The Transition from Primary to Post Primary School by Gilbert Mc Carthy



When Shakespeare described the schoolboy as “creeping like a snail unwillingly to school” little did he realise that the 20th Century pupil would for the most part look forward to the experience. Attitudes to education have changed considerably in the past few decades with the emphasis now on encouraging achievement rather than punishing non-achievement. The teacher of today is a more compassionate person and so there is a much healthier and relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.

The strap or cane is no longer part of the teaching equipment.

From the day a child is born he is struggling to gain his independence. He takes his first step, he manages to ride a tricycle, he goes to primary school, he gets on the local team, he goes to secondary and so on. As he broadens his horizons he becomes less dependent on his parents. Each stage brings its thrills and spills for both the parent and offspring. After all, each of us can remember our first day at school, or, as parents, we can recall the day each family member started. There were ups and downs for us in both roles.

Leaving primary school signals the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence for young people. It is both an exciting and difficult time. Making new friends, meeting new teachers, studying new subjects, playing a greater variety of games is the essence of excitement. In our school, first years take to playing hide-and-seek on the corridors an activity that has to be stopped firmly but with understanding. When at home the child is bubbling with enthusiasm about school to such an extent that parents might wonder to themselves “Is this what we have to put up with for the next five years?”

However, young people do have their problems at this stage. On a purely functional level the geography of the new school must be learned. Generally the building is much bigger and it is not unusual to find the first year student losing his way. “I have English now Miss, but I don’t know where the classroom is”. A supportive attitude from the teacher is vital at times like this.

Moving from a one class, one teacher situation, to a different teacher for every subject is also a new experience. Students have been used to a particular teaching method and must now adapt to a variety of styles and personalities. The timetable appears very complex. As many as nine different subjects can be studied during the day. In the first few weeks this can be very confusing for the child.

Parents whose children use the school transport system often find that young people become extremely tired. They may have had problems getting up at 8.30 and getting home at 4 p.m. Now they may have to rise as early as 7.00, they have class from 9.15 to 4.00 and may get home as late as 5.30 p.m. After dinner lessons must be seen to, not to mention essential T.V. viewing like “Home and Away”!! Not surprising, therefore, that tiredness can be a problem-—one which seems to last until the student becomes accustomed to the routine of the day.

On a social level, students who were the seniors in primary school become the juniors in post-primary. The security of the peer group in primary gives way to the insecurity of establishing oneself among new friends in second level. A common request from first years in the early days is “Can I be in the same class as my friend?” However, by Christmas new friendships have been established and the pals in primary are no longer as important.

What can we, as parents and teachers, do to alleviate these problems? By September new students and their parents should have visited the second level school at least twice, and should have seen if not met the teachers. A meeting between the Principal and the parents should be arranged especially if the child has particular difficulties. At another level, close contact will have been maintained between the student’s former school and the new school. At the start of the academic year therefore, the post-primary school should have built up a profile of each new pupil. By the end of October an opportunity for parents to meet teachers by way of a parent-teacher meeting is highly desirable. Progress can then be reviewed and any corrective action needed can be agreed.

In short, what young people need most at this time of transition is our presence - to listen to their difficulties, to share their concerns and to offer them encouragement and support where we can.


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