The move to secondary school means a number of major changes for all children.
Most children will cope with these and feel accustomed to the changes by the end of the first couple of weeks. In contrast the child with living and learning difficulties may take 2-3 terms to learn to navigate his way around the school and may require ongoing support throughout his school days to allow him to fully access the curriculum.
If there has been little preparation for the huge changes that occur between primary and secondary school, this leaves the child floundering and results in difficulties for the child to access the curriculum and makes it much harder for him to make friends. The first few weeks are crucial in developing the new peer group and poor preparation can result in lasting damage throughout the secondary school days.
Initial enthusiasm to support the child may disappear when there is an underlying feeling that the child should be able to go it alone. “How many times should he be shown, can’t he understand it by now, I am not going to mother him any longer” – phrases that have been uttered from time to time. However an analogy could be to consider how one would support a person with visual impairment with a white stick – we would not consider taking the stick away from him after a few weeks because he should have mastered his way around and shouldn’t need it any longer! However a child with less obvious difficulties does not have a ‘marker’ highlighting his difficulties, so is often seen as lazy, stupid or not really trying as hard as he could.
The process of change
Change in the school environment can make the individual have major “wobbles” and make him anxious. Anxiety about lack of control of his environment can lead to the individual feeling panicky all of the time and this has a knock-on effect on his performance. He may lash out at others or withdraw into himself in a form of self-protection.
Secondary schools are places of change. This causes additional strains on the child who is also trying to cope with his underlying difficulties and now has more problems layered on top. This can result in a breakdown in the child’s mechanisms for coping and is why we sometimes see secondary school being a crisis time, after the child has seemingly being able to cope in primary school.
The move to secondary school exposes the child at key times in the school day such as coping alone in the playground at break and lunchtimes. He can no longer cover up his difficulties by looking as if helping the younger children. Teachers may not be present all of the time to supervise in the same way as in the primary school playground and not all teachers in a large school will be aware of the child’s difficulties.
SO WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT SECONDARY SCHOOL?
Classes may be larger
Bigger school environment
No personal desks and the use of lockers to store belongings
Subject specific teachers
Independent travel to school
Homework – greater volume and expectation
The need for greater organisational skills and meeting deadlines.
Career choices at a time when the child may not see he has any strengths
Key transition difficulties
Negotiating the way around school – he may get lost and this may result in being late for class
Meeting new children who may not understand his difficulties
Meeting new teachers who do not recognise he has difficulties
Learning about the rules of the school – explicit and implicit
Learning new teachers’ names and their expectations and styles of teaching
Learning about the timetable and the appropriate books and tools required
Carrying equipment around all day – no central place to return to – therefore increasing the chances of losing equipment or having incorrect equipment for the next class
Coping with change determined by others not himself
Independently organising his work and managing his own timetable
In PE and games coping with more complex activities such as changing in/out of PE kit
At break times there is less supervision from teaching staff so the child is able to wander around on his own more (not seeking social interaction) or be more open to being bullied by others
Coping with new topics he has not studied before
Information should be transferred over so that all teachers know a profile of strengths and difficulties – could this be kept in a diary?
Visits to school should try to take place over 2 terms
Draw up a map of school/ give opportunity to take photos to become familiar with school setting
Take photos of the buildings, rooms and teachers to aid memory
Parents to be given the opportunity to visit school
Timetable given as soon as possible – keep several copies on view around the house
Baseline assessment undertaken to check where learning level is and level of remediation required
Consideration of adaptations required for classroom/sport and new subjects
Consideration of help required for organising work
Consideration of help required in note-taking
Consideration of where locker placed in school, and method to transport books and equipment
Mentor/tutor introduced before new term
Buddy system in place for first 2 terms
Use of angle boards/position in class /amount of room required taken into consideration
Adaptation of tools if required such as protractors, rulers, pens
Extra time allowed for homework
Work written down for individual on an ongoing basis if required
3 way communication card between school – different teachers, with home and with the individual
Consider school uniform – adapt garments for ease of dressing
Do as much preparation for the school day the night before – put out clothes, place the school bag by the door