A milestone of primary joy and secondary concerns

As children progress through school, it’s time to let go of their hand and look over their shoulder

Tue, Jun 24, 2014, 01:00

My 12-year-old son is clear that he is going to disown me on Thursday if there’s a tear in my eye at the end-of-year service to mark the completion of his eight years in national school.

If? Who am I kidding? It’s when . . . I am breaking out a box of tissues just thinking about it. I know that their samba drumming party piece, which has become a rite-of-passage for sixth class in his school, will get to me.

The sight and sound of a very bonded group of children, working a musical routine together for the last time before they are scattered to a variety of secondary schools around south Dublin, will be emotional.

Transition from primary to secondary school is probably as big a milestone for the parents as it is for the children.

Especially if it is your first, or your last. Families with three or more well-spaced children can have a relationship with one primary school for nigh-on 20 years, so the end of that link can be quite a wrench, even if everybody’s ready for it.

“I think it is going to be harder for the parents,” says Cindy Lund, whose eldest child, Hannah, is leaving Kilcolgan Educate Together School in Co Galway.

“You are letting them loose a bit, which is always daunting for both sides, but it is exciting.”

There were just 24 pupils in the school when Hannah joined in first class after the family moved back to Ireland from Italy.

As with all Educate Together schools, she points out, there is a huge amount of parental involvement and an open-door policy.

“In secondary it will be very much her world but I feel she’s at a stage when they need that; they don’t really want you in their world when they are 13.”

Lund is glad she has a younger son; otherwise, she says “I would be in mourning for the school. It’s like a family.”

Learning curve

Fiona Collins also has her first child, Catriona, making the transition. She is moving from Beaumont Girls’ National School in Cork to Christ King Girls’ Secondary School, which is about four times the size. It’s going to be a learning curve for both of them.

“We’ve been in this small, cosy, primary- school environment; I know her friends and their parents, I know the principal.” As a stay-at-home mum she has been very involved with the school “and here I have to take a major step back”.

Her concerns for her daughter are not academic, but relate to the social aspect of the change: “they have to face so much more than we did”. But she knows there’s only so much she can do for her come September.

“I can get the book list, and I can get the uniform, but this time I can’t hold her hand and go, ‘There’s a nice girl, you can sit beside her.’ I’ll drop her off at the corner and hope for the best.”

But “rookie” parents should be reassured that, generally, schools are very adept at supporting children in making this leap.

However, it is still down to individual schools – and individuals within those schools – as to how well it is handled, says Brian Wall, author of The Transition to Secondary School, which is published by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.

The handing over of information about children is two-way, he points out. “The fault can be the secondary school not asking, and the primary school not giving.”

While he understands why some parents might want their children to start a new school with a clean slate, a lack of transparency about a child’s abilities and needs “ties the hands” of secondary school teachers.

Whereas if they have the necessary information about pupils, they can do everything they can to support them.

Teacher Emer Power, who has 17 pupils in her sixth class in St Oliver’s National School in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, believes both primary and secondary schools now realise that the more information that is shared about the children moving on, the better for everybody.

“We have had them for eight years,” she points out. It makes the transition for children easier if their new schools are informed about learning styles and personality quirks, and tipped off about simple things such as who is better off sitting near the front of the classroom, and not giving a child who has problems with organisation a locker at ground level.

The transfer of information will be put on a formal footing by the Department of Education next year with the introduction of an “education passport” for sixth-class children.

This will consist of a standardised sixth-class report card, with the option of both the child and a parent filling in additional “profile” sheets.

Margaret McCarthy, principal of the Beaumont Girls’ NS, welcomes this move and says she hopes it will be accepted by the local secondary schools as “sufficient evidence” about the incoming first years – and that they might stop running “unfair” entrance tests.

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