differences from primary to secondary school

Differences from primary to secondary school

I always knew secondary school would be different to primary. After all, I was at one 30 years ago (or near enough). But schooling has changed, and I went from a large 350 child primary to a 950 child secondary. N has gone from a primary school of 90ish to a nearly 1000 child high school. The change has been mammoth, but it’s been easily coped with. Here’s some of the differences from primary to secondary school.


With primary schools you get spoon fed information. We used to have a Monday ‘what’s on’ email and a Friday newsletter. But there might be extra letters coming home or immediate reminder texts. Ours was good communication, but some parents seem to have multiple emails or texts a day which is too much. 

At secondary it’s all about the children listening and remembering, or even seeking out the information themselves.  There might be a calendar on the website, a termly newsletter, and the occasional letter when something urgent comes up (or when consent is needed for trips or vaccinations). Otherwise you have to hope information appears on social media.

But the rest is down to the children. Whether it’s information told to them in tutor time, or them having to read the daily bulletin they may get sent. Or they have to find out directly from teachers, or a notice board. 

Whatsapp groups for parents are unlikely to be in play, unless you’ve got a few friendship groups from primary who’ve set up to check in. You might find a year group facebook page where there’s various questions about lost kit or querying if there’s further details about something parents haven’t been told about.


Once they’re at secondary school, independence is one of the major steps children take. The majority will be making their own way to school, whether walking, on bikes, or on the bus. Some alone, some with friends.

 They need to remember their bus pass, or use apps or payment cards to pay, likely for the first time. They need to be able to stand up to challenges from bus drivers if something isn’t as expected with their mobile tickets not working. 

You may be relying on them to catch a different late bus back to somewhere totally different, and they may be setting off or arriving back in the dark.

It’s hard to teach independence, so as a parent we have to learn to trust that they’re self aware enough to do the right thing. To get themselves to and from school safely and on time. And to stay out of trouble.


At primary friendships are easy. Some children might be lucky and continue these into secondary school, while others may start a new and have to make new friends. For parents, we have no idea who they’re making friends with. We hear names and anecdotes, but unless you’re picking children up from school you’re unlikely to meet new school friends for a while until they settle in and start arranging to hang out.

I hear so many names mentioned, it’s confusing. There’s also stories of other friendships and blossoming (or unrequited) relationships. It makes me wish I was back at school again meeting lots of new people.

We also have to hope that their new friends are those who’ll work hard in class, and aren’t those who tend to get into trouble.

differences from primary to secondary school

Sports teams

At primary, children may have been picked for every sports opportunity, especially if in a small school. But at secondary, there’s so many more children to compete against for places. When I was at 6th form, my school had multiple teams per year group so most got to play in a team at some point. But so far we’ve only seen 1 team chosen for different sports which is a shame for those who are keen but not top of the tree.

Lost property

You’d think after primary they’d be used to keeping hold of their own things, but it seems that more gets lost for us at high school. Unfortunately however many reminders doesn’t mean they’ll remember to go lost property to look for it. Plus you might find that other children go looking for whatever they fancy whether it’s named or not.


From fingerprint cashless payments to getting asked to pay for (expensive) foreign trips before you’ve even had the information about it. Money and costs are certainly different to primary school.

So far, we’ve had a french activity week (they’re studying spanish not french, and could just do an activity week in the UK with less travel time and cost). And a ski trip, which is reasonably price for everything included, but then you’ve still got to get clothing for them, and that’s basically the cost of a week’s UK holiday for all of us. 

On top of optional trips, there’s money for design and technology – for printing and materials, and replacing all the lost uniform items.  And bus passes, because we’re not entitled to one as it’s not our nearest school

But it’s the canteen costs that rack up with no way to stop them other than not providing any money for your child. 

We load money, and the child pays with their fingerprint. Mine has 1 day a week where he has school lunches. But you have to load a minimum of £10. Lunch costs £2.50. But there’s food they can buy at breaktime and before school. However many snacks and lunch bits he takes in, there’s often a cheeky sausage roll or hash brown bought. That £10 should last nearly a month, but I’m lucky it gets through just over a week. I’ve got it better than some parents who find their child goes nuts with their ‘free’ money at the start of the year, even buying for all their friends.

Attendance focus

At primary we just got a termly attendance record and that was it (presumably unless you were really low on attendance). But at high school, even before the end of the first half term, we had a letter and his record home saying he was below their expectations of 94%, with their expectations being 96%. Ignoring the fact that it was 2 weeks before half term, he’d had 2 days off sick. If those last 2 weeks had been counted, he’d have been over the 94%. A waste of money and time.  We’ve not had another the second half term, so all is obviously much better vs their targets.

They also seem to do prize draws for those with 100% record each term. I don’t really agree with it, but N doesn’t seem fussed either way. I’m sure he’d feel differently if his name was pulled out of the hat.


Our primary did quite a lot of homework. Something each day, consistently. Secondary is sporadic. Lots of vocabulary – across languages and humanities subjects. Otherwise, it’s an occasional revision for a test, or a couple of questions following up from something in class. But they can go weeks with nothing substantial. 

Until it’s project time, and then it’s madness as multiple subjects request projects. In the first half term there were 4-5 projects. And of course, they take a lot longer than estimated by the teachers. It’s good practice for independent study, but a lot to manage, especially over holiday time, and when children have lots of out of school activities.


Thankfully we seem to have avoided the bullying, but there’s been a lot more than I would have expected. A lot of it seemed to be at the start of the year, the school stamp down on it, and much has stopped.  Now it’s less physical and more on Whatsapp and social media. N refused to be added to the big group luckily. Year 7 is definitely a time where you need to be monitoring your child’s phone for anything they’re unprepared, to help them find their way through. But also to be there to see dodgy groups being set up so school can be made aware.

The difference between the youngest and the older year groups seems huge. I didn’t expect N would be hearing some of the things he has, in particular in the toilets. But for a child I thought would be quite naive, without older siblings to learn from, he seems to have coped well. 

We can’t be there for them at secondary school like we can for primary. With lots of teachers, a lot more children, and probably further away from home, it’s a lot of unknowns. 

All we can do is prepare them for the next step, the move to Year 7. 

Hoping that both parents and previous school have prepared them as well as possible for what comes next. 

And that their personality is such that they’ll find their way through without too much angst.  

And a good group of friends.

How different have you found it when children move from primary to secondary? What have you struggled with?

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  1. Going from primary school to secondary school. It is important to brace yourself/ your child for the school change. Thank you for sharing your insight. This will be so helpful for parents!


    1. Hope it helps. It’s a big move, but also isn’t at the same time. By the time they’re in the summer term of Y6, they’ve pretty much all outgrown primary.

  2. My youngest girls school are pretty good with their communication, sometimes too good when they send about 5 text messages out a day. lol
    I only know a few of my girls friends from school, I hear names but couldn’t pick them out of a line up.
    My girl has been pretty good when it comes to buying extras from the canteen lately. She always gets carried away at the start of the school year but seems to calm down about now. x

    1. I think ours is OK communication wise. Certainly better than I’d expected. But the lack of notice given for sports matches isn’t enough. Makes me relieved that N isn’t currently picked.

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