With each of our three children, we have been through the nerve-racking first day of primary school. This week we’ve added a new experience: Isaac’s first day of secondary school.
Starting primary school is unquestionably a huge milestone in a four-year-old’s life. But the move from primary to secondary education is a massive change for an 11-year-old too.
Isaac and I started to talk about this before the summer holidays. The aim was to help him prepare for what was to come and to allay his nerves. But it was only then, as I started to dredge up my memories of making the same transition 30-odd years ago, that I realised quite how big a change it is.
So many changes
After just two days of school, so much is already different to what it was two months ago. So much change so soon can easily become overwhelming but so far – and it’s admittedly still early days – he’s taking it all in his stride.
For starters, he’s now separated from the friends he went to school with every day for the past seven years. (There is only one other boy from his old school at his new one.) So there are lots of new faces to get used to and friends to make.
Including travel, his school day is now up to three hours longer. He used to leave the house at 8:30am and return before 3:30pm. (It’s only a seven-minute walk from home to the primary school.) Now I’m dropping him off at the train station at 7:10am and he gets home between 4:30 and 5:00. Most days, he’ll be getting the train from Thatcham to Reading on his own and then walking over a mile from there to school. It’s a lot of additional responsibility for even a mature 11-year-old to take on.
Then there’s school itself. Instead of having lessons in the same classroom with the same teacher every day, now he’s responsible for getting himself to different classes at the right time. And he’s experiencing a wider range of subjects too. Yesterday was his first full day of proper lessons, giving him his first taste of chemistry (lab coats! Bunsen burners!), Spanish, drama and Latin. Today he’ll do history, geography, biology and music. Next week he’ll start signing up for lunchtime and after-school clubs. (Robotics and badminton are high on his list, he tells me.)
He’s making new friends. He’s proud of having his own debit card with which he can buy his train tickets. I took him out for coffee after his first day and he talked non-stop for 20 minutes, barely pausing for breath. On Tuesday night, ahead of his first day, I would have said his mood was 75% excitement and 25% apprehension. Now it’s 100% positive.
Who knows what the future will bring?
Of course, we’re still in the honeymoon period. We’ll see how he copes when the adrenaline and novelty wear off, when homework starts to pile up and when he inevitably realises that he has gone from being a big fish in a small pond to competing with others of similar or even greater ability than him. (There were around 1,000 applicants for 150 places in his intake, so everyone is strong academically.)
He really has jumped in at the deep end. And while the school offers a strong support network to help struggling students, it’s largely up to him whether he sinks or swims. It’s as much about his resilience, determination and maturity as it is about how clever he is.
I have no idea how he’ll fare. I expect he will soar in some subjects but struggle in others. He will hopefully discover new passions he never knew existed. But it will be quite a voyage of discovery and one which enables him to fully develop as an individual.
Starting a new school represents the beginning of a new chapter in his life, which will have many twists and turns, highs and lows. I hope it will be the making of him. But we’ll be there to catch him if he falls and to celebrate his successes with him.
The adventure begins.