A new Academic year is upon us once again, and we’re very pleased to be welcoming our students, both new and returning, to Seaford College, for the start of term. We hope everyone is fully refreshed from the Summer break and ready for whatever challenges the new term brings.
Here at Seaford, we aim to make the transitions from Prep School to Senior School, and Senior School to Sixth Form, as smooth as possible. Today, all of our Year 12 students are heading off to Wales for a few days on a bonding trip, and our Year 9 students will head off on an overnight Camping and Activity trip tomorrow, and we thought that now was a good time to have a chat with James Passam, Deputy Head of the Seaford Senior School, about the transition process, and any advice he has for parents and pupils.
Moving from Prep School up to a Senior School is a naturally daunting proposition for many, if not all, Year 8 pupils. You essentially transition from being at the top of one school to the lowest year group in another. From the perspective of a twelve or thirteen year old, senior schools can seem vast communities, with scary looking older children populating their quads, corridors and pitches. And yet, there is also a natural excitement, a sense of moving on, and an optimism for what might be to come. The key then is to ensure effective transition from one school to the next, and all senior schools work hard to get this right.
For example, here at Seaford, we welcome all of our new pupils and our own current Year 8 pupils (from Seaford Prep School) in for a day at the end of the summer term. We introduce their tutors to them, and focus our afternoon activities on team building and ice breaking, whilst also making use of the full campus to help orientate our new pupils. We end the day with a big barbecue for all, with parents invited to join in too, and we see this as being really important in helping our new parents to transition into our Seaford community as well. Quite often, parents can be overlooked in the process and it can take time to get to know other parents in a new school, which is why we try to make this easier from day one. Early in the September term, we also host a parent-tutor evening with cheese and wine served for this exact reason. And of course, it is also helpful for parents to start to put faces to names as far as staff go.
The start of a new academic year is hugely important, and as a new pupil in any school, you have to expect information overload. But don’t ever be afraid to ask someone for help or advice. All schools work hard to welcome new pupils, and understand that it takes time to settle into a new school, its systems and structures. Quite often there is a grace period of a couple of weeks to allow for any turbulence in that process. The key focus for the first few weeks needs to be friendship building and the development of relationships.
At Seaford, on the second day of term, we take all of our Year 9s away for a residential activity camp, which is structured with team building activities including high and low ropes, raft building, abseiling and a good sing-song around the camp fire. All of our tutors attend, and our pupils work together in their tutor groups through each activity, with prizes awarded for team work at the end of the camp. It is great fun, and by the end of it, the ice has been well and truly broken!
That said, some pupils can start well but then falter over the coming weeks. It is not unusual to find a young boy or girl struggling to find their place in their new school, sad that their former friends have moved on to other schools, and feeling overwhelmed and tired (particularly by the beginning of October after four or five weeks of long days, and as result of the often faster pace of senior schools). Where pupils also board, this can be especially true, and of course some may suffer with homesickness. The key message is speak to the School, to your son or daughter’s Houseparent, their Head of Year, or tutor as soon as possible. We also have a Pink House (a dedicated centre for Pastoral care in the middle of campus), and students can drop in any time for an informal chat, or even the chance to take our Pastoral dog Poppy for a walk in our beautiful grounds. Wherever you ask for help, you will find that staff can support positively without being intrusive, and quite often by working with parents and the pupil concerned, things can and do turn around.
At Seaford, we also have peer listeners (Sixth Form pupils who are trained to listen and support younger pupils). Quite often, an older pupil to talk to, who can empathise readily with what a younger pupil might be experiencing, can make a big difference. Many of our Sixth Formers may well have joined Seaford at the start of Year 12, and so their own experience of joining the School, attending the Sixth Form bonding trip to Wales (which we also run in the first week of the new academic year for all our Sixth Form) is still fresh in their minds, and gives them a unique perspective in talking to and helping younger pupils settling into their new school.
The fact that at Seaford we have our Prep School, Middle School and Senior School on the one site also provides an advantage in that pupils can transition across the Schools with all staff very aware of them as learners, which in turn enables continuity in education.
Probably the key thing to remember is that everyone wants the same outcome: a happy child thriving in their new school, able to make the most of the opportunities on offer.