New school year anxiety can be tough, and may often bring about mixed feelings for students, for some, a source of stress and for others excitement. There are three transitions that are often pointed out by teachers as more challenging than other years. What are the key points to remember when transitioning to new year group in the new school year? Read on for the Explore Learning guide on how to prepare for a new school year.

In England and Wales, the transition to new year group ranges that can be most tricky are between Reception to Year 1, Year 2 to Year 3 and Year 6 to Year 7 . In Scotland, the transitions are between P1 to P2, P3 to P4, P7 to S1. In Northern Ireland the transitions are between Year 1 to Year 2, Year 3 to Year 4 and Year 7 to Year 8.

Reception to Year 1 (England), P1 to P2 (Scotland) and Year 1 to Year 2 (N. Ireland)

Lots of schools manage the difficulty of moving up a year in school differently depending on their own individual ethos, but in England and Wales, the children also move from following the Early Years Foundation Stages to the National Curriculum. The EYFS has objectives around rounded development (communication and language, physical development, personal, social and emotional development), but in Year 1 achieving the required standards in maths and literacy are the main focus. In Scotland, this is less evident as the children follow the Curriculum for Excellence from age 3. However, it is important wherever you are to make the transition as positive as possible.

How to prepare for a new school year

Find out as much as you can from school as it’s very likely that school will want to keep you informed about how they will be supporting your child during the transition – so keep an eye out for any coffee mornings, meetings or information evenings they are doing about moving up a year. If they don’t cover it already in that meeting, here are some useful questions to ask:

How does the structure of the day differ?

For example, was it at the class teacher’s discretion when they had playtime this year and will they be moving to a totally timetabled play routine next year? If so, what support is in place if your child is likely to find this challenging?

What is the learning environment like?

Classrooms for the first year of school tend to have lots of areas to explore (reading area, play area, snack area), but when your child is moving up a year in school classrooms may have less space for play and more desks facing the front. Rather than talking about the more formal classroom as looking “scary” or working “harder”, if you talk to your child about going into a more grown-up classroom as an exciting step, they are much more likely to adapt better to the transition.

How does the way in which they learn differ?

The lessons can also be more formal in the second year of school. In Reception/P1/Year 1 the learning can be quite activity-based (like a project learning about growing plants or everyone acting out a particular story), whereas Year 1 will run more like a traditional lesson over an hour or so. The teaching can also be less explorative (such as watering plants as a group and then measuring their growth the following week) and more directive (such as “here are 2 plants on the board, which is taller?”). Schools may try and phase in the more formal lesson styles, so find out from them how this is going to work, or if they have any feedback from previous years on how quickly children have settled into the changes.

What can school and parents do to help children adjust to a different way of learning?

Any of these changes can require quite a lot more independence on your child’s part, it’s important that they feel confident in what they should do to help themselves if they are feeling restless, stuck or worried. For example, previously they might have been able to take themselves over to a different area for a while and then come back to their learning, but now they might need to stay seated and pop their hand up. Add this to work that has naturally increased in difficulty, and there’s plenty to keep them busy! Think of what skills they might need as they move up a new year and find ways to praise them when they demonstrate these at home, e.g. they will need to develop the skill of waiting patiently while the teacher or teaching assistant is helping someone else in a whole class activity. Develop this skill by praising them when they wait patiently for something at home.

<h2>How does Explore Learning help? <h2>

You may have already noticed that we praise and reward children specifically for the skills that they will need in Year 1 – like asking for help, staying on task, and giving something another go if it’s tricky! We split the programmes up in the hour so that we can observe and support children who are building their concentration and independence. We then reward them with play, where they can have their choice of activities afterwards – just like school will do! And because the children don’t know what level they are working at (any Year 1/P2/Year 2 work looks just the same as the reception work) we can build their confidence in tackling new challenges that they face when transitioning into a new school year.

Year 2 to Year 3 (England and Wales), P3 to P4 (Scotland) and Year 3 to Year 4 (N. Ireland)

This is perhaps one of the transitions that you may not have thought about as much but is a year during which many of our parents report their child experiences difficulties, even if they seemed to have breezed through earlier school years. There is another big jump in the formality of learning, the addition of homework, a greater responsibility placed on children to take ownership of their own learning time, and increased curriculum expectations for the end of year 3 (say goodbye to those 3 and 4 times tables and hello to the 6s, 7s and 8s, and a whole lot of grammar on the English side!). So there is a lot for children to get to grips with.

This is also a year in which parents start asking us for more advice about additional educational needs – so we would always recommend that you speak to school about what they think would be the best support for your child. The average age of a diagnosis for dyslexia (as well as a number of other SENDs) is 8, so you may spend this year experimenting with the best approaches to learning and finding out what works for your child. Keep communicating with us about what school has tried so that we can implement it as best we can in the centre too!

The advice from the Education Endowment Foundation (who work on tried and tested research in schools) is clear – interventions should happen sooner rather than later. The risks of waiting for things to get worse are that the challenges in one subject start to affect other subjects, and children develop more anxiety around work that they find hard or aversion to learning entirely.

This means that as they go up a school year, their love of learning and their confidence is more important than ever. We have so much on offer throughout this time for members, no matter what their needs – be it helping them progress to tougher academic work so school feels less stressful, or trying new things now that they are more mature learners (like different workshops, or additional courses).

The good news is that research also shows that the more children are exposed to change and different environments, the more resilient they are. So ultimately, changes in the way they are learning and new experiences are a positive thing for your child. Importantly these changes need to be presented as a challenge that we will be proud of them for undertaking, rather than something to be scared of. Speak to your tuition centre about what they have coming up that will support you and your child in the transition and beyond!

Year 6 to Year 7 (England and Wales), P7 to S1 (Scotland) and Year 7 to Year 8 (N.Ireland)

The big move up to secondary is something that every school will be working on making the best experience possible and is also the subject of lots of research aiming to improve its impact on learning.

Much current research shows us that in Year 7 it can be particularly difficult to make progress with things that were challenging in Year 6. The Education Endowment Foundation states that:

"There is a large dip in mathematical attainment and attitudes towards maths as children move from primary to secondary school in England. For example, one large national study of primary attainment in England found that, at the end of Year 7 – a full year after the transition to secondary school – pupils’ performance on a test of primary numeracy was below their performance at the end of Year 6."

There is a huge amount of debate on why this is, with many variables to consider; like the difference in the number of teachers your child will see in a given term, the very different learning environments due to the size of some secondary schools compared to primary, and the social difficulties that being the little fish in a big pond again can bring.

Tips for starting year 7

The things that will make secondary school a success in Year 6 have less to do with the SATS and more to do with making sure their maths and English knowledge is really secure. Your child should be able to apply what they have learnt into any scenario (in a test, throughout a project, or while trying to fix something at home) and can monitor their own understanding and seek help when they need it. Year 6 transition activities could include looking at scenarios like these and working out how to apply them to your child’s learning.

At Explore, we do this by working on their Fearless Learning Habit in every single session, reporting on their mastery of each topic they cover and making sure that we address problems as they come up.

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