Practical skills your child will need for high school

Teenagers face a range of new experiences and challenges in high school. Parents and carers can help build the skills they'll need to tackle them.

Three children sitting in a row at a table, outside, with three laptops
Image: One of the most obvious changes in high school is the different way classes and learning are structured.

Prue Greene, Leader, Secondary Curriculum, Learning and Teaching Directorate, says Year 7 is an exciting stage in children's academic development.

"While many aspects of the core curriculum will be familiar to children and their families from primary school, the breadth and intensity of learning begins to change," she says.

Timetables and scheduling

One of the most obvious changes in high school is the different way classes and learning are structured:

Students usually have a different teacher, classmates and classroom for each subject.

They're expected to find their own way to class, carrying notes and books which are sometimes heavy.

Their new school may be much bigger than they're used to, with a different layout and lots of new faces - both teachers and students.

Set class periods on particular subjects may be longer than in primary school.

All this can all be unsettling and tiring at first. Although students are given a timetable with subjects, times and room numbers, these can take a while to get used to.

Parents and carers can provide support and reassurance at home. Help your child learn how to manage their school day by encouraging them to check their timetable each night and making sure they have the correct books, equipment and homework completed for the next day.

Key learning areas at high school

Along with a new schedule comes additional subject material. For years 7-10 the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) develops syllabuses in eight key learning areas.

For details of the syllabuses for courses in each area, visit the NESA website.

Teachers cover the specific skills needed for each area in class. Parents and carers don't need to repeat those lessons but it helps to know a little about what's involved:

  • Creative arts - Students learn to appreciate, compose, listen, make and perform a variety of art forms through a study of dance, drama, music and visual arts.
  • English - Students explore the English language through written, spoken and visual texts of increasing complexity. Students learn to experiment with ideas and expression, become active, independent and lifelong learners, work with each other and reflect on their learning.
  • Human society and its environment (HSIE) - Students learn about history, geography, people, societies and culture. Students research, gather and analyse information; question and make judgements, and write for a variety of purposes.
  • Languages - Students learn about languages as systems and explore the relationship between language and culture.
  • Mathematics - Students develop knowledge, skills and understanding of mathematical concepts for use in the classroom and beyond.
  • Personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE) - Students explore issues that affect personal health, safety and wellbeing and participate in challenging and enjoyable physical activity.
  • Science - Students learn how to apply scientific skills, knowledge and understanding across a broad range of contexts. Students explore evidence and investigate ways to discover, develop and produce solutions to real-world problems.
  • Technology and applied studies (TAS) - Students learn to use a range of tools, materials and techniques in both the design process and technological experiences, through theory and practical lessons.

Students in Years 9 and 10 may also access some vocational education and training courses.

Independent learning, homework and study

At high school, students are expected to be more self-reliant and self-motivated than in primary school.

Ms Greene says lessons will often be more student-centred and teachers will become resources and guides, rather than instructors.

"This more independent style of learning extends into the home as well, where your child will need to set time aside for study as well as homework," she says.

Study time is completely different from set homework and is aimed at trying to increase understanding of concepts learned during the day. It involves:

  • regular review of work covered in class, including reading notes
  • summarising key ideas and practising tasks
  • additional reading and research.

You can find more information in our guide, How to help your child with homework at high school, including advice on active study, timetables and study banks.

The aim is for students to begin to develop the capacity to complete necessary work on their own but parents and carers can still help.

Apart from giving encouragement and the occasional reminder where necessary, the most valuable thing parents and carers can do is provide a suitable study environment in the home.

This includes:

  • making sure your children have all the equipment they need to complete homework and study tasks
  • setting aside a quiet place in the home where your children can work, free of distractions.

Managing distractions

You can find tips to help teenagers sustain motivation and avoid procrastination in our guide, How to help your child with homework at high school.

Ms Greene says social interaction can change along with friendship groups in high school.

"Teens develop new interests and more autonomy from parents and carers," she says.

"Along with these expanded horizons comes an inevitable increase in distractions. Managing these is another important skill your child will need to learn."

TVs, phones and other connected devices are probably the main sources of distraction in the home so it's important to help your child learn to put these aside when they need to concentrate.

Peer pressure

As social groups change and teenagers' emotional lives become more complex, they can also feel an increased pressure to fit in.

They might do things they wouldn't normally do as part of trying to be liked or trying to be part of the crowd.

It's important that your teenager learns how to resist this peer pressure, and there are ways that you can help them:

  • Remind them that they don't need to do everything their peers do.
  • Help them develop friendships that are genuine and positive, rather than based on pressure and conformity.
  • Reinforce that a real friend is someone who likes them for who they are.
  • Support positive relationships by making your child's friends welcome in your home.


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