Support in times of change: going to ‘big’ school

Transitions in life can be difficult to manage. Moving house, changing jobs and relationships can all cause stress and anxiety. The top ten most stressful life events (from the Holmes and Rahe stress scale) all feature a significant life transition, either in circumstances or in personal relationships.

Difficult as they are, transitions don’t have to be unmanageable. There are various factors which help us to manage change in our lives. We negotiate change better if it’s not pervasive, for instance if we have stability in one area of life then change in other areas feels more manageable. Stable relationships help too. If we have reliable and close emotional support then we are much more resilient to other changes in our lives.

For children, the move from primary to secondary school is a huge life transition. It means a new physical environment, new key adults in their lives and often, new peer friendships and changing dynamics with existing friends. Some children, with a stable home life and a reasonable level of self-confidence, will manage the transition with few problems, thriving in the new environment. Other children, particularly those who are experiencing changes in their home circumstances or whose family is socially isolated, may find it much more difficult to adjust. Often any existing social or behavioural problems that they are struggling with may worsen during this time, compounding the difficulties of the transition.

Werner and Smith’s ground-breaking study into the importance of consistent adult support shows that just one reliable adult can help children from vulnerable backgrounds to make successful transitions through childhood. Mentors (whether natural ‘mentors’, such as a family friend or formal mentors, such as volunteers from Friendship Works) can play an important role in giving children a sense of stability. They can provide that essential emotional foundation that makes other changes, such as school transition, more manageable.

Thanks to a very generous grant from The Tudor Trust, Friendship Works recently launched a new mentoring service in Southwark, supporting children during the transition from primary to secondary school. We are working with a number of primary schools in the Borough who will be identifying children at greater risk of struggling during this key transition. We believe that the regular support of a mentor and the emotional stability that this provides will help these young people to manage the change more successfully.

Our school transition project is an important development for Friendship Works. In particular it will help us to measure the impact that mentors can have in providing stability during this difficult time for vulnerable young people. It will also help us to assess which children are at greatest risk and which of these can best be supported by a mentor. We hope that many more children in the future will be able to benefit from the long-term support of a mentor to ease their journey into secondary education.