Transitioning from primary school to secondary learning can be an overwhelming event. In primary school, your learner and their mates are the oldest, biggest, wisest and most experienced students. In secondary school, they'll be the youngest, smallest, dumbest and least experienced.

It's always daunting to go from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a big ocean. That's one reason why that idiom is so popular. Another is that it bears more than a passing resemblance to the truth.

The prestige and privilege conferred upon students by virtue of being the biggest and smartest are stripped away, leaving them more socially vulnerable to the bigger kids in your new learning environment.

All of that comes at a time when their bodies are changing, their voice is cracking (if they're male) and they're trying to define and carve out who they're going to be. Could life get any crueller? Of course it can!

The Department for Education (DfE) sees fit to further confuse you with all sorts of codes, abbreviations and jargon that amounts to just so much gibberish to the uninitiated. How is your child supposed to know which classes to report to if you have no idea about the language they're represented in?

Before you become fully flummoxed, set your child's school timetable aside.

Your Superprof has outlined these codes and listed a short description next to them so that you'll know which courses your child will be attending... before you discover that the HFT in the course catalogue doesn't stand for Health, Fitness and Training (the course you hoped for) but Health, Food and Technology - a subject that never entered their mind to learn about.

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Humans' Love Affair with Codes

If you/your child are among the people who cannot live without their smartphone - meaning that must be able to connect with your friends at all times, you are likely guilty of speaking in code. IDK, tho. AFAIK, PPL B I - O w/txting. (I don't know, though. As far as I know, people are bored with texting - in case you needed a translation.)

Digital natives may be rightly proud that they established an entire lexicon of shorthand terms for online communication but they are by far not the first to do so. The best examples of this type of abbreviated writing originated in Antiquity. For instance...

The fish, a symbol for Jesus Christ, was meant to transcend language barriers as well as proclaim a divine message.

Fish, in Greek, is an acronym for God
Fish came to represent the holiest figure because of its Greek name. Source: VisualHunt

Even if you've never cracked the books on ancient history, you are most likely familiar with SPQR, an acronym associated with the Roman Empire. It was etched onto coins and walls to proclaim the authority of the Roman government, specifically the Senate.

For all of the cleverness and complexity abbreviated terms demonstrate, the reason they came to be is so pedestrian that you will likely LOL when you find it out. They were primarily designed to save space and conserve on resources. That makes sense, doesn't it?

Could you imagine trying to etch Senatus Populusque Romanus on every coin minted at the height of the Roman Empire, before the laser-guided tools we have today that allow us to do such detailed work with such magnificent, exacting precision?

Looking at things that way, it's easy to see why SPQR became the Empire's identifying mark.

Over the years, abbreviations have found their way into everyday language. Some are even spoken as words: NATO, UNESCO, BENELUX and more. Others remain a series of individually-spoken letters: DfE, NHS, LSE... can you identify what they all stand for? Even our country is commonly identified as the UK, but then again, many countries are known by their initials: China (the PRC), the United States (USA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) among them.

As far as our school system is concerned, not only do they use acronyms to represent the courses in their catalogues, many of their sub-systems are also identified that way. OFQUAL, UCAS, all of the testing boards from AQA to WJEC - and, of course, our exams - SATs and GCSEs included, are all better known by those designations than their official names.

Even for parents and students in the know, the constant addition of new classes and agencies presents an ongoing challenge to stay on top of things.

One Parent's Dismay

"I know that going to secondary school would be a huge change for my son – after all, once upon a time, I was a bewildered first-year student, too."

"HFT (I thought women of a certain age took this), RMPS (isn’t there one of these in my car?) and PSE (a government office?). And then, you have the PTA and the SMT. And what about guidance teachers? I didn’t know guidance was a subject."

"I remember being new to secondary school and getting lost on the way from English to PE. I was struggling to keep all the books and homework in order and feeling extremely small... and stupid. Unfortunately, my experience was not unique. My peers, those of us who dared to disclose personal weakness, endured similar feelings of confusion and worthlessness."

"Of course, it's been a few years since I was a student. Today, teachers - all of us are supposed to be more enlightened about the negative impact of such experiences and work to mitigate against them."

"Many teachers, school counsellors and even administrators go to great lengths to make sure that incoming students feel welcome and included. Some schools may even enlist upperclassmen to chaperone their juniors around so that they can get the lay of the land."

"That doesn't mean that the school schedule is any easier to decipher."

"To wit, when I looked at my son’s first secondary school timetable, it did not bring back any of the identifying acronyms I finally grew used to during my school days at all. For all we could guess, those unrecognisable new acronyms could have represented the parts of a new central heating system."

"I don’t even understand my son’s new school timetable – what does it all mean? And how can my child be expected to keep up if even I'm stumped?"

"Parents everywhere believe that a glossary of terms might be helpful, especially as a course description doesn't always make it clear which academic field it any particular course might fall under."

Don't let your confusion over timetables confuse you
If you can't make heads or tails of your child's school timetable, how is s/he supposed to? Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Failing any legend on your child's school timetable, you probably need a reference chart to help identify what s/he will study during his/her first foray into secondary school education.

You may print this list of acronyms out or screen-shot it and save it in your phone or tablet's gallery because, even after your student gets used to which class to report to and what s/he'll study once there, when report cards come out, you will once again have to figure out what courses s/he's getting marks in.

  • ABC – Administration and business management and computing
  • ASN –  Additional Support Needs. A little extra help for a pupil in need.
  • D&T – Design and Technology. This includes things that were called “techie” back in our school days. Your child may make a pot stand in the first few weeks in this class.
  • Guidance Teacher.  A guidance teacher may be allocated to a pupil all the way through school and will watch progress, give advice, help out and be a point of contact for parents.
  • HFT – Health, Food and Technology. In the olden days, this course used to be called Domestic Science; typically, only female students were assigned it. This course's syllabus shows that the menu hasn’t changed much.
  • ICT – Information and Computer Technology.
  • Modern Studies – Modern studies “aims to help pupils understand the political, social and economic forces which affect individuals, groups and nations. It is concerned with contemporary issues in Britain, Europe, the USA and the developing world and encourages pupils to consider these in an objective, tolerant and natural way”.
  • NQT – Newly Qualified Teacher.
  • PSE – Personal and Social Education. May also be known as Personal, Social and Health Education or Citizenship. It is “everything that a school does to support and promote the personal and social development of its young people”.
  • PTA – Parent Teachers’ Association.
  • RMPS – Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies. Formerly known as RE.
  • SMT – Senior Management Team. Like the Cabinet but more powerful.
  • SS – Social Studies/Subjects. In many schools, this course entails the study of history, geography and modern studies. This course's syllabus may vary from campus to campus or, more broadly, from one school district to the next.
  • Support for Learning – Provision of support for children with Additional Support Needs. In mainstream schools, this can be as high as one in five children.
    • Support for Learning is closely related to the SEN designation, which means Special Educational Needs.
  • TE – Technical Education. The department that teaches D&T.

We hope that this short list helps shine some light on some of the jargon that you may find on your child's class timetable or that otherwise comes out of school.

We know that these few points are a long way from being an exhaustive list of every course your child might be assigned so perhaps, if you know of others not featured here, you could let us know in the comments section below so we can add them.

You likely use abbreviations and acronyms every day
We use symbols, abbreviations and acronyms every day Photo credit: polomex on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Starting Off on the Right Foot

Beyond curriculum and timetables, if your child is about to leave primary school, you and s/he may have a ton of concerns, questions and anxiety about sticking the landing and making these few years as productive and rewarding as possible.

Besides the normal challenges and adjustments, this year's progressions promise to be even more difficult because of the pandemic.

Traditional activities such as parents' welcome night - or whatever name it goes by in your district/school may be severely curtailed or cut out altogether out of concern for crowds roaming through narrow school hallways. Still, if your child's school intends to host such an event, do your best to attend.

These occasions present the perfect opportunity for parents and students to get familiar with the school's layout and meet the people who will have daily contact with your child.

If your child's school has scrapped their plans to welcome new students and their parents in that traditional way, see what you can do online to get familiar with everything.

Many teachers have started hosting Meet&Greet sessions online. These aren't simply a matter of video-conferencing for a few minutes, the best teachers come prepared with all manner of resources to help parents and students get familiar with the school's layout and how things work.

One teacher had a map of the school drawn out which featured her classroom as well as where your child will eat lunch and where the closest bathrooms were. Additional maps showed the gym, the path to take for outdoor sports - the track and basketball courts and even their evacuation routes in case of fire.

The key to engineering the best possible outcome of your child's first experiences in secondary school, of course, is getting started on the right foot.

With this information and all of the other resources available to you and your pupil, you're well on your way to achieving your goals.

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Laura

Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.