The first day of a new academic year, and perhaps at a new school, brings challenges aplenty for children all over the country.
There will always be something different, be it new surroundings, new teachers and subjects, new peers, different expectations and so on. In my experience children on the whole respond and adapt brilliantly and within a few days are effortlessly getting on with the business of enjoying their time at school, making friends and learning new “stuff”.
For children joining a boarding school, like Rydal Penrhos, there is the added challenge of being away from home, but this is soon replaced by the home comforts, benefits and distractions of boarding life which foster those traits of independence and self-organisation.
However, for parents such times can be similarly challenging and unsettling. How should parents manage the start of a new academic year?
As in many areas of life it’s a question of balance: between allowing your child the space and independence they want and need whilst taking an active interest in their schooling and supporting the institution and its community. Schools should make it very simple and clear how, when and to whom parents can communicate with the school.
Tutors and Heads of Year or equivalent are often the first port of call and I would expect that early into the Autumn Term there will be the opportunity to meet such people to discuss how your son or daughter is settling in.
You will almost certainly have previously met the Head but he or she should be at such events too to welcome your family and so that everyone can put faces to names. I really enjoy such events and not just because of the cheese and wine usually provided!
Many schools have committees or groups which parents can join. Parent organisations such as my wonderful FORPS (Friends of Rydal Penrhos School) Committee are invaluable in organising events such as the Summer Fair or Winter Ball but also provide an opportunity for parents to be an active part of the community whilst giving something back.
Community Choirs, evening classes, sports clubs are all valuable ways for parents to not only get to know the school and staff but each other too. It’s not just the children who can make new friends!
Teenagers aren’t always the most communicative about life at school and so I would encourage parents to find out what is happening day to day or week by week. Some schools are perhaps guilty of sending out too many emails but in the first few weeks it is important to carefully check these and act upon the requests.
Website news stories and school newsletters will be full of interesting items and dates for the diary and I would strongly encourage parents to follow your school’s social media feeds, such as Twitter.
Here at Rydal Penrhos the main school Twitter feed, boarding house, subject, sports accounts and even my own (@SimonSmithRPS) all provide in pretty much real time channels for informing parents of what is going on during school or trips and visits, sports matches, competitions and special events.
They are also an excellent way of learning about relevant educational issues such as teenage mental health advice. Many schools now make excellent use of online portals and other software to keep parents involved in their child’s learning. We use Show My Homework, allowing parents and pupils to see what homework has been set each evening along with any accompanying advice or resources. I would recommend that where your child’s school is using such tools that you do sign up for them.
Technology and sharing best practice is making it easier than ever for schools to work in partnership with parents.
Great communication between school and home is reassuring for the parents, liberating for the pupils, helpful for the teachers and certainly ease those first day nerves – for the parent as well as the children.