Top 10 tips to support students starting high school

Experienced principals offer tips for a smooth transition to Year 7. Pascal Adolphe and Kerrie O’Connor compiled this advice for parents and students.

Two girls in school uniform walking under an awning. Two girls in school uniform walking under an awning.
Image: Starting high school is a milestone in a student’s education journey.
  1. Purchase all supplies such as uniforms and stationery
  2. Practise public transport, driving and walking routes to school
  3. Encourage your child to be organised, set goals, seek support and be resilient 
  4. Use the family fridge for timetables and important dates 
  5. Choose a designated homework space for study
  6. Don’t let phones and devices interrupt homework and family time 
  7. Pack the night before school starts and get a good night’s sleep 
  8. Check in after school with open-ended questions about the day
  9. Reassure your child that their family and teachers are there to support them 
  10. Remember, Year 7 is a partnership between students, families and schools. Stay in touch.

Moving from primary school to high school is a significant step in a student’s education.

With school returning for 2024 in two weeks’ time, simple steps can be taken now to make this transition as smooth as possible.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said about 53,000 students will start Year 7 from 30 January.

“I wish the Year 7 class of ’24 a fun and engaging year of learning and wellbeing growth,” Mr Dizdar said.

“Starting high school is such an important transition point in our students’ education journey.”

Get to know your school

Chifley College - Shalvey Campus Principal, Jenny Linklater, said it was important parents “get to know their school”.  

“Parents should attend transition events including orientation and teacher meet-and- greet events and familiarise themselves with who to contact at the school if they have questions – the principal, deputy principal, wellbeing staff and year advisers,” she said.

“If you’re on social media, follow the school’s pages on Facebook or Instagram to keep up to date with information and events, as well as photos of your student’s first days at school. You can also ask questions there.”

Parents can get their children excited and prepared for Year 7 by purchasing uniforms and learning items on the school equipment and book lists. Many schools provide stationery lists on their website.

“Get uniforms ready and break in the new shoes,” Ms Linklater said.

Practise travel routes and routines

Nerves are natural – for both students and parents – but getting organised for high school in the school holidays can help alleviate the ‘butterflies’.

Renee George, Relieving Principal of Birrong Girls High School, said families could practise the public transport, driving or walking routes to school with their children.

“Ensure your new Year 7 student knows the travel arrangements and the correct train, bus or ferry to catch,” Ms George said. 

Parents can apply to Transport for NSW for student school travel passes or school Opal cards for free travel to and from school or TAFE.

It is also a good time to plan family morning routines so everyone can depart on time for school or work.

“This helps everyone start the day calmly, without a chaotic rush, stress and anxiety,” Ms George said.

After six weeks of school holidays, many students will need to soon return to set bedtimes, including setting an alarm to wake up on time.

Select a designated homework space with a desk or table where the student can study. Ms George recommends a place in the main family area where parents can support their children.

Getting organised

Learning organisational skills is important for secondary students, according to Concord High School Principal Victor Newby.

“High school requires a much greater level of organisation than primary school and many young people can struggle with this,” he said.

Help your Year 7 student become organised, with a bit of support from the family fridge. 

“Ask your child about their bell times and timetable and display copies on the fridge. Add a blank calendar for activities, excursions, incursions and deadlines,” Ms George said.

“This supports effective organisation and packing for the following day.

“Parents can reassure their children that their family and teachers are there to support them. Teachers do not expect students to immediately navigate the school and manage their timetables.”

Once school starts, encourage students to check school diaries for homework and school bags for notes and add to the calendar.

Enjoy the holidays

Students transitioning to high school should “enjoy the summer holidays and learning outside the classroom” in the lead-up to entering Year 7, according to Ryde Secondary College Principal Cassy Norris.

“Get involved in a range of simple activities together outside the home that boost engagement in authentic learning,” Ms Norris said. “You can’t beat a bushwalk.”

Ms Norris also advises parents to encourage their children to read widely, from news online to novels and magazines.

“Then chat about interesting articles around the dinner table and ask your children challenging questions,” she said.

“Listen and enjoy your children’s feedback and talents. This will help them build their general knowledge, vocabulary and extended analysis, which are all skills needed all the way through high school, particularly for writing.”

Albury High School Relieving Principal Damian Toohey is a fan of holiday reading.

“Picking up a great book for 20 minutes a day during the holidays helps students build their confidence and a strong habit for Year 7,” he said.

"Year 7 is a chance to form new bonds and build social skills. Parents can encourage students to mix and meet new people; it’s so important to form a strong school community.”

Social skills and resilience

High school is an opportunity for students to build resilience and social skills.

Mr Newby from Concord High encourages Year 7 students to get involved in school activities.

“This is a great way to build new friendships, get to know different teachers and get the most out of your high school experience,” he said.

“Be friendly towards others and open to forming new friendships. Primary school friendships can often change once students move to high school. This is normal but if things are not going well, seek out help.

“High schools have many layers of educational and wellbeing support available. The year adviser is always a good place to start.”

Parents can help students develop social skills by asking open-ended questions about daily events at school and talking about the new people they have met.

‘Show me what you did today’ is a good conversation starter.

Jenny Linklater from Chifley College - Shalvey Campus suggests parents communicate with their school at the beginning of term about any issues that may have occurred over the holiday break which could require extra support for the student.

“School staff can best support students when they have knowledge of any additional needs, including anxiety,” she said.

Every day matters

Consistent attendance at school improves student outcomes, increases career options, and helps students build relationships and confidence.

Secretary Murat Dizdar said it was a Department priority to improve and maintain strong student attendance rates in NSW public schools.

Every day at school matters to the educational and life outcomes of our young people. That’s why we ask families to support our schools and ensure their child has good attendance and develops good attendance habits,” he said.

Research shows regular attendance helps students to develop a sense of belonging, develop and maintain friendships, be more engaged at school, and progress with their learning.

Mobile phone management

Since October 2023 mobile phone use at school has been banned in all NSW public secondary schools.

The NSW Government ban was introduced after consultation with teachers, students and parents and applies during class, recess and at lunch. Students can still carry a phone while travelling to and from school.

Principals, in consultation with their school community, decide on the mobile phone management that best suits their school. These include phones ‘off and away’, phones in lockers or pouches, or collected and stored in classrooms or the school office.

Parents can help support this practice by limiting device use at home, so they do not distract from homework and family time.

Ready, set, go

The night before school starts, support the Year 7 starters to prepare their uniform, pack their bag and have their lunchbox and drink bottle ready for filling. 

“After a quick reminder they will have more teachers and classrooms than before, it’s off to bed for an early night and a good sleep,” Ms George said. 

“All your holiday planning will pay off in the morning.”

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