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Countdown to the first day of term

Back to schoolAs schools up and down the country prepare for the first day of the autumn term, parents are busy sewing on name tapes, hunting down pencil cases and PE kit and desperately trying to persuade children to start (let alone finish) their holiday projects.

For those of us whose children are starting school or nursery for the first time the beginning of term can be daunting to say the least – especially if your child is anxious about the prospect of being parted from you.

When my son started school just three weeks after his fourth birthday I was filled with trepidation. He was such a baby. How would he cope with the rigours of school life? I couldn’t imagine how he would tie his shoelaces (actually he didn’t bother), let alone tie his tie, get changed for games and concentrate on lessons all day.

‘It won’t be too demanding, will it?’ I asked his teacher anxiously on the first morning. ‘Well, we do like them to be taking their GCSEs by the end of the week,’ she joked.

But despite her cheery words I couldn’t relax. Once he started school I constantly worried how he was getting on. My fears were compounded when his headteacher rang four days into the term to announce he’d fallen off a bench in the playground, hit his head and needed to go to A&E.

It’s not only young children who face new challenges. Thousands of 11-year-olds will move up to secondary school in September while others will become boarders for the first time. A teacher friend told me: ‘Going to secondary school is a huge hurdle. Children go from being a big fish in a small pond at primary school to being right at the bottom of a much bigger school. They may have to catch a bus by themselves, find their way to different classrooms for different subjects, cope with loads more homework and fit in with a new peer group. When my daughter went to secondary school she still needed a huge amount of support, not just practically, but emotionally and mentally too. It’s very easy for parents to forget what a big jump it is.’

There’s no doubt that children react differently to their first day at primary school. Some bounce into the classroom, eager to get started, while others cling tearfully to their parents for reassurance. So if you’re the parent of a four-year-old and you’re counting the days till the first day of term, here’s some advice on helping your child to settle in as smoothly as possible.

Make sure your child has enough sleep the night before. Four-year-olds coping with the long school day for the first time get very tired Name their shoes and clothes so nothing gets lost Be on time the first morning and introduce your child to their teacher. When your child is comfortable tell them you’re leaving, give them a big hug and say goodbye without tears or a fuss. It won’t help either of you if you cry Check the school has your up to date contact numbers – work, home and mobile Don’t spend all day worrying how your child is getting on. If you’re not at work or looking after younger children you could even enjoy having a little time to yourself Make sure your child knows where you’ll be waiting at the end of the school day – and don’t be late

Children’s book of the month

Each month the Good Schools Guide Newsletter team chooses a new book for children to enjoy

ExplorersExplorers (DK, £16.99)
By Nellie Huang and Jessamy Hawke

Age: 7+

‘A driving curiosity, a thirst for discovery and a desire to test the limits of our minds, bodies and the world around us.’ That’s how Barbara Hillary, the first African-American woman to reach both the North Pole and the South Pole, describes what it means to be an explorer. Now 88, the retired nurse from Harlem trekked to the North Pole at the age of 75 and to the South Pole four years later.

She’s an inspiring choice to write the foreword to Explorers, a stunning new book written by the adventure travel blogger Nellie Huang and exquisitely illustrated by Dorset artist Jessamy Hawke.

It documents the colossal achievements of more than 50 great explorers, from Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant and explorer who sailed from Europe to Asia at the age of 17, to Amelia Earhart, the American aviator who mysteriously vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

Each entry includes a biography, a hand-drawn map showing the explorers’ intrepid journeys, photographs of the artefacts and relics they discovered and a host of fascinating facts.

Did you know, for instance, that Annie Londonderry was the first woman to cycle around the world? She’d never ridden a bicycle before, but in 1894 she decided to cycle across the globe in 15 months for a bet, leaving her husband and three children behind in Boston and returning the following year. Along the way she switched from a woman’s bike to a man’s, which was lighter, and opted to wear bloomers and a shirt for practicality. She admittedly took several train journeys during her trip but the New York World newspaper called her expedition ‘the most extraordinary journey ever taken by a woman’.

This enthralling book is exciting to read and beautiful to behold so parents will enjoy it as much as their children. It also predicts where explorers will journey to next. Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, perhaps? Or maybe Mars? Watch this space…

Going up, going down

Going up going downGoing up

Girls and STEM. The number of girls taking A level sciences overtook boys for the first time ever this year. Girls made up 50.3 per cent of entries in biology, chemistry and physics at A level while boys accounted for 49.7 per cent of entries.

Second chance. Congratulations to the 67 students from under-represented backgrounds who were originally turned down by Cambridge but have now been awarded places there after performing better than expected in their A levels.

A good read. Every year staff at St Augustine’s CE High School in Kilburn, west London take year 7 pupils to Foyles in London’s West End, where they can each choose a book costing up to £8.99. ‘You can see their imaginations are just sparked into life,’ says the school librarian. ‘Some students have never had the pleasure of visiting a bookshop and choosing a book of their own.’

Going down

Advice from Jeremy. August wouldn’t be August without Jeremy Clarkson tweeting on A level results day. This year the Who Wants to be a Millionaire host posted a picture of a stunning French chateau and declared: ‘A levels a bit rubbish? Don’t worry. I got a C and two Us and I’ve rented this place for the summer.’

Decline of RS. The number of teenagers taking religious studies at GCSE is in decline at non-faith schools. Research by Liverpool Hope University found that the figure fell from 254,000 to 229,000 between 2017 and 2018.

Tough GCSEs. Research by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says four out of five school leaders think lower-achieving pupils have been left ‘demoralised’ by the government’s new tough GCSEs.

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