Antonia Geldeard, Head of Sydenham High School GDST, talks about supporting key moments of change in our children’s lives

As a parent and a teacher who has been part of a number of key rites of passage in a child’s life, I recognise the significance of ‘liminal states’ – those moments where a parent and child stand on a threshold of a new start or transition. These include beginning school (that wonderful snapshot of the first day), moving to secondary school (and the onset of puberty) and choosing GCSEs and A levels.

Change is transformative and key to ongoing development. We want each of our girls to successfully navigate a period of flux and emerge secure and happy in their new phase. They should enjoy coming to school, feel known and valued within their community and energised by the change and the new possibilities this brings. The prospect can be more anxiety-inducing than the reality, so encouragement and preparation are key, alongside support during the early stages. For our 4+ and 11+ entrants at Sydenham High, we are firm believers in plenty of visits and taster and familiarisation sessions that enable early connections with peers and teachers.

From something as simple as giving a child the opportunity to inhabit a new space and create the memory of a positive experience to our more structured induction programmes, which work to develop ‘tool kits’ to help each individual manage their experience, we are committed to devoting the time and attention needed. Communication with home is equally important – even little things can feel big during moments of change.

“At Sydenham High School we want each of our girls to successfully navigate a period of flux and emerge secure and happy”

Behind the cries for independence, older teenagers equally need support – sometimes more, in fact, as they prepare to make decisions which can be seen as more definitive. Solid foundations are built on dedicated career advice and one-to-one discussions of the academic choices and options. Taster lessons and research are key for GCSE and A level, to guard against decisions based around short-lived criteria. An informed choice provides an increased sense of control over potential pathways and furthers self-belief. I believe in the importance of developing flexible and varied skillsets to prepare for the changing world of employment ahead.

Our bespoke sixth form enrichment programme includes building professional skills and undertaking voluntary work, as well as academic electives and EPQs to broaden critical perspectives and prepare for the transition to higher education or the world beyond. These are complemented by many developmental opportunities offered through the GDST network to connect pupils with a network of alumnae.

Sydenham High School on navigating change
Sydenham High School Head Antonia Geldeard says it’s important to let girls grow at their own pace and make mistakes

In addition to the benefits of educating our girls all the way from aged 4 to 18, I value ongoing relationships which recognise the character and aspirations of each girl and their development through childhood and adolescence to adulthood at their own pace, able to learn from mistakes and make changes. Committed, regular connections between all the sections of our school see pupils supported through academic and personal journeys by their ‘big sisters’ as well as staff, fostering the inner strength to be bold in their voyage of discovery.

Crossing these liminal spaces can be extremely exciting and fill us with a sense of mastery but we recognise that this can also feel unknown and daunting. Like Tennyson’s poetic vision of Ulysses standing on the shore of the untravelled world, and yearning for the “gleaming” opportunity, I see these as moments to be seized, but always fully supported.

Sydenham High School

Further reading: Wellington College on the wellbeing top five