It’s the next stage of school. Secondary school (or high school as N’s is). Starting high school feels so much bigger than primary school because it’s all about independence. So it helps to get your child ready and confident as much as they can be. Preparing for high school isn’t easy because there’s less information from schools, and often it requires bus passes sorting out at the last minute.
Not starting secondary school til next year, then check out my questions to ask when applying for secondary schools.
Here’s some of the ways you can help children in preparing for high school, and how the first few days experience went.
high school is when most parents get their children mobile phones. If you’re not keen check first with the school on whether children will be asked to use them in class, or how they’ll get homework. Some schools like our catchment school, send all the homework online. So not having a phone might be a problem. N’s high school say no phones are to be out during school time, and their homework isn’t via phone apps.
I got N a smartphone just after summer half term, and most of his friends got theirs anywhere from mid year to the summer holidays. Getting the phone early meant he could get over the silliness with it, and get used to finding his way around it. Having it as he was leaving Year 6 meant he’s been able to get whatsapp groups with his school and football friends. By the end of the holidays all the never ending chat has died down they’re more ready to use their phones for sensible reasons.
Key things to make sure they’re set up with is their own email address they can access, a location finder (for the phone, if not them once they start going out with friends independently), and relevant transport apps if needed for their bus tickets.
We’re on Android so use Google Family Link, and on that he has to request app download permission from me. He’s proved himself pretty responsible over the years with his laptop, so I may turn that off in case school ask them to download and set up certain school apps needed while they’re in school.
Keep a watch out for bus pass application dates as soon as you’ve got your school place. If your child is going to your nearest school, just apply via your county council website and you’ll get your free pass for the relevant bus (or other transport if there are no buses).
When it’s not your nearest school, things can get more complicated.
Paid transport – you may get the option to apply for the spare seat scheme which fills gaps on the bus with paying students if there’s additional seats going spare after the kids entitled to free seats have their passes, you’ll be able to apply. In our case our catchment school said we wouldn’t get a paid seat, so we opted for a similar distance school where there was a local bus service we could use.
Local bus services ticket options (and getting route confirmations) can be painful. Start looking out for answers early, especially if the contracts are being changed over. This happened on our route. In our area the outgoing bus operator you applied directly to them for an annual pass, sent in your child’s photo and you got your pass. Stagecoach is our route’s new operator and it’s been horrendously complicated. You don’t apply for a bus pass in the same way, and every region has different types of tickets and passes.
Our route goes over a county border, and across 2 Stagecoach regions. The termly bus passes work out more than single tickets with the numbers of holidays and the fact that there’s a 3 week delay in getting hold of them. They only announced that pass 5 days before term started. So we’re all using different ticket options – singles, 7 days or 28 days. Some have been told to get Oxfordshire county tickets which don’t officially cover our area, while I and others were told the only passes we could use were the nearly 3x the price passes that do cover our route.
So my tip – start checking transport options early. And if there’s any complicated route or ticket options, linking up with other parents trying to sort out the same thing helps.
School journey practice
Don’t forget that secondary school is probably the first time most children have ever used transport independently without adult supervision. The same might apply for those walking or cycling. So it’s worth doing a journey practice so they can be confident of direction or procedures, and how to pay.
Our school bus time and route is term time only, so we just did a short bus journey where N could see where the bus stops and how he’ll pay. It didn’t quite work exactly for us because we still weren’t sure what type of bus ticket or pass he’d be able to use – whether it was mobile phone, smartcard, or paper ticket. But he knew where he’d be getting on and off the bus at the village end.
If they’re using mobile tickets, teach them how they’ll need to activate them to use them.
If they’re paying for tickets as they use the bus, ensure you’ve got a stash of change for tickets.
They might not need to pay for anything in school with cash, as many schools use biometrics. They might not need to pay for bus transport if they have a pass. But it’s worth them having a contactless card option in case they need it for emergencies.
We’re using Hyperjar because there are no fees. I’ll use it to transfer pocket money from my account to his, and you can create different jars for spending, saving, and set purposes. You can add spending limits or block certain retailers. So N has a jar which is only for paying for Stagecoach journeys in case his pass doesn’t work, or we’ve forgotten to pay for the next bus pass period.
Unless you know your child’s school is a normal cash or card payment school, you might need to provide packed lunch for the first few days. When N started there were issues with the biometric set up, so having done the first week, they’re still not set up to use that system. So ensure you’ve got enough packed lunch food to see them through their first week.
Obviously you don’t want to buy too early in case children grow, but depending on what you’re buying you may be able to swap for a different size nearer school start dates if needed (high street is more likely). But it’s better to buy earlier (we’re talking June rather than August)
Watch out for expected times that discounts happen for school uniform sales on the high street. If your uniform supplier is online, sign up for their newsletters as you might get discounts through if you order by their deadline.
In terms of sizing, go by measurements rather than sizing. Online suppliers should have sizing charts available, and ask if you’re not sure. If you know any other parents with older children who go to the same school ask if you can try on blazers for size (or if they’ve got any handmedowns). We opted for 3 inch larger blazer (he was 28 inch chest, got a 31 inch) which was fine, and shirts I ordered 1 of current and bigger size to check. We ended up with the larger ones. Trousers we had current size rather than going bigger. We don’t need as many trousers as shirts either.
Do check optional vs compulsory uniform too – because often they say you need everything, but you might find they don’t need them in term 1.
Try everything on early when they arrive to check they’re not too small, and either change sizes or label and put away ready for the school year.
Check stationery lists
Our school sent the children a welcome pack which included a stationery equipment list. So pens, pencils, calculator (a specific make and model), rulers, highlighters, protractor, compass etc. N carried on using his old pencil case, but did need a new school bag, and PE bag.
Unfortunately as he’s currently on packed lunches, it means PE days have 2 bags to carry as the PE bag is too big to go into his normal rucksack as well. Hopefully he’ll be able to streamline more in future once he knows which term he’s doing which sports, and therefore if he needs normal trainers or football boots.
N never really changes his sleep routine over school holidays. Maybe he’ll be in bed by 9 rather than 8.30, but otherwise it’s like normal but maybe sleeping in a bit til 7. So starting back at school isn’t too painful.
Because high school means a bus, and a drop off at the bus stop an hour earlier than I used to drop him at school. For him, it’s not much bother, he’s already up. But for me, it’s hard getting up at 6.30.
If your children like to lie in or have late nights, then it might be a good idea to get back to ‘school’ time in stages.
Every school is different and uses different methods of tracking pupils behaviour, homework, and information. School websites often have lists of the apps they use, but you might not get logon information for a while after your child starts. So keep an eye out for any information about logins. And if you block your child from downloading apps without parental permission, keep an eye on your request list.
Really, the top tips in preparing for secondary school are just to be organised and teach your child ahead of them starting to be organised.
Whether it be transport, homework, uniform, PE kit, school behaviour. It’s all about preparation so they’re ready for when they start and will hopefully find it easy to adapt.
Have you got a high school starter or experience to share from older children?