What level does my Year 6 child need to be at? Life after GATE & getting ready for high school

At My Academy the start of the year is historically the busiest time for us, with hundreds of students completing GATE preparation workshops and mock exams across our centres. Many of these students have, in addition, spent a year or more working with one of our tutors to give them the best chance of success in the scholarship entry exam.


What happens after GATE? All our families of Year 5 and 6 students are thinking more broadly in terms of preparing for high school, and those students who secure a scholarship entry to a top school then need to think about what it will take to thrive in a significantly increased competitive environment.


No longer the big fish in a small pond


Students who do exceptionally well, whether it’s in the GATE process or in primary school in general, are often at risk of a crisis of confidence when, often for the first time in their lives, they are no longer ‘top of the class’, instead one of many bright students in the much bigger and more demanding environment that is high school. The Davidson Institute summarises W. Roedell’s research highlighting that while intellectually gifted children often exhibit signs of good social adjustment, emotional maturity and healthy self-esteem, they are vulnerable to adjustment difficulties when the environment becomes more challenging:


“Areas of vulnerability include uneven development, perfectionism, adult expectations, intense sensitivity, self-definition, alienation, inappropriate environments, and role conflicts.”


This is compounded with the normal social and emotional challenges of entering the teenage years. In an article by T. Apter cited in Educational Leadership, the change in self-concept from childhood to teenager is illustrated beautifully:


“Until about age 10, most children’s daily lives are filled with discoveries about their abilities, their powers, and their limitations. Most have a high tolerance for fluctuations in the shape and intensity of experience. Their self-esteem is not consistently high or low: It is like a layered cloud that shifts according to their mood, the familiarity of the setting, the task at hand, and the attitudes of the people nearby (Apter, 1998; Coopersmith, 1981). 


“…At the cusp of adolescence, young people become aware of how complex and difficult life is. This realization may take the wind out of their sails. Goals that seemed within easy reach may now seem impossibly far away. Gripped by pressures to appear more competent than they feel, tweens often begin to transmit intense irritability to a parent who expresses love and concern.”


What does my Year 6 student need to be able to know and do?


Besides the curriculum guidelines the Year 6 teacher or tutor adheres to, there are some foundational outcomes that a Year 6 child should have the opportunity to start working towards, in preparation for high school:


  • The ability to handle increased levels of autonomy and responsibility in managing learning, workload and schedule.
  • Increased levels of self-organisation and attention to detail.
  • The ability to structure larger pieces of work, such as compiling and synthesising research for an assignment, working through an open-ended mathematical investigation, studying for an exam and writing an essay.
  • The confidence to speak up and ask a question of the teacher if unsure of expectations.
  • The confidence to try new things in front of others, while being prepared to make mistakes or find things hard at first.
  • The ability to socialise in a larger environment, with many new people.

Continuing to progress towards high school


As we kick off the new school year, after a disruptive 2020 and uncertainty about what the months ahead hold in terms of further restrictions, Year 6 students have a challenging task ahead of them in preparing for the demands of high school, just around the corner.


Ideally, the Year 6 child has a classroom teacher who is future-focused in terms of setting students up for success beyond primary school. Expectations and challenges should increase significantly in preparation for this big jump forward. It’s worthwhile discussing with the classroom teacher what the plan is to move students towards high school readiness.


Environmental factors become crucial in supporting the development of a child making this transition, as suggested in both research papers above. The language we use, the things we focus on, and the experiences we set up for children contribute to that environment.


For example – contrary to popular belief, surrounding the pre-teen or teen with a string of positive labels (‘You are incredible!’) and setting them up for constant success is not the way to help them develop healthy self-esteem, according to notable researchers, including Dweck and Apter. In Dweck’s research popularised by her TED Talk, students who developed a growth mindset of ‘I can learn’ rather than maintaining the fixed mindset of ‘I am smart’, were more likely to maintain confidence levels to keep trying when presented with new and challenging problems.


In supporting your Year 6 child to prepare for the challenges of high school, consider:


  • Affirming that ‘we can do hard things’ and ‘we can learn and improve’, rather than focusing on ‘You are smart’ or ‘You are the best’.
  • Rewarding process rather than product: Praising your child for persisting with a problem, for working hard at something, for asking questions… for striving to be their best rather than for producing a great test result or grade.
  • Preparing your child for the ‘big pond’ by finding opportunities for them to chat with teachers and older students about what to expect – both the exciting and the challenging aspects.
  • Discussing the positives of meeting people who are as capable as we are – how surrounding ourselves with bright peers helps us learn from each other, be inspired by others and achieve our own potential.
  • Providing them with supported environments to experience new challenges, such as working one-to-one with a good tutor who can guide them from one level of challenge to the next.
  • Working with a tutor over the year also provides another ‘voice’ – parents often report that their child won’t listen to their advice or accept their help with school-related matters, but will take on board what the teacher or tutor says. Avoiding the homework battle is one of the reasons parents provide tutoring support to their pre-teens and teenagers!
  • Providing support (whether through a tutor, older sibling etc.) in the practicalities of managing a full schedule, including the details of how to structure after-school study and homework activities, how to create a ‘study zone’ for yourself and how to manage your time.

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