too.
The building was beautiful and imposing, like Hogwarts, absolutely beautiful.
The head masters office was a posh lounge, furnished  with a think cream carpet, a huge fireplace and a large chesterfield sofa.
All of this was very impressive but when you are paying £20,000 per year I guess you wouldn’t expect anything less.
The children were lovely, the facilities were not unlike the Olympic Park and the exam results spoke for themselves.  

People say ‘if a child wants to learn, and they have the support at home they will do well anywhere’….do you agree?

We have looked at our closest local state school and I really liked it.
The head mistress seemed strict but fair, she knew all the pupils (three thousand) by name and they seemed to like and respect her. 
The kids were polite and well presented and the facilities, although not to the standard of the private school, were
Impressive.

Mike had a bit of an issue with the dining facilities.  The dining room could barely fit two hundred kids in it.  When he was at school everyone sat down together and ate a civilised lunch.  

I had to give him a lesson in state school lunch etticate. 
From what I remember, if we were eating in the canteen, it was usually sausage, chips, and beans which you inhaled as quickly as possible to give you time to gossip or flirt on the school field.

Mike wasn’t impressed by this! (Strange considering he became a scaffolder, who usually eat KFC with their feet up on the dash of the lorry!)

It has been quite an eye opener for both of us, learning about each others education.

We are going to look at all the schools again at the open evenings in September.
I think, given we are fortunate enough to have great state schools in the area, we will choose one of them.
Private school is a huge financial commitment and even if we could afford it, so many sacrifices would have to be made. 

Narrowing down the state schools will be hard, they are all good.  

All the Ofsted reports are great and when I’ve spoken to parents with kids already at the schools they all seem happy.
Realistically there are two that we are in the catchment for.
Mikey loves art and drama and Harrison is massivly into sport,  So those subject opportunities will play a big part.

The boys have to have a say aswell.  It’s important to us that they are happy with the choices we make.

Finally, practicality has to come into it.  

With four children following them up the ranks I need to know it will be in a location that is practical for us, as a family.  

Not just for the kids, but for me (mum taxi) as well….not always easy when you live on a country lane with no pavement and at least a mile away from the nearest public transport.

My dad has even been researching for me.  I randomly got this text recently.  Anyone that knows my dad won’t find this that surprising 🤣

I asked a few fellow bloggers what they look for when choosing a school.  Here is what they suggest:

“Ask them how they are going to be saving money with the budget cuts. They all have to cut something. Their answers should help you work out if the school is well managed and planning ahead effectively.”

https://falcondalelife.com

“I’d look at whether the children are well behaved, happy and enjoying school. Also what extra curricular activities are on offer. The overall attitude of the school and whether they instill a love of learning in the children. Plus I must admit I’d be looking at results too”

http://www.familymakes.com

“Look at the standards in general: uniform, equipment, facilities… It would give you a good idea of the general atmosphere. Of course, look at the kids and try to feel if they are happy but look also at the teachers! Are they knackered and grumpy? It says a lot about the school Plus of course the Ofsted report! :)”
http://thefrenchiemummy.com/top-tips-to-be-a-good-blogger/

“I spoke to parents with children already in secondary school. Are their kids enjoying being at school and doing well in their studies 🙂 Ofsted and open evenings are important too” 

https://thedaisypages.com

I really struggled with this and ended up choosing a school where my daughter wouldn’t know a single person. ”
https://www.frugalfamily.co.uk/hardest-decision-life/

“It’s not necessarily about secondary schools – more about any school (primary or secondary just the same) if you are choosing for a child that has additional needs”

http://www.rainbowsaretoobeautiful.com/2016/01/sen-choosing-mainstream-school.html

Do you have any tips that will help with our decision?

Lots of love,

A ‘trying to stay relaxed Kate