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Support with choosing a school

Support with choosing a school - the Parents' School Preference Adviser

Deciding which school you would prefer your child to attend is a very important decision.

The applications for primary and secondary school places for September 2024 are now open. If you need to apply for a place, please visit the School Admissions webpages.

Top tips to help the transitions process

Our Special Educational Needs and Disability 0-25 service have prepared some tips to help the transitions process. These come from our experiences in a range of schools. They may not apply to all schools as all are different.

Getting to a new school

Your child might be worried about getting to a new school. They might travel by bus or by foot on their own for the first time. They might be able to go with friends, they might not. Whilst some children manage these changes OK, some find it scary and are anxious.

  • Talk about what the route might look like. Parts of the route might be already used by you. Pointing out familiar landmarks can help to cement the route in your child's memory. You can build up to a game of if I’m going to X do I need to turn right or left here?

  • Start to practice with your child taking the lead on directing you for parts of the route.

  • Check out together where the new school expects things like bikes or scooters to be stored. Pretend you have forgotten to see if they can remind you. Often when we visit new places we take in some but not all of the information. As the parent you are an extra pair of eyes and ears a bit like a detective team!

  • On transition days and/or the first few days have a talk beforehand with your child about how they are feeling about the journey to school. What kind of support do they need from you? They might want you to drop them nearby. It could be that they want you to take them right there and stay for a bit. Often children make friends quickly and so you could find that day 2 you can quietly withdraw as they can manage more independently.

  • Be aware that your anxiety may make you stay longer than is needed. If they start to ignore you then it helps their self-esteem if you just quietly move away.

Further ways to develop independence

Let your child take ownership of the task of looking for school resources on the internet, or when out shopping.

  • Supermarkets tend to have most of the school resources needed apart from the Scientific Calculator. (This piece of equipment is slightly more expensive but will be needed throughout the whole time they are at school and can be found many stores or online.)
  • These things are best collected at the start of the summer holiday as they sell out quickly.
  • Offer help and gentle guidance when required. Be mindful not to take over completely.
  • You may not have a list of equipment and if so don’t worry - giving the confident message that if we need something then we can get it can contain many children’s worries.

A place for school things

It can really help to have a place for school things so that you know where to find them and don’t lose things.

Find a fairly large box and put all the school resources in there at the end of each day – preferably kept in the child’s room if there is space. Following this routine each evening will ensure there is less possibility for things to go missing and very soon your child will be able to do these things themselves this automatically.

Packing school bag

Many children worry about having the right things and you can help them develop organisational skills.

Ideally, this can be started during the summer term in year 6. Get your child to start packing what they need each day such as drink bottle, packed lunch, dinner money, homework, PE Kit etc. This will build familiarity when they need to get used to packing their bag each evening in secondary school and will build resilience should they forget anything. During the summer holidays they could pack a day for a trip out or something similar.

Last week of the holidays

The switch back to school from holiday mode can be stressful for both children and parents! It can help to gradually switch back into term time mode. Here are some ideas which may help.

  • Give your child some responsibility for getting up on time by giving them their own alarm clock.
  • Towards the end of the holidays get them to practise setting the alarm and getting you up as if it was a school day.
  • You might find that giving an incentive for successfully managing this helps.

The first few weeks of term

It can also really help to have a visual list of tasks to help you from day to day.

For example:

  • school bag
  • pencil case
  • colouring pencils/felt tip pens
  • calculator
  • home school diary or school planner
  • lunchbox or dinner money/card
  • water
  • reading book/library books
  • PE kit
  • any other equipment (food technology, instruments etc)
  • any letters to take to school

It might help to have two copies, laminated if possible so they can be reused, for week one and week two as some of the resources will differ each week. Leave some blank spaces for changes and extra notes. Stick them up on the inside of the front door so they can be ticked off each day just before leaving for school.


Ensure you speak to your child well in advance regarding ingredients so you don’t have that last minute panic!


You may find it useful to identify which day this is on so that the kit is ready washed. Some children bring home the wrong items of clothing. It can help to label their clothing and tell them where the label is. Occasionally, you might need to practise this.

If you can manage to buy two pairs of sports socks, or source an extra pair from parents whose child has finished school, it helps manage the drama if they lose one!

General information

When your child comes in from school in the early days of year 7 they are likely to be very tired. Think back to when they were in Reception.

Give them some downtime before discussing a suitable place for homework.

You could encourage your child to check when homework needs to be done. It is often not the next day. Some people like to plan out when it is going to be done and some people like to do it straight away.

Share the decision as to where they will do the homework making sure there are no distractions. Do not stand too close or “muscle in.” Let them ask if they need assistance.

Some schools have online links to homework that your child can access. Sometimes though they may need to write it down themselves. It can help to practise this skill. For example get your child to write down a short instruction, such as: “To make toast you will need to take some bread"…….. and so on.

Getting around school

Your child will be given a map of the school which they may find daunting at first. This is short lived as they very soon begin to find their way round remarkably quickly. It could be that you will feel a lot more anxious than they do so try not to share this anxiety.

Break a route into small chunks and ask them to find their way to a key place such as from the toilets to their form room and slowly build it up from there.

Sometimes when we are in new places we take in the visual differences rather than words. For example a familiar landmark that your child can easily remember. It might help to get your child to use these landmarks rather than rely on signs. Do remember that this could change without warning and so they should not rely on this for too long.

In some schools the year 7 children are taught in one building so they quickly get used to navigating from one classroom to the other. Alternatively, some schools have each block colour coded such as green for science, red for maths and so on, again very easily remembered.

Many children are reluctant to ask for directions. Try building up their confidence by going to the supermarket together and getting them to navigate to various aisles using the signs and symbols. Taking it one step further you could get them to ask a person in the store where something is. Give them the words to use and get them used to asking for help.

Some schools use a timetable where week A and B are different. At the start, Year 7s are often given this on paper. If your child has a phone and they are taking this to school, get them to take a photo of the plan so that it doesn’t matter if they lose or forget the paper copy.

Top Tips printable document

Transition Top Tips409KBpdf
Size: 409KBFile format: pdf

Advice around choosing a school place

Within Cambridgeshire, admission to school is organised centrally. Our applying for a school place pages contain all the information you need when applying for a school or nursery for your child or appealing if you are unhappy with the school you have been offered.

You are able to express a preference when choosing a school for your child. This preference may be based on a range of factors individual to your child and family.

How we can help

The Parents' School Preference Adviser provides advice and information on choosing a school, how to apply and the appeals process.

They can help with information and advice on:

  • how the transfer and admissions process works
  • admission policies and criteria for different schools
  • provision for special educational needs
  • changing schools during the school year
  • the appeals process
  • travel issues

Secondary school transition and resilience

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Parents' School Preference Adviser
Telephone: 01223 699033. 

If your child has Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND) and you need advice on school admissions, please contact:

SEND Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS)
Telephone: 0300 365 1020