Moving from primary to secondary school

Crossing the Chasm from Primary to Secondary School

Finishing primary school is a major landmark for every young student. As the summer holiday fun begins, there will have been friends for life made, some tearful goodbyes and many moments captured, to live on in the memory forever.

Secondary school, or big school as it was often referred to in my day, seems a long time away. Yet, as adults, we know that it’s just around the corner.

For every wildly excited child, there will be another filled with uncertainty and trepidation about what the new school experience will bring for them. I know when it was my turn, there were many horror stories about what lay in wait, but thankfully, it was mostly bluster from mean elder siblings and friends.

Stepping up to the challenges of secondary school is a big deal. New surroundings, new class mates, new teachers and an altogether new set of expectations from appearance to conduct to achievements. It all comes together to make the first term or so a very rich tapestry indeed!

That’s before we get to the educational demands. These days, most students have experienced homework in one form or another, well before secondary school comes around. What may come as a shock to many is the increase in assignments and projects.

Many schools ease pupils in, whilst for others, it’s straight into the deep end. Regardless, they will soon experience a demanding cadence of class work, homework, projects and extracurricular activities.

It’s in this whirl, where students are simply trying to get through the work, that standards can slip. It isn’t simply a case of grades suffering due to the volume of work. The real challenge comes in keeping up with the learning schedule. I know from personal experience as a student that struggled, and of course as a professional private tutor that once behind, it can take a monumental effort to catch up.

A friend of mine has a teenage that struggled through secondary school and it didn’t come together for him until Year 11! Talk about making hard work of it. All because of the overwhelm, combined with missed basics, experienced in Year 7.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, far from it. As a private tutor, I work with students as they embark on secondary education and towards their GCSEs, they typically excel at every stage.

Why is this? Because they are thoroughly prepared for what’s coming and because they have thoroughly learned how to problem solve independently. This skill is invaluable in generating high levels of confidence, which in turn boosts learning power.

Who does better, a student lacking confidence because they feel underprepared, or a thoroughly prepared student who is oozing confidence in their craft?

The difference in demeanour is quite staggering and this is often reflected in exam grades.

Private tuition provides the one to one focus that proves very difficult to provide in most schools. By providing a full spectrum of GCSE subjects, my students are often able to achieve beyond theirs or their parents’ expectations.

If you’d like to know more about how I may be able to help your child, please get in touch today.

MST-Islington 020 7686 4307

Practice Makes Perfect

I recently read about an interesting experiment conducted by a table tennis coach, Ben Larcombe [1]. Ben became fascinated by the idea that one could achieve mastery by practice, not innate talent. So he recruited his childhood friend Sam, a “computer geek” without any sign of sporting talent, and put him through a programme of over 500 hours of 1:1 coaching. Sam made dramatic progress – although one year of daily practice didn’t prove enough to make it as a top-ranked table tennis player.

Malcolm Gladwell popularised the thesis that to become an expert in anything one needs to put in an average of 10,000 hours of practice  – after 7 years at University, and 20 years of tutoring I can certainly vouch for the value of practice!

And as a tutor what really excites me isn’t table tennis, but the parallels with kids at school – as Matthew Syed, a former Commonwealth table tennis champion, rightly points out: “In subjects like mathematics, if young people are not very good at the beginning they tend to give up because they don’t think they have got a brain for numbers.”

I can concur with those sentiments. New students often come to me lacking severely in confidence. They have often given up because they have convinced themselves they are “bad at maths.”

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Big Fat Maths!

The new GCSEs are set to come into force from September 2015; with the first set of examinations due in the summer of 2017. The massively expanded syllabus has been dubbed ‘Big Fat Maths’!

This is the biggest shake-up in the secondary education system since the introduction of the GCSEs back in 1988. GCSEs replaced the old ‘O’ level examination system because it was thought not to cater for the less able pupils. In the early days of GCSEs a significant number of subjects included a high degree of coursework. This proved to be contentious as there was potentially no control over how much parental or teacher input was allowed. Year on year more and more pupils were passing GCSE with higher grades; thus leading to critics saying that exam papers were getting easier and subject matter was being ‘dumbed down’.

Our standings in the international league table (Pisa rankings) have stagnated[i], with the UK failing to make the top 20 in maths, reading and science. The new GCSE curriculum is intended by those in Whitehall to help rectify this.

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