A New School Year

I remember as a child, looking forward the long summer holidays, and being haunted by the ‘back to school’ signs that appeared in the windows of high street shops before we had even broken up for school. If anything, this is, even more, a mark of the times today, where we have Christmas decorations in the shops in October and Easter eggs for sale on Boxing Day. I never appreciated that those three little words ‘back to school’ would continue to have such significance for me as an adult too!

September is the beginning of the new school year. All children, and perhaps parents, will have a mixture of excitement and trepidation thinking about the start of term. None more so than those children who start in Reception for the first time, or those who start at a new school.

This September, even more so than usual, I will be sharing those emotions with children as I embark on my fourth Headship and start a new and exciting role as Headmaster of Hallfield School in Birmingham. It’s a large (nearly 600 pupils) and very well-established Prep School, with an excellent reputation.

I am very aware that it will be a big year for Hallfield as the school celebrates its 140th year during my first year at the helm, and I will only be the 13th Headmaster in its entire history – an exciting yet daunting thought!

With all of this in mind, I would like to share, with parents, a few essential tips for helping your child settle into his or her new school, new class, or with a new teacher. So here goes…

1) Routine, routine, routine
There is nothing that causes more worry with children than being unprepared for school. As parents we can help our children be more organised.

Firstly, at home, a good routine to get into before bedtime is to get your child’s school bag ready for the next day and ask your children (with help for younger children) to go through a checklist of items needed and pack it accordingly.

Teachers will have given older children a timetable in their homework diaries and all parents will soon receive a welcome letter from their class teacher. Some children benefit from having a timetable or visual planer at home reminding them of which kit is needed on which day. For example, swimming kit on Mondays, violin on Wednesdays, spelling homework on Fridays, etc.

Having the right kit on the right day helps children get off to a flying start. It is also a great way of encouraging children to start to taking responsibility for organising themselves.

2) Independence
All children are capable of remarkable independence from an early age – especially at school. As parents, we tend to do things for our children that they can easily do for themselves, often because it seems easier or is quicker when we are rushing to get to school in the morning.

For younger children, try and make sure that they can dress themselves and can change into PE kits independently. You can do this by practising at home and encouraging your children to lay out their clothes and put them in a neat pile at the end of the day.

This helps enormously with changing for PE at school. It is always telling when children get ready for PE, which children have a go at dressing themselves and which children present themselves in front of the teacher with arms outstretched, waiting for someone to do it all for them.

Even older children can be completely disorganised when changing for games. It is amazing how many children take each other’s kit home on a Friday instead of their own, which usually surfaces on Monday, thanks to the name labels that mums stitch into the 152 items of the school kit!

Equally, in the mornings, children are quite capable of hanging their own coat and bag on their own school peg. A quick goodbye kiss, encouragement for your child to join the class line, carrying their own belongings and following the teacher into the classroom is all that is needed to set them up for a good day at school.

3) Responsibility
At school, we are as much about teaching children about responsibility as we are about teaching the subjects in the curriculum. All children make mistakes, do things wrong, forget to behave in a certain way from time to time, and school is a safe and secure environment in which they can learn from their mistakes.

My advice to parents is to let your children take responsibility for their actions. If a child in the juniors forgets to bring in their homework or forgets their swimming kit, it is their mistake and not their parents.

If a child is given a warning for talking in assembly or failing to follow the school rules, it is their mistake, not the child next to them.

The best way parents can help their children become more responsible is to allow their children to understand that actions have consequences, and this is how we all learn.

4) Communication
Schools have many and varied methods of communication including texts, emails and of course the website. Infants usually have a reading diary and juniors a planner or homework diary.

Education is a tripartite process, involving the school, the parent and the child. Do find time to build up a relationship with your child’s teacher, offering positive information as well as raising concerns.
Do realise the best time to speak with your child’s teacher is probably not first thing in the morning when they are getting ready to receive the class. The end of the day is always best. If in doubt, email or phone the school and leave a message for the teacher or form tutor.

I always encourage parents to raise any concerns early on and not to save up worries until they have become more pressing. Most issues can be resolved quickly and easily by having a polite word with the class teacher.

5) Friendships
Children, and parents, often worry about whether their child will settle and make new friends. Positive relationships and friendships are key to your child feeling happy at school. I always tell children who are anxious about making new friends that the best way to establish new friends is to be friendly and smile!

My experience is that children love welcoming new pupils to their school and are always open to expanding their friendship groups. Schools have various ‘buddy’ systems in place for new starters and teachers are very skilled at ensuring new pupils are integrated socially into a new school.

Encourage your child to be friendly, to smile, to get involved in games and to join as many clubs and sports that are available for their age group.

Parents can help too. Not all parents manage the school drop-off/pick-up, so joining the Parent Teacher Association, meeting other parents, swapping details to get on the ‘play-day’ and party-circuit all help your child make new friends, especially if you’ve relocated to a new area.

Be patient and encourage your child to be positive. We won’t all have made a new best friend on day one. If after a few weeks you feel your child does not appear to have made friends have a word with the class teacher or tutor. They will do their best to help or reassure you.

I remember when I first starting teaching. I was given the advice: “Don’t smile until Christmas”. This piece of advice suggested that teachers needed to set out their stall with their children very clearly in the first few weeks of term to ensure that the rest of the year went well.

This is a very important truism in schools and I am sure Hallfield will be no exception. Over the coming weeks of a new school year, teachers, and even Headmasters will be setting out our stall with the children (and maybe even some staff!).

Your child may come home and tell you they have a strict teacher, that they were told off for talking when they should not be or that they had to practise walking down the path to assembly quietly. And yes, I am sure that at all teachers at all schools will be doing these things.

However, I must admit, I have never been very good at not smiling, so if the children at Hallfield look carefully, I am sure they will see a smile creeping in before the week is out, never mind Christmas!

I hope the new school year starts well for everyone.