When things change at school
We asked our young people from the participating groups to consider what its like when things change at school and to remember key points of transition – like the move from primary to secondary, or between mainstream and alternative provision or when people change - like getting a new teacher or classmates. In the course of considering the change that can happen we wanted young people to tell us what happened, how they felt, what adults did that helped or didn’t help and what advice they would give to other young people or adults managing transitions.
We present an overall picture of what young people told us in four sections which are:
- Remembering when things change
- What helps and does not help at times of change
- Some issues that lead to, or impact on change
- Advice for young people and adults at times of change
Eleven of our participating projects contributed their views to this question, 120 young people participated in discussion and activity across the groups.
In pulling together the views of children and young people we use a number of pieces of text or art work which they have sent. To see more artworks and larger versions please go to the Groups Taking Part pages.
Young people who remembered being at nursery school had very positive memories, typical comments included:
“I loved nursery, its fun” - “It was good” - “Met friends and enjoyed that”.
A boy from Quarriers told us: “I was happy at nursery school. It was easy to get up in the morning because I knew I would have a fun day”.
But not all memories of nursery school were positive, young people recognised in their contributions that disaffection with school and learning can start early, in one contribution a young person identified that children can be “the lonely one” or “the loner, the one that is left out” from the beginning of their school life.
This move to primary school was generally a positive experience for most of those contributing, primary school brought with it positive experiences such as:
“I met lots of new friends and had a good laugh” - “It was good, it was exciting and I enjoyed it” - “Primary is the best” - “Its as good as everyone makes it” - “Primary was brilliant”- “The teacher had a lot more time for me” - “My friends were there and I enjoyed myself “.
Getting a new teacher at primary school was also a point of change that young people remembered.
A young boy from Quarriers described what it was like when his teacher was leaving, and his hopes for the new teacher:
“We have some supply teacher but will be getting a new teacher very soon. I hope she talks instead of shouting and is fair. I hope that she is funny and has good ideas for gym and other activities”.
An 11 year-old boy also identified the importance of a good teacher, especially at a transition to a new primary school. Another 8 year-old boy described being quite worried when he had to change school last year - he had had some problems at his previous school where he said his teachers didn’t listen. He does like his new school and has made friends and everyone including his dad and his head teacher are happy.
One group of pupils in secondary education (Princes Trust XL Club) commented on frequent changes in teaching staff.
One boy identified that the change of staff in secondary school can be disruptive, he told us that: “When I get a new teacher half way through the year the new teacher does not know where you were on the part of a subject”.
A girl also reports feeling “a little bit unsettled when this happens”.
Others from the same group report that they “…feel perfectly fine when new people come to the school because it happens every day you just need to get on with it, it also makes a change”.
A boy reports that change affects behaviour: “When a new teacher or classmate joins the class it doesn’t really bother me but it kinds of makes me hyper if it is a new teacher half way through the year and it makes me go off task”.
The move from primary to secondary school was a significant moment of change in many young people’s lives. The scale of the new school and having to meet so many new people was a real worry for children at this age.
“I felt sad and upset, I was also scared and excited” was how a boy (age 14 from Cannonmills) described his move. Being shown round the new school really helped.
His view was supported by a number of other young people who had made the same move. He said “they showed me around so I knew what is was like.”
Feeling nervous and scared was a common theme expressed by many. There were many fears about being subjected to practical jokes, being taken to wrong classroom or other “initiation practices” such as flushing heads down toilets.
For a boy (age 12 from Quarriers) the biggest difference between primary and secondary was that “In High School you are expected to be very mature and have full responsibility for everything”.
In thinking through what transition to High School was like he summed up many of the views of others, highlighting the move into S1 as a key point at which things started to go wrong for him. Click on the icons for more.
For one boy (Crannog Central) the bullying and behaviour of others, and then ultimately his response to that, meant that in S1 he was excluded for the first time. He wrote:
“Moving from primary to secondary wasn’t very good because you kept getting bullied. Just because I was a new boy in the school. The ones in the second year started putting the first years in the bin… I felt angry. I actually got excluded for hitting somebody who tried to put me in the bin. I was excluded from the start of first year”.
On the whole comments about being at secondary school were less positive than those about attending primary, while some contributors like it, others describe having to “put on a brave face all the time”, or that they “wanted to stay at primary”.
Other issues were raised which make managing secondary school difficult, these included the length of the school day, a feeling that all teachers do is “moan” and clashes with young people from other neighbourhoods.
Children in one primary school alternative education talked about leaving and then going back to mainstream settings.
The initial move into an alternative setting had not been welcome by some, but on the whole early anxieties had been addressed. One contributor commented “It felt bad and I didn’t want to come. I was scared of the boys”.
One boy (age 12) tells us: “I felt quiet when I came here. I thought the teachers would be very nippy. The adults were fine, they helped me with my swearing. It would’ve helped if they showed how we behave at this school before I came here”.
Another boy (age 9) said “I felt worried. Better than expected. Not very nosey”.
Going back to mainstream leaves the children feeling “good”. A 10 year-old boy talks about his feelings and expectations in his piece of writing while another child awaiting placement back in mainstream drew a picture of the adult he needs in school to offer support.
But for young people in secondary education alternative educational settings or special school there was a sense that the transition back from special school to mainstream school was unlikely, if not impossible. As one young girl (age 15) commented:
“I want to go back into mainstream school but I don’t think this will happen. I want to be a mechanic so I want to back into the mainstream”.
For other group members (both female, age 15) the experience of alternative provision was disappointing:
“When it started we had nothing to do. Nothing was sorted out properly… I lost interest and stopped coming into school as much… Initially I was looking forward to it starting. Then I wanted to be back in my old classes because it just got boring. I felt really annoyed. Taking me out of classes was a bad idea”.
“Anything is better than this, even behaving”.
Young people identified several things that they thought adults get wrong when pupils are facing transitions. These included:
Adults tell you what to do.
- Teachers are too strict in mainstream schools, you can get into trouble easily for things that aren’t that bad.
- Adults don’t listen, and they talk for too long. A boy (age 11 from Quarriers) reported that for him “mostly it was hard to keep listening for a long time so I don’t know if they said anything important… if adults asked me I would say they should listen more and not just talk all the time”.
- Adults shout, they moan and they blame you for things which you didn’t do. A boy (age 10) from Quarriers wrote about his class teacher who had recently left, he reports: “I quite liked him but he did have a couple of bad points like shouting very loud at the top of his voice and slamming the ruler down on the desk. He only did this when he was annoyed with a person or situation it seemed to happen a fair amount of the time”.
- Teachers and other adults don’t tell you enough things about the new place you are going to. The Levenmouth Links project group reported that professional people can ”make it out to be better than it is… exams were not mentioned… weren’t told you could get out of the group if you disliked it… things weren’t set up for us starting”.
- There is nobody to trust.
There was also a theme amongst some contributions that change in itself could be perceived/used as a threat or punishment, in particular the possibility of removing a pupil from the mainstream to a special education or even residential setting was something pupils saw as a threat rather than it being presented as a planned or agreed option. For example a girl (age 15 from Right Track) tells us:
“I liked the primary school but I did not really like the high school. I did go almost every day but the teachers just moaned at me all the time because I was late into class. The Social Workers keep telling me because I am late I will get put in residential. I keep saying if they have to put everyone in residential care that was late into school there would be no room for anybody… I have passed all my 5 exams in Right Track and I keep getting told that I am not stupid”.
A contributor (male, age 15 from Rightrack) also reflects a feeling of sadness about changes:
“I knew it was my fault that I was moved from school to a unit so I was a bit disappointed in myself. I know I have to get on with it and see what happens from here onwards… advice I can give to teachers and parents so they are better at helping young people through change like this is to try and listen more and not forget how hard it can be moving from school or changing in any circumstances”
Continuing the theme of what adults can do that helps with transitions other young people had experiences where adults have been caring and were good at listening and understanding.
Other characteristics that young people identified as helpful at time of change included:
- Adults being supportive
- Giving the right advice and doing things that help such as helping you visit a new school
- Help with building confidence and help with behaviour that is getting the young person into bother
Having a chance to orientate yourself in a new environment was a recurring theme in contributions.
A young person from Crannog Central told us it was helpful when “The adults took us around the school and told us where all the classes where. It helped because if they didn’t do that I would have got lost”.
Young people also pointed out that not everyone can or does ask for help, sometimes because they think that nobody ever does anything to help.
A big help for many young people was undergoing a change at school along with friends, for many this happened at the points of change that most pupils go through, like the move from primary to secondary, but for others moving school because of family changes or because of change imposed on them, there was no such support system.
Because all of the young people participating in Trojan have connections with external agencies, some of them providing alternative day time or out of hours support, young people offered views on the ways in which these external agencies can support young people at points of transition.
For example young people at a Right Track initiative told us:
“I thought that High school was not for me and I moved form different schools before coming to Right Track… I have attended every day. I have passed 2 of my Core Skills already. I feel that right Track has been a good move for me”. (Boy, age 15)
“Mates are a lot better here and so are the teachers” (Boy, age 15)
“People explain everything to me” (Right Track)
“I like to go out with everyone to different places (Girl, 15)
In telling us about times of change some central issues emerged which impact on young people’s experience of schooling at any stage; truancy, bullying and feeling lonely.
Change can be difficult for young people and moving schools especially is reported as being a time at which some young people start to get involved in truancy. Meeting new people who themselves truant from school is also reported as a trigger. A boy from Levenmouth Links highlighted changes in their view of school, and the beginnings of truanting behaviour, when things changed at home.
A boy (age 9 from Quarriers) also highlighted than change of school can be outwith the control of a child, and dependent on family circumstances. He wrote:
“I quite liked my old school. My teachers were quite nice and I had some good friends. Some other people were really mean to my family and we had to move house. I had to go to a new school. I still remember my friends and I still miss them. I hope they still remember me”.
Other young people also discussed the impact of being bullied at secondary school, for some this had got so bad that this led to depression and self harming. A boy from Rightrack wrote about his experience.
For some young people in our groups bullying was so bad that they felt they had to change schools, this could be disruptive to their learning, and they found it difficult to settle down in their new school.
A young man from Right Track told us that “school can sometimes be lonely” and a young woman advocated that “you shouldn’t just put a brave face on it, but ask for help, don’t be shy”.
Other young people also report feeling lonely and excluded. This was sometimes as a result of changes in themselves, for example one young person described having grown and was now taller than all his friends. Sometimes this was about feeling excluded by teacher’s responses, a boy (age 12) writes about negative responses to his dyslexia.
We asked young people what advice they would give to adults who might have a role in supporting young people at times of change. Suggestions included:
- Make pupils feel comfortable at school.
- Have young people more involved in decision making.
- Introduce young people to new teachers, especially registration and guidance teachers.
- Go round the playground at breaks and see if there is any bullying going on and get the right people.
- Talk to them, tell them what the school is all about.
- Just let people be, don’t moan it just makes things worse.
- Be less strict, be patient and go slower when working. Give less homework.
- Be encouraging, saying it’s not that bad, don’t be nervous.
- Don’t give the pupils Ritalin.
- Remember mums and dads can find it difficult to talk at meetings too.
One young person summed things up very well: “Try to listen more and not forget how hard it is moving school or changing circumstances”. (Boy, 15 Right Track)
We also asked what advice young people would give to their peers to help them manage transitions, general advice included that young people should try to get on with everyone and do their school work, more specific suggestions were:
- It will be okay, don’t worry.
- Hold your head up high.
- You should go to school.
- Show people you’re not scared.
- Don’t dog it, do you exams.
- Just stick in at mainstream school so you get a good job.
- Don’t worry it isn’t too bad- you meet new friends which is good - it isn’t scary so don’t panic