Daunting step to ‘big school’

For many years now, I’ve written to local children as they complete their last days at junior school.

Around 1,400 children in Selly Oak constituency experience the change of transferring to the ‘big school’ each year.

Where I grew up, we had two secondary schools: one for children of the Roman Catholic faith and another for everyone else. It’s a bit different in Birmingham where parents are encouraged to express a preference over the schools their children attend.

Factors such as their mark in the King Edwards exam, whether parents prefer a girls, boys or mixed school, reputation and results can all play a part.

Inevitably some are disappointed at not getting their first choice and this can affect their attitude towards the new school.

I write to these youngsters because I want them to know that I understand this is a big moment and that being both excited and anxious is normal.

I’ve been interested in transition since my days as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Education Secretary Charles Clarke.

We know a lot more about changing school these days.

For the majority, it’s a successful step along life’s highway, but for some it can be traumatic.

Chief among anxieties is the fear of losing friends and worry about making new ones.

It’s a difficult time and one to which parents and grandparents need to pay attention.

Some obvious signs that all isn’t well include: a drop in marks and interest; reduced attendance; and increased anxiety; and of course, online bullying is an issue which didn’t exist in our day.

Most children can be helped before things get too serious, but they need to know there’s someone they can tell. When I write to them, I acknowledge some anxieties and advise them to tell someone if it’s not going OK or contact me as a last resort.

Things may have changed over the years and we’ve all had more than enough to cope with these past 18 months, but the importance of transferring to the ‘big school’ remains.

Let me wish all those youngsters taking that step this September, the very best.

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