Back to school blues?

If I asked you who would be the most nervous about going back to school, you might think those new starters, joining a school for the first time. As a teacher of 30 years, I would tell you that you would be wrong. Undoubtedly the new pupils will probably have a sleepless night prior to a new school year, but there is not a teacher in the country who does not find themselves waking in the early hours prior to the start of a new academic year, myself included. (It must be a combination of adrenalin and excitement that keeps us awake). The group most likely, however, to need fortification on the first day back are the parents of new pupils. Young people tend to adapt very quickly to new situations. Within days of arriving at a new school, most have found some friends and navigated their way to and from the lockers. The highlight for them will be the excitement of the lunch queue. Food tends to play a very important part in the young person’s view of education. I can guarantee that many responses to the usual parental ‘How was your day?’ will involve food when talking to a Junior aged pupil. It will take weeks, however, for parents to adapt to the new routine of a new school. Five years ago we introduced refreshments for all parents of new pupils who had dropped their children off at the start of an academic year at Talbot Heath. Parents were certainly ready for a strong cup of something by 9.00am. This event is now a regular part of our school calendar and much appreciated by those who are exhausted, having packed school bags, labelled uniform, navigated a new school run and waved goodbye to a precious child heading into waters unknown.

So what are my tips for parents as they prepare for a new term? Firstly, consider the requirements of the optimal school bag. In my day an Adidas sports bag used to be the required item for transporting school books. When helping your child select their bag, size and strength need to be considered, as well as coolness. No child wants to be seen pulling a tartan shopping trolley, though in my experience this is the ideal method for transporting large amounts of textbooks. Even the coolest bag will, however, need to accommodate an A4 folder, so sneak one in your bag when out choosing and do a quick test when your child is not looking. Peer pressure tends to come into play with regard to bags, shoes, stationery and coats. The trick is to work out what will fit within the school guidelines while still being ‘acceptable’ in the eyes of the peer group.

My next tip is not to question whether your child needs all new stationery every year before the start of term. You may feel that last year’s pencil case will be perfectly acceptable for another three years but this is not the case. Part of the adrenalin rush prior to that first day back is selecting a whole new set of stationery items that can be proudly displayed to friends. It is a small price to pay for the happiness that it will bring!

Finally, is it really worth spending all that time labelling every single item of uniform prior to the start of term? At midnight on a Sunday, it might seem trivial to start labelling socks and shoes, with the impression that your child will not mislay them. This is a false economy. Half an hour in the early hours will save hours at a later date trying to track down the child that is now wearing your child’s new coat/ shoes/ blazer.

I could go on, but I won’t. My advice to all starting a new school is to embrace the change with relish. Schools work very hard to help children settle – if you have any concerns at all, no matter how small they might appear, contact the school and resolve them. Don’t let things fester or get out of proportion. A quick email or phone call can prevent a lot of heartache. Teachers want to work alongside you to support your child and do the very best for them. Within weeks, the new children will be the old kids on the block, happy and settled and the new parents can sit back and relax knowing that what seemed like a huge change has been successfully navigated.


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