We’re at start of a new academic year when lots of four year olds are settling into their Reception classes and lots of Year 7s are trying to get to grips with bigger schools, a timetable, more teachers, more homework and so on.
My experience tells me that the Year 6 to Year 7 transition can sometimes go spectacularly wrong within a few weeks where a child has been well supported at primary school but cannot cope with the demands of the secondary school with the support available to them. Sometimes, a child’s special educational needs have not been fully diagnosed and often it’s an Autism diagnosis that follows the child’s exclusion or removal from the school.
If you’re in this position, where you have a new Year 7 struggling with their new school, I suggest considering the following:
1. If they have an EHCP, seek an Emergency Annual review of their EHCP as soon as you can. If the problem is not identified and fixed quickly, the child can become too anxious about school for any subsequent ‘fix’ to stand a reasonable chance of working.
2. If you’re in the middle of an EHC Needs Assessment and you like the school they’re at and want them to stay there, if possible, engage with the school a lot over temporary solutions, pending the conclusion of the EHC Needs Assessment. This is an occasion when it may suit you to make less of an issue of the school behaving illegally (ie. imposing a part-time timetable) than you otherwise would.
3. If you’re in the middle of an EHC Needs Assessment and you’re convinced the school isn’t right for your child, operate in whatever way is least stressful for your child and compatible with your childcare arrangements. In your case, it is likely to assist you in obtaining an EHC Plan for your child if the school exclude them, so avoid taking action simply in order to avoid an exclusion.
4. If your child has known SEN that were thought to be milder than would require an EHC plan, now is the time to make the request for an EHC Needs Assessment, whilst talking to the school about how to help your child. Everybody’s original assessment of the severity of their SEN based on what they were like at primary school may well be mistaken, but it’s taken the move to secondary school to identify the problem. If you ask for an EHC Needs Assessment and it turns out you’ve “overreacted” to a teething blip, it’s not a problem – LAs routinely decline requests for EHC Needs Assessments and nothing will happen unless you appeal the LA’s refusal to assess.
5. If your child does not have known SEN and things appear to be going wrong with their move to secondary school, it’s worth:
- Starting a diary – make a record of what’s happened each day for your own and/or your child’s use.
- Consider who at the school knows what about your child; if your child is adopted, donor conceived, has been bereaved, is living in an “unusal” family set up and so on, there’s considerable risk to them of insensitively chosen or simply inappropriate tasks in lessons. Where a child is a Former Looked After Child (ie. you’ve adopted them, are their Special Guardian or have a Child Arrangements Order under which they’re living with you, after they’ve been a Looked After Child) they are eligible for the Pupil Premium. It is therefore in their interests that someone at their school knows about this in order to claim the funding. However, in a secondary school, communication is generally more fragmented than in a primary school – information known to the school as a whole may not in practice be known to each of the child’s subject teachers and is highly unlikely to be known to external supply teachers. Secondly, in the social milieu of school, your child’s preferences for who gets to know information about them are becoming much more important than when they were much younger. They may not want any teacher to know they were adopted or they may want their form tutor to know but no one else.
- If there’s something else unusual in your family circumstances – say a parent has a long term health problem, a younger sibling has very significant SEN and they’re a Young Carer or perhaps one parent is in the military and liable to be deployed to dangerous areas, it is worth, in discussion with your child, considering whether to pass this information on to their school.
- If something goes seriously wrong or there are a number of moderately serious incidents, request an EHC Needs Assessment. As in (4) above, if everything turns out to be teething difficulties, you don’t have to appeal against the LA’s refusal to start one. If what’s gone wrong is the beginning of identifying your child as having significant needs, you’ll be further along the process by having a right of appeal six weeks after your request.
- Consider what is going on socially and helping your child make safe use of social media for staying in contact with friends.
- Checking, so far as you can, that your child is drinking enough water, eating enough food and sleeping enough. School toilets are still [I left school in 1997] often not in a good state of repair/decor and can be a venue for bullying, which can lead to children not drinking enough to avoid using them. Lunchbreaks can be short at secondary schools. Consider a packed snack, even if your child is intending to eat a school dinner. Days at secondary school are usually longer and involve more walking than those at primary school, so are likely to be initially tiring.
- Consider how to keep evenings and weekends less busy for a few weeks – this might be counter productive, because hobbies outside of school are generally good for self esteem and confidence, but is worth thinking about.
- Contain homework to a reasonable amount of time each evening. Adequate sleep and at least some time to relax in the evening is more important than homework at this stage.
- Providing direct help to organise their bag each evening for the following day – books for each subject, a pencil case, a calculator, packet of tissues and so on [yes, they should be learning to do this independently, but it’s somewhere you can help, in the short term, whilst they settle]
- Making sure they know about anti-perspirant and the importance of washing .
- Checking that their clothing, including their shoes, are comfortable and suitable for what they’re doing. Some children have sensory processing disorders and struggle with wearing any sort of school uniform because of the feel of the fabric. Anybody expected to walk any distance in shoes giving them blisters or that are very flimsy will have sore feet. Shirt collars can be unpleasantly stiff until they’ve been washed a couple of times. Talk to the school about issues that arise and discuss solutions – if a school is not willing to adjust its uniform requirements for a disabled pupil, you may well have an Equality Act claim for disability discrimination.
- If school uniform and PE kit is particularly complicated, it’s worth getting them to practice changing quickly from one to the other.
- Taking them for an eyetest, if they’ve not had one recently.
- If they’ve previously had glue ear or other problems with their hearing, it’s worth seeking a referral back to audiology/the ENT department to check their hearing.
- Also consider when they last saw a dentist and if relevant take them for a routine appointment.
- If they menstruate and they appear tired, consider if they might be anaemic – this is one issue worth a GP appointment. If they experience painful periods, discuss with the GP what painkillers are recommended and how these should be administered at school.
- If they might start menstruation, including for the first time, make sure they have clean underwear, tights (if relevant) and menstrual products with them. Find out where they can go to borrow a skirt/pair of trousers if in need, or get them to store a spare one in their locker, if they have one.
- Consider a GP appointment if they appear particularly tired, after a few weeks or earlier if you suspect a potential (physical) health problem.
- Also consider an early GP appointment if the ways that things aren’t going well for them look like a mental health problem – the earlier a referral is made to CAMHS the better.
- Bear in mind that school may not be the problem – something might have happened outside of school and timing is coincidental.