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Secondary school - What to expect and how to prepare your child

Secondary school
The transition from primary to secondary school, or Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3, is a significant change for both pupils and parents alike. Not only are there new subjects to learn and a new, bigger environment to adapt to, but students are also faced with mounting social pressure as well as mental and physical changes to their own bodies. It’s not surprising that many students struggle with this change and they need all the support they can get.

In England, Key Stages 3 and 4 form secondary school.

Key Stage 3

During Key Stage 3, pupils study the widest range of subjects of their school career. This range of subjects taught means that students get a chance to try new skills and explore new ideas and areas of study which they haven’t encountered previously. At the end of Key Stage 3, students will narrow down their field of study slightly by selecting their GCSE options and dropping some subjects.

Key Stage 3 is broken down into the following years:
  • Year 7: Ages 11-12
  • Year 8: Ages 12-13
  • Year 9: Ages 13-14
As per the National Curriculum (last changed in 2014), the following subjects must be taught at Key Stage 3:
  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Art and Design
  • Citizenship
  • Computing
  • Design and Technology
  • Languages
  • Geography
  • History
  • Music
  • Physical education

Key Stage 4

During Key Stage 4, students are working towards their compulsory GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams which they sit at the end of Year 11. Typically, students will take 9-12 subjects for GCSE. The core subjects are compulsory and the students can then select a few options based on their own preferences and strengths.

Key Stage 4 is broken down into the following years:
  • Year 10: Ages 14-15
  • Year 11: Ages 15-16
As per the National Curriculum (last changed in 2014), the following core subjects must be taught at Key Stage 4:
  • English language
  • Maths
  • Science
The following foundation subjects also must be offered:
  • Computing
  • Physical education
  • Citizenship
Schools also must offer at least one subject from each of the following areas:
  • Arts
  • Design and technology
  • Humanities
  • Modern foreign languages
Note: At both Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4, schools must also offer Religious education as well as Relationships, health and sex education. For more information, check out the site.

Main differences from primary school to secondary

The transition from primary to secondary school is different for every child. For some children this is a really exciting time full of new challenges academically, socially and environmentally. For others, however, the transition from KS2 to KS3 is a big step-up and can be unsettling, stressful or cause some anxiety.

Some of the main differences between primary and secondary school include:
  • Environment: In secondary school, students have different teachers for each subject and different classrooms too! Getting used to being in a bigger environment can be a challenge for some students.
  • Organisation: Students need to be more personally organised in secondary school. They need to make sure they have the right books each day for the lessons they have, and that they complete the right pieces of homework on time for each class.
  • Independence: Alongside personal organisation comes the independence students gain in secondary school. Lots of students have to travel to and from school by themselves which can be daunting to begin with.
  • Academic: Secondary school is by nature a step-up academically. There are brand new subjects to be studied as well as an increase in the amount of homework set. Students must find a learning method which suits them so they can keep up with their studies.
  • Social: A new school poses a new social environment for students coming from smaller primary schools. There are not only new teachers but plenty of new friends to make. Some students deal better than others with this change, and it can be very difficult for those who struggle to make friends to settle into school life.
  • Personal: Schoolwork aside, kids moving up to secondary school are entering a transitional phase in their personal lives. Adolescents go through a multitude of mental and physical changes as they grow and develop into adults. This can affect how students behave, learn and act, and so can play a part in how they adapt to secondary school.

How to best prepare your child

  • Celebrate the end of primary school: Mark the end of this period of your child’s life by celebrating their time in primary school. Look back on how far they’ve come and how they’ve changed and grown over this time.
  • Talk openly: Communicate openly with your child. Ask them what they’ll miss and what they’re looking forward to about secondary school. Share your own experiences but always in a positive way.
  • Attend transition days: Many schools offer transition days or weeks in the summer before secondary school starts. Make the most of these opportunities as they give your child a chance to get used to their new environment before the pressure is on. Your child may even make a friendship on one of these days which lasts throughout their school career.
  • Practise the journey: Especially if your child will need to get themselves to school or a bus stop independently, practise the journey with them before school starts.
  • Make sure they have the right equipment: There’s nothing like a new pencil case and pens to get kids feeling inspired and ready to start work. Take your child shopping and make sure they have everything they need including a calculator, a protractor and plenty of coloured pens and highlighters.
  • Establish a routine: It’s a good idea to establish a good routine for your child before school starts. They should have a suitable bedtime and a good bedtime routine without phone use or TV before bed.


The transition from primary to secondary schools, and the added challenge of GCSEs can be daunting, but evulpo is here to support students throughout their school life. Give your child time to adapt to their new environment at secondary school and communicate regularly and openly with them about how they’re feeling. With your support and evulpo’s summaries, videos and exercises covering every topic on the core curriculum, your child is bound to succeed in secondary school.
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