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Children's author offers advice to primary school leavers amid covid-19 crisis

  • Writer Cara Jasmine Bradley suggests solutions for children feeling anxious about transition from Year 6 to high school during pandemic
  • 'The Ultimate Year 6 Guide to Leaving Primary School and Starting High School' author discusses fears, friendships and finding your feet

Manchester-based Cara Bradley is a celebrated travel writer and children’s author, having first drafted her book, The Ultimate Year Six Guide to Leaving Primary School and Starting High School, aged 13.

Published in 2019, the book offers tips and tricks for high-school worries and woes, including a Q&A section and fictional element titled Leaving Deersgate. The short story explores themes of growing-up, changing friendship groups and moving schools for protaganist Polly Hendrix.

After speaking to friends who were teachers, Cara felt there was a need to create such a resource, as the anxieties she had experienced as a pre-teen are still very prominent today, despite the importance of this milestone in a child’s life.

Making the move from primary to secondary school is a daunting step for many Year 6 pupils at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a global pandemic.

In today’s climate, how are children expected to navigate the move while dealing with the aftermath of a post-lockdown world?

Cara Bradley, 26, offered NQ her insights into these unprecedented circumstances. 

She said: "Existing fears of high-school combined with newfound anxieties surrounding the covid-19 crisis makes for an unbearable disposition for young people to deal with. Now more than ever, it is absolutely imperative that authorities, schools and parents make a conscientious effort to recognise signs of distress and a lapse in mental wellbeing.

"Ask young people how they are feeling, or what their thoughts are in regard to certain media situations, as well as occurrences within their own lives that may lead to stress.

"There is absolutely no right or wrong way to feel about high school, or about anything else that is causing worry, for that matter. I would urge any year 6s to share their thoughts and feelings with somebody they trust. If they don’t feel comfortable discussing their feelings out loud, I am a firm believer in the healing powers of writing. Releasing worries on paper is an overlooked source of therapy!

"I’ve always kept a daily diary, and it was interesting to go back through them to cover the worries I had at the time. In a world of Turkey Twizzlers and S-Club 7, it certainly seemed that I had a lot on my mind when it came to the upcoming transition to high school.

"My fears ranged from not making new friends and losing touch with my current ones, to falling behind in work and feeling the strains of peer pressure."

 

Among many preconceptions of high school and its supposed horrors, the impending separation of friendship groups is a particularly anxiety-inducing affair. It’s widely anticipated that long-standing friends will attend different secondary schools, yet the Summer term is an integral part of the primary school ‘closure’ process.  

Although children in key transition years such as Year 6 were given the go-ahead to return to school from 1 June, reduced class sizes and minimised contact only added to many of their worries. And the cancellation of much-awaited ‘leavers’ celebrations, such as parties, discos and assemblies, caused added stress.

Despite this disappointments, Cara believes that all is not lost. 

She said: "There is no denying that covid-19 has snatched a large proportion of children’s lives in one of the most crucial and memorable years.

"Most school-leavers will have been surrounded by the same peer group since at least reception, which is such a massive chunk of their existence. Ending the experience of primary school without their friends by their side is really distressing.

"Although it’s not quite the same, there are still plenty of opportunities to meet up with friends outside, in line with social distancing.

"A kick-about down the local park or a picnic on the field are ways to keep their friendships strong during the crisis. Restrictions may even have a positive effect on friendships. We are getting out and about more than ever in a bid to spend quality time with loved ones.

‘While none of us know when life will return to our former ‘normal’, I’d suggest planning ahead when taking cancelled events into consideration. Parents could provisionally arrange a party for a few months’ time, and the primary school may even be happy to host this in the hall one evening as a familiar setting. 

"Besides, it might be nice to do it further down the line once everyone is settled at high school. It will be a great opportunity to catch-up with friends that may have gone to different schools."

Guide to leaving primary school for high school written by Cara Bradley

On top of the stress of moving to ‘big school’, the sudden change in academic structure can be easily overwhelming even under usual circumstances. 

End of Year 6 exams - aka SATs - are often used to judge which academic ‘set’ students are most suited to and their absence is an added concern. 

Despite this, Cara is enthusiastic about the understanding of teachers and urges children not to be disheartened. 

"Year 6s will have been more than halfway through studying for their SATS when covid-19 broke out in the UK, so it must feel as though so much hard work and effort has been wasted," she said. 

"However, high school sets can usually be changed accordingly at any point in the year. If a teacher notices that a student is particularly excelling or struggling with their current set, a plan of action should be put in place.

"I would urge any student in this situation to be honest with their teachers about how they are feeling – there is no shame in admitting that you are finding the work slightly harder, or easier, than anticipated.

"Also, a dwindling in motivation is totally understandable during these uncertain times. Routine is a big part of all of our lives, and children in particular strive upon it."

Not all children have returned to school and some families have opted for home-schooling instead. This brings its own set of challenges, including accessibility to IT equipment and internet connection.

Nevertheless, Cara is passionate about learning outside the classroom. 

She said: "Never underestimate the power of imagination and the positive effects it has on a young person’s development, personal esteem and wellbeing.

"Things such as creative writing, reading and conducting home science experiments are all really fun, hands-on ways to maintain that link to learning while broadening the mind. The good old baking soda volcano is always a popular one!

"Take advantage of local libraries (if available), and take out a variation of books on topics that have appeared in the curriculum, such as travel books on a country learned about in a geography lesson.

"Their teachers are still very much a part of their lives, and are on hand - be it face-to-face or virtually - to assist with any questions or worries that they might have."

"I’ve always felt strongly that children should be children for as long as possible. I think Year 6 is one of the most important years of a young person’s life and in some ways it’s the last year of childhood, and every single second of this deserves to be relished.

"Although I envisioned high school as an absolutely terrifying place with all sorts of negative connotations, once I got there, I realised that it wasn’t as I’d imagined at all! I was suddenly overcome with excitement at all of the new opportunities that came hurtling my way, from new clubs and subjects, to new friends and suddenly being treated a lot more like a grown-up."

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