Transitioning to secondary school: Advice for parents and caregivers

Transitioning to secondary school can be an exciting time for children and parents. However, children with learning difficulties, social and emotional needs may face challenges transitioning to a new school environment. With the right guidance and support, these challenges can be overcome, making the transition a positive and rewarding experience for everyone.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help facilitate a smoother transition for these children:

  • Communication with Current School: Discuss the upcoming transition with your child’s current school well in advance. Teachers and support staff who know the child well can provide valuable insights and recommendations for the new setting.
  • When choosing a secondary school, it is important to consider the support provided for children with learning difficulties and social and emotional needs. It is recommended that parents visit prospective schools and meet with the special education needs coordinator (SENCO) to discuss their child’s specific needs and concerns so that a personalised approach can be considered.
  • It would be important to enquire about the support structures available, such as small group work interventions for learning on different curriculum areas, especially the ones in which your child faces difficulties, and to learn in detail about the adapted curriculum in the classroom context.
  • If your child has an EHCP (Education & Health Care Plan), it is important for the targets and support arrangements to be discussed and updated with the new Secondary school following a person-centred approach and to reflect the new challenges your child may face in secondary school so that everyone involved can act proactively.
  • The transition meetings would be beneficial to include parents/guardians and the child if necessary. These discussions aim to ensure that everyone involved understands the child’s needs and how to support them during the transition process. This will help make the transition smoother for everyone involved.
  • It would be advisable to organise visits to the new school so that the child can become familiar with key supportive adults and gradually build rapport and trust to share interests, talk about goals, and link these to daily school routines, establishing clear expectations.
  • Discuss with the School how you can maintain communication with key supportive adults to monitor your child’s progress, address any issues that arise, and highlight their achievements.
  • Social Skills Support: If the child has difficulty with social skills, discuss with the school a program or group that helps develop these skills. Being able to interact effectively with peers can make a big difference in how comfortable they feel in a new school.
  • Buddying Systems: Check if the new school has a peer mentoring or buddying system that pairs incoming students with older students who can guide them and provide support.
  • Emotional Support: Encourage open communication with your child about their feelings regarding the transition. If your child experiences high anxiety, talk with the school discussing the support that can be provided, such as pastoral care support, counselling in school, and safe spaces in school where your child can regulate his emotions.

Each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. However, through a well-planned transition, everyone involved with the child has the opportunity to understand the effectiveness of the support provided and make adjustments as necessary.

During the transition process, you can consider seeking advice and support from an Educational Psychologist.

By creating a supportive environment, we can help children with learning difficulties and social and emotional needs adjust academically, socially, and emotionally in their new school. Although transitioning to secondary school can be a challenging time for some children with learning, social and emotional needs, with some careful preparation and support, it can also be an exciting new chapter in their lives.


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