Nervous about the Primary School Transition? Hear from Lucy Duszczak, one of our past Fellows, about how she made the transition as smooth as possible, with her top tips.
I live with my husband and two children aged four and seven. My husband and I both work full time, currently from home, but at the time our daughter started school, we were both fully office-based.
I manage Digital Marketing for YHA England & Wales and have worked at YHA in different roles from revenue management to online distribution for almost 18 years. I was a Leaders Plus fellow during 2020, and wow, what an experience it was! Not only have I grown in confidence and taken many steps towards career growth, but I came away from the programme with a bunch of fantastic lifelong friends! I can’t thank my organisation enough for allowing me to join this programme. It has been invaluable to me.
My Primary School Transition Experience
Our daughter attended nursery on the run-up to starting school, so she was used to spending time away from my husband and me; however, starting school felt like a BIG change. We knew we had to figure out how we would manage the school run with two demanding full-time jobs and manage our son’s childcare too. Sometimes we needed to work away to add more complication to the mix!
Being the only team member with a child starting school was challenging. Approaching my line manager about my options of working from home to juggle my childcare responsibilities was daunting for me as my contract is office-based, and I hadn’t needed to consider “flexible working” before. I wrongly felt that the expectation was that myself and my team would need to be in the office every day, 9-5. Luckily, I have a very supportive manager who gave me the flexibility I needed to manage home life and work, and he’s been on this journey with me getting to understand my needs as a working parent and how that fits in with my day-to-day work.
Juggling an intensive job with school drop off’s / pick-ups, packed lunches, sorting out uniforms, homework, and endless craft projects became challenging mentally. On the days where I couldn’t take my daughter to school, I had unbearable mum guilt. As a parent, trying to remember everything all the time and always being there on special days is tough. Naturally, you want to do it all and do it all perfectly, but sometimes some things have to give a little.
Below are my five top tips to ensure a smooth transition for you and your little ones as they start primary school.
Tip One – Research Schools
Find some time to ring around the local schools that you are interested in. Research their Ofsted reports if this is important to you. Find out if the school has an opening day for you to visit with your partner and child, to get a good feel for the school. Check that it meets your expectations and needs, e.g., does it run after-school clubs? Then, once you have decided on three school options, plan out the school run and do a practice run in busy and quiet times to see how long it’s likely to take you each day so that you feel more prepared. This will help you decide which school fits best with you and your child’s needs. Also giving you a good understanding of how much time you need to do drop-offs and pick-ups, if this is something you want and need to do.
Tip Two – Know your rights
Familiarize yourself with your organisation’s policies, including leave policies, and flexible working options. Once you know your rights, you can decide what you need and discuss this with your line manager. It’s good to know in advance what your organisation’s policies are, just in case you need to take some time off if your child is poorly or when the schools close for months due to a pandemic! If you’ve worked for your employer for one year, you have the right to unpaid time off work to look after your children. You can take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave before your child is 18. You can also take unpaid time off work to deal with unexpected problems – for example, where childminding arrangements break down, read more.
Tip Three – Communication with your line manager
It is important that you can communicate honestly about your needs as a working parent with your line manager. Let them know well in advance about key dates in your diary regarding primary school transitions, such as application dates, school visits, and settling in sessions. If your line manager knows how important these are to you, it is likely they will offer you the flexibility you need to support. Bringing more awareness to managers around these key stages and changes can help employees feel more comfortable having those types of conversations, knowing that there are options to help parents through this stage. Providing flexibility can actually increase productivity!
Tip Four – Communication with your partner
If you have a partner, ensure you make time to sit down together and make a plan. It is essential, where possible, that you work together to build a plan that works for you both. Share the load. If both couples work full time in pressurised jobs, you’ll need a plan to work through who will be doing the drop-offs and pick-ups for school or after-school club runs. Create a plan to figure out who can prepare a meal at the end of the day and get the uniforms ready. Flexibility is key, so ensure you have a strong support network around you for when the plan needs to change. You might miss your train and need someone to be there to collect your child from school. Leaders Plus host a fantastic couple’s workshop to discuss your long-term vision as a family and put plans in place to get you there. They fully support you to build a plan with your partner and encourage you to check that this plan is still working for you several months down the line.
Tip Five – Don’t put so much pressure on yourself
Your child starting school is a significant milestone. Whether you are a first-time parent or have had several children start school already, each child reacts differently to new changes. I found it particularly hard when my daughter started school. I was worried if I’d made the right school choice and if she would make friends or be left on her own. On her first day, I drove to the office in tears. I had such mixed emotions. Don’t feel pressured to be completely calm and collected on your child’s first day. It’s completely natural to feel all kinds of emotions, and if you have followed tip three, you can relax a little as your line manager will be aware of this special day and the school settling in period.
For a discussion about this topic, you can listen in to the Leaders Plus podcast “How to prepare for the primary school transition” where myself, Dr Suhana Ahmed and Elvira Klimova share:
- the best advice we received for a smooth transition
- how we practically made it work when our children were in the September’ settling in’ period
- strategies for communicating your needs to your employer and your partner
How Leaders Plus Can Help You Further
Big Careers, Small Children Podcast
Our Big Careers, Small Children podcast is dedicated to supporting parents of young children who are ambitious about their career whilst caring deeply about being a good parent. Each week we bring you an interview with an inspiring leader, plus practical solutions and actionable tips on how you can make your vision for career and family life a reality. Listen here.
Leaders Plus Fellowship Programme
The Leaders Plus Fellowship is a 9-month online programme specially designed to support working parents so they can stay on the leadership pipeline at work whilst enjoying their young families. Fellows have access to a senior leader mentor, a supportive group of like-minded peers, and specialist workshops to support you in your career development as a working parent. It’s often described as “like NCT for professionals.
You can find out more about the Fellowship and apply for a place here.