A parents’ guide to secondary school

September marks the return to school after the long summer holidays. The re-introduction of a daily routine can be a shock to the system for all concerned after those late starts and lazy days.

A new school year can trigger anxieties for both children and parents, particularly when making the step up from little to big school. We asked Merrick’s media consultant David Helliwell, a (long-suffering) father of two big schoolers to flag up some experiences in a parents’ guide to secondary school.


After being big fish in a small pond, children find their world is very different when they make the transition to Year 7.

Many are keen to move on, often eager to sample the new world freedoms described by older siblings. But there are still bound to be some anxieties and potential new battle grounds. Here are six areas that may be of concern – or are new challenges parents have yet to face.


It’s natural to be nervous. The good thing is that there will be literally hundreds of children and their parents feeling the same way. You are not on your own.

If that doesn’t help you to feel calmer and more in control, then think about what steps you can take to make the change feel easier. Try not to let your child pick up on any anxiety you may feel; the chances are that will only make them question themselves about why you feel like that.

This is a time for you to radiate positivity and emphasise the exciting opportunities that moving on to secondary school opens up.


The biggest change for many when moving up is that responsibility passes from parent to child. It won’t be mum or dad explaining why homework hasn’t been done or isn’t up to scratch.

Similarly, it becomes the pupil’s responsibility to get themselves round an unfamiliar building to different classes and teachers when the chances are they’ve been used to being taught by one or two people in the same environment.

Therefore parents can help by making sure their child understands what will now be expected. Helicoptering in to solve every issue won’t help in the long run. Take a step back and first let them try to solve problems for themselves.

Mobile phones
mobile phones; a parents' guide to secondary school

Mobile phones: Get ready for pester power


If you haven’t already succumbed to buying one for your child, get ready for an onslaught of pester power. It’s only rational that most children will want what they see their friends and classmates have.

And, looking at it objectively, it can be a relief for you to know that you can keep in touch when the new routine may involve using public transport for the first time or being at a school that is much further from home than they’re used to.

There is, however, no need for 11-year-olds to be kitted out with a state-of the-art iPhone X with face recognition technology. Your old, pay-as-you-go will do just fine for now.

They may not thank you for it, but you’ll be glad if two weeks later it’s A) cracked B) lost C) cracked and lost.


Homework: A battleground


Deep breath. The number one battleground between parents and children.

Fortunately, most schools help in setting expectations. And better still for parents they publish it in year planners and the like so that you can keep a track of what’s required.

Again, that doesn’t mean helicoptering in and stressing because you haven’t completed Johnny/Sarah’s maths project. It means being a supportive voice in the background and ensuring adequate time is put aside to do homework properly. So, not scribbled down on the bus to school 30 minutes before it’s due to be handed in.

Yes, playing Fortnite or watching The Next Step for hours on end may be a more attractive option, but they’re unlikely to directly help in educational achievement.

Experts say a short break after school with snack and down time and then on with homework before TV/videos or other relaxation. Most parents would probably say, do whatever works.

Uniform and clothing

Second deep breath. It’s likely the uniform regulations will be much stricter at secondary than primary school. Most schools are pretty hot on ensuring the rules aren’t flouted.

So while Johnny/Sarah may believe the rules are merely guidelines to be followed or ignored by the individual, generally a school will have a harder line.

If it says it requires black shoes, must be polishable, no trainers and no garish branding, then that’s what they generally expect.

It’s worth assuming that any uncool blazer will be dumped in a heap at the bottom of their bed from day one, probably until their final day in the Year 11. No matter how many requests are made for it to be hung up.

Growing up and apart

Big gulp here. It is inevitable that as your child settles into their new life they will change. They will meet new people, new friends, try new subjects, new activities. They will push boundaries, want to hang out without you, or stay at a friend’s house where you don’t know the parents.

The change may be gradual and comfortable. Or it may seemingly happen overnight without anyone asking your permission.

It’s up to you to set the ground rules. All of the above is part of growing up. And you have to decide what you’re prepared to accept and what will have to wait until they’re a little older.

Hopefully allowing some freedom while keeping a check on any requests that seem a step too far allows you both to stay sane.

More ‘parents’ guide to secondary school’ advice

There’s lots of great advice available to children and parents with questions at this exciting/unnerving time.

Both mumsnet and familylives offer some good common-sense advice, much of it straight from those who’ve been through it.

They and TES also have advice specifically for separated parents.

Other helpful articles include theschoolrun which includes tips from a now Year 8 ‘veteran’ on how to handle the change.

Favourite advice includes “Don’t call it ‘playtime’ – it’s ‘break’ now.” And the invaluable ‘Try not to eat pizza every day’.

Pizza: Great, but don’t eat it EVERY day


Looking for words to inspire your children? Try New Beginnings by Manchester-based poet Tony Walsh, better known as Longfella.

He said making the step up to big school can be daunting for many children. It’s important they are supported and inspired to make the best of the opportunities available to them.

It includes such pearls as:

‘So do things that you’re proud of
and let everybody see
you’ve passed the test
you’ve done your best
to be the best that you can be’

No better advice than that.