Secondary schools

Starting at secondary school can be a very different experience for some children. Children may have come from small village primary schools or be attending a school further away from home than before. They may be separated from close friends and have to form new friendship groups. Their secondary school may be single sex instead of mixed, it may be selective or a community college. Getting to and from school will be different and many children may have to use a bus or a train for the first time.

All of these features are always borne in mind by the school and allowances made to help the children to adapt. The staff at the schools will have procedures in place to help all new pupils. There may be a ‘buddy’ system where the new pupils are paired with older pupils so that they can be escorted around the site of the school, have the timetable explained, the routines outlined and the organisation of lunchtimes and ‘free time’ outlined.

After the first few weeks the ‘First Years’ or Year 7 pupils will be integrated into the school routines and ethos. They will be enjoying more freedom, new subjects, more responsibility and the companionship of new people. It does not take long for children to establish a rapport with peers and teachers and to become accustomed to a new way of life.

In Years 7, 8 and 9 the pupils at secondary school will be in Key Stage 3. They will be assessed at the end of Year 9 at age 14 before embarking on a two year GCSE course. Optional end-of-year tests are taken in some schools in Years 7, 8 and 10. In Year 9 decisions will have to be made to choose subjects to be studied for GCSE. At the beginning of the spring term in January, pupils in Year 9 (and their parents) choose those subjects that, in addition to the compulsory subjects, will form part of their Key Stage 4 course. These may include vocational courses. Pupils in Year 11 take the Key Stage 4 GCSE examinations.

Having completed GCSEs in Year 11, pupils have a choice whether to continue with further education in school (i.e. the sixth form) or college, or to start an apprenticeship.

Sixth forms vary in size according to the school or college therefore the range of subjects and courses will vary according to this and there may be reciprocal agreements with local schools so that a wider range of subjects may be offered to pupils.

AS levels are studied in Year 12. The advantage of AS level is that it provides pupils with the option to study more subjects before deciding on which ones to specialise in. Students may prefer to start new AS courses in Year 13 or possibly undertake vocational forms of education and learning.

There are many opportunities for young people these days and the opportunity to experience many different aspects of life. Many students have gap years and travel, many serve apprenticeships and study at the same time. Many enjoy attending further education colleges to study both academic and vocational subjects. These colleges give more freedom than the school environment.

Sometimes these wider choices make it more difficult to decide which course to follow but there is also the opportunity to combine various different forms of learning. 11 to 18 year olds should take every opportunity offered to them to ensure that they fulfil their potential and gain the type of skilled employment that suits them and their personalities and strengths.

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