Hitting the ground running

Photo: iStock.com/RichVintage

Transitions test us and the challenge of starting at a new school should never be underestimated. Tim Hands offers some advice on how to get secondary schooling off to the best possible start.

Transitions test us. So good schools pay attention to transitions, not least because parents and pupils can get steamed up about them – and especially at this time of year, when the results come in, the emotional farewells beckon, and the uniform orders bring the realisation that a new identity must at last be put on.

How can all parties best effect the transition? As a Housemaster, I used to phone two mothers each morning, while a tutor took the boys to chapel. Parents were at that hour in the morning at their most forthcoming, and apart from gathering intelligence about what their sons had told them, it was also an opportune moment for delivering them over in good heart to the rest of their day.

Whether the school is day or boarding, and starts at 11 or 13, the principle is the same: get in early, get in reassuringly, and get in by phone. For me there should be three calls home in the first month, by at least two different people, and they should all be documented and centrally discussed. As a Head I have always had something called the Care List (now readjusted to Pastoral Care List – the Second Master told me it sounded as though everyone in the school had a problem) and any pupil in the school to whom any special pastoral circumstance pertains will be on it. Every new pupil goes on it, and they do not come off it until the calls to home and the behaviour at school justify that.

Last year, I went one step further: every problem had to be codified and assigned to a type. The result was first a check list of the 18 things which cause anxiety; and next this elixir of an article, which suggests how parents might behave accordingly. Some problems are home problems, some are school problems, and some result from the relationship between the two. Warning: what follows contains little other than common sense, it is just that our human nature in all its manifold imperfections finds it difficult at times of pressure to take such common sense on board.

Dr Tim Hands, a former Chairman of HMC, is Headmaster of Winchester College.