Offer a warm welcome to nervous newcomers

18th April 2014 at 01:00
Joining a new school can be stressful and even traumatic for children. Follow our tips to ease the pain of their transition

I can still remember the abject terror I felt as my mum's rusty Mini pulled out of the car park, leaving me behind. It was my first day at a new school. I was the only student joining in Year 8, at the age of 12, and I was terrified.

The next two weeks were a frightening blur of muffled sniggers, inadequate reassurance ("I don't really eat children," the English teacher quipped) and occasional bouts of uproarious laughter at my broad Glaswegian accent, which did not fit in at my new school in rural Yorkshire.

Joining a new school can be intimidating for any child, but with a bit of preparation and a warm welcome you can make all the difference. Whether you are a class teacher, tutor or pastoral leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that the transition is a smooth one for the student. Here are a few tips I have picked up during my career.

Meet them early

Your relationship with the new student should not begin on their first day at your school. As a tutor, I often meet new students and parents when they arrive for a tour, pop in for a taster afternoon or visit the uniform shop. An early meeting means that there will be a familiar face on Day 1. If you can't meet the child in person, try at least to speak to them on the phone.

Do the paperwork

Ensure that all the necessary administration is completed. This may not be your job, but if you are the child's tutor it is worth double-checking to avoid delays in obtaining books, diaries, passwords, keys, passes, updated medical lists, parents' email addresses and so on.

Inform staff

Make sure that your colleagues are expecting the new student. Nothing makes a child feel more unwelcome than turning up to geography and being refused entry to the classroom because the teacher was not expecting them. Write a list of all the staff who will come into contact with the new arrival and be sure to inform them all.

Prepare other students

The group with the most influence on any new student will be their contemporaries. Speak to the newcomer's tutor group and encourage them to offer a warm welcome. Carefully choose a buddy who shares some classes (and perhaps interests) with the new student.

Do your homework

Find out as much as you can about the new student. Children who have moved schools may have done so for a specific reason, and it's important to gain as much background information as possible. Once you know the facts, you can offer direct and effective support. That said, everyone needs a fresh start sometimes, so think carefully about who to share this knowledge with - students can easily end up with labels that they don't deserve.

Plan an induction

Prepare a thorough induction covering key places, who to ask for help and what to expect. Enlist students to help deliver it and don't stop at the first day. After a daunting introduction, an exhausted newcomer will probably forget half of what they have been told, so build on the induction process over the term.

Get them involved

I firmly believe that the more school activities a student gets involved with, the better. The more time the newcomer spends with other children and learning new things, the less time they have to feel worried and sorry for themselves. Gentle and sensitive persuasion, of course, is most appropriate.

Monitor them carefully

The first day is the biggest hurdle, but some students may feel "new" for the whole term, or even beyond, as they try to settle into existing social groups and the school programme. I often find that anxiety flares up in the second or third week, after the honeymoon period is over. Tackle any issues by providing an appropriate time and space for the child to share any concerns - regular catch-ups, for example, which I would do weekly as a head of year and daily as a tutor, to start with. It is also essential to keep in touch with the student's parents: a meeting after the first week is over will provide reassurance and is an opportunity to deal with small problems before they grow into big ones.

Mike Lamb is a biology and psychology teacher, and a housemaster, at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex, England

What else?

The new kid is old hat in a school with a 75 per cent turnover rate.

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Capture the key information on newcomers using this induction worksheet.

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