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How School Works - Step Up To Secondary School

How School Works

This section of the website will give you lots of helpful information about the practical things you need to know when you start secondary school.

Don’t forget that schools are used to having a new first year group every year. They’ll be really helpful in getting you started and making things as clear as possible. Don’t forget to ask lots of questions and remember, all those older students were once first years too!

Most schools have a fairly similar routine from week to week. They also tend to have key events in or around the same time, like exam weeks and mid-term breaks.

All schools will be a little bit different though – some will have nine shorter classes every day, while some will have seven longer ones. Some will have Friday afternoons off, and some will start a little earlier.

A great tip before you start at your new school is to have a look at their website and any social media pages they may have, like Facebook. This can tell you a lot about your new school and will have information about things like routine, subjects, school layout, extracurricular activities and so on.

You’ll be given a class timetable by your year head or form teacher/class teacher as part of your induction. Your timetable is really important because it will tell you what time your classes are, what room they are in and usually what teacher you’ll have for each class.

You will probably get to know your timetable quite quickly, and you can then use it to plan your week and know which homework you need ready for each day.

Click here for more, including an example of a typical timetable and how to read it.

In many schools you will be assigned an individual locker and you should treat it like a trusted friend! Usually you’ll have time to visit it before school starts, at break times and at home time.

Stick a copy of your timetable inside the door of your locker and use it to figure out what you’ll need for each block of classes. Just have the books with you that you need for each part of the day, and only take home the books you need for homework. Leave as many as you can in the locker.  

Use the locker for storing everything you can: your books, PE gear, a coat or jacket, home economics ingredients, a water bottle or food that won’t go off or a spare pencil case. Think about anything that might come in handy from time to time, or anything that is too big to carry around all day such as art supplies or technical graphics equipment.

You will need to secure your locker, so get a lock or combination lock and practise using it. The school might supply or sell locks – they’ll let you know.

Don’t let your locker get too messy! Clean it up at the end of the week – this makes it easier to find what you need.

Click here to see an example of a locker and how to organise it.

Try to get in the habit of organising your schoolbag the night before. Your new timetable will take a bit of getting used to, but if you plan a little and pack the books, materials and food that you’ll need for school in advance, it’ll make your mornings a lot easier. Don’t forget PE gear or any other supplies or equipment that you’ll need for the day.

Remember: you don’t need to carry your schoolbag around with you all day in school. Use your locker and grab only the books that you need for the two or three classes you have in each block.

Many schools treat this slightly differently. When you start secondary school you are entering what’s called the Junior Cycle – this will lead to the Junior Certificate you’ll take in third year. 

A lot of schools don’t ask you to choose your subjects until the end of first year; others allow students to take short ‘subject taster’ programmes before making their choice. In some schools, you’ll choose your subjects before or immediately on starting first year. 


Choose the right subjects for you:

Don’t pick a subject just because your friends have picked it. If you really want to do business and music but your friend is doing art and home economics, don’t feel pressured to do what they are doing. You will meet new friends in other subjects, and if you don’t really like the subjects you’ve chosen after the first two weeks, talk to your academic monitor or year head – they might be able to do something about it.


Subject groupings:

You might be in with different groupings and classes depending on your subject choices, so don’t panic if your friend doesn’t end up in your class. 

This is one that a lot of people stress about, but don’t worry – you’ll find your way around really quickly, and it’ll become second nature after a couple of days. Stick with your group of friends and don’t be afraid to ask someone for directions. You may even get a diagram or map during induction. Have a look at the school website to see if there’s a map or layout there – familiarise yourself with this in advance if you can.

If you do get lost and are late for class, don’t be embarrassed to just say so – it can happen to anyone!

This is one thing that will be very different to your old school. Don’t worry though, you’ll get used to it very quickly! 

You will be moving rooms between most classes, and you’ll have different teachers for every subject. Your timetable will really help you figure this out, and you’ll get to know your way around quickly. Familiarise yourself early on with the location of all your classrooms to make sure that you’re not late for class.



Don’t expect to know everything when you first start – it can take time to settle in.

Listen carefully to the teacher at the start of any lesson and follow the instructions you’re given. If you’re unsure about anything just ask, but don’t interrupt when the teacher is talking.

Sadly, the amount of homework you receive will increase compared to what you’ve been used to in primary school. And yes – you do get homework at the weekend!

Not all subjects require homework every day, and the amount you do get will vary. This means that you might have two hours of homework on one night and maybe one hour the next night. 

In general, the following guidelines apply for homework each night:

First year: An hour and a half
Second year: One and half to two hours
Third year: Two to three hours

Even if you get homework every single night, it will be a manageable amount. If you are organised and get it done straight after school, then you can put it away and enjoy the rest of your evening and activities.

Do your homework as soon as possible when you get it and don’t leave it to the last minute. Use your school journal to keep track of homework. Always check you have enough information about your homework so that you know exactly what you have to do when you get home.

Don’t stress about your homework. If you forget to take something down or leave a book or copy in school, ask a friend to send a picture of the homework, or email the teacher.

Your new school will involve a different morning routine, and maybe a lot more travel. Your school might be further away, which could mean getting a public bus or school bus on your own for the first time. Maybe you will have to walk or cycle by yourself, or it might be a car journey. Look up your new school on Google Maps to see what your new journey will be like.

Car: Getting a car in the morning can mean a lot of rushing to get ready and out the door on time. There might be heavier traffic than usual on your new route, which might mean an earlier start. Try to have a good morning routine, and do as much as you can the night before to be prepared.

Public Bus: Getting a bus might mean having to get up a lot earlier and getting home later, as you will be relying on the bus timetable.

School Bus:  Make sure you know just where your bus will stop. You’ll get to know the driver and the other students using the same bus.

Most schools have a uniform and a dress code. The school uniform helps promote a sense of belonging to the school community and is something to take pride in, so do try to look after yours.

The school dress code will usually include rules around how you must wear your uniform neatly and guidelines on shoes, haircuts, piercings and make-up. You’ll be given information on the dress code and uniform policy in your school journal and at your induction when you start. 

The school staff will regularly check on the uniforms and dress code.

A copy of the school rules will be printed in your school journal and will be explained to you at your induction around the time you start.

It may seem like school has a lot of rules, but most are pretty easy to follow. They are all there to make sure the school runs smoothly for everyone. Schools are busy places and there’s a lot to get through every day; the rules can help with that. Typical school rules will involve things like dress code, being late, being absent, missing homework, leaving early, and so on. There will be rules and policies on how to treat school property, misbehaviour and bullying.

School journals are really important and useful, so look after yours and bring it with you to school every day. Think of it as a handbook that will help you organise your week.

It will have most of the information that you need about the school and will be really helpful for recording your homework and your progress. School journals are also a way for the school and teachers to communicate with your parents or guardians. Your parents and school staff will need to look at it regularly and may need to sign it from time to time.

Typical things you will find in your school journal: 

  • The school calendar and important dates like exams and holidays
  • The school ethos – what values are important to the school community
  • Who’s who in the school and contact information
  • General school information
  • Code of conduct
  • School uniform and rules
  • A full daily diary and place to record and track your homework
  • Study and test planners 
  • Test results and progress trackers
  • Goal setting templates
  • Absence slips
  • Notes for parents/guardians

As you can see there is a lot of information in your journal; look after it well, because it’ll be really useful.

Every school will have a different approach to mobile phones and devices, so you’ll have to check your school’s policy.

Many schools will require you to keep your phone in your locker and turned off, and will ask that your parents only make contact with you through the school office.

Some schools do make use of student phones a bit more – teachers may allow you to use it during class for research or for apps like Kahoot! or Quizlet. They can also be useful for taking photographs of homework.

Every school will have strict guidelines around the use and misuse of devices such as sharing inappropriate content, taking photographs or recordings without permission and cyberbullying.  Be aware of your responsibilities because phones can get you in trouble if you misuse them – if you’re not sure what’s allowed and what isn’t, just ask.

The move to secondary school is fairly smooth for almost everyone. Schools have a good support network in place for all students, but they really look after the first years very well. You’ll be eased into school life, introduced to everybody and they’ll probably even go easy on the homework for a little while.

You should be aware, however, that there are supports for you in school if you need help with anything. Staff that do this job are part of what’s called the care team or pastoral care team.

A lot of schools will offer a mentoring programme where younger students will get matched with an older or senior cycle student that will act as a support. This can be really helpful as they can show you the ropes and pass on their experiences to you.  Don’t forget: they’ve been there too, and have probably gone through all the feelings you will be having as you start secondary school.  Don’t forget to have a look at Top Tips From Older Students 

These programmes vary from school to school but common ones are Big Brother Big Sister and the Meitheal Programme. Some schools also operate their own TY Mentoring Programme or buddy system. They’re really helpful, so do make use of mentoring if it’s on offer.

Typical support staff you will have in school are:

Form Teacher

The Form Teacher is a teacher who undertakes the role of caring for a class group. It’s their priority to get to know students individually. They will be an important person to you and one who can help with any concerns you may have. If a teacher is setting homework that takes too long, if you’re struggling with a classmate, or if you have any concern you want to share, it’s easy to go to your form teacher as you’ll see them regularly.


Year Head

The Year Head is responsible for the care, development and behaviour of the students in a year group. They try to ensure that each student’s needs are addressed and that each student achieves to the best of their ability. They monitor attendance, punctuality and academic progress, and also enforce school rules as outlined in the code of behaviour and school journal. The Year Head will link with parents and other appropriate personnel such as the Form Teacher, Home School Community Liaison Coordinator, Guidance Counsellor and Vice-Principal. In a big school there may be more than one Year Head.


Home School Community Liaison Coordinator

Some schools have a Home School Community Liaison Coordinator, whose job is to encourage and help parents to support and enhance their children’s education. Sometimes they can assist parents in developing their own skills and education for this purpose.


School Chaplain

Some schools have a School Chaplain. The role of the Chaplain is varied – they do teach religious education but they also meet students on an individual basis and participate in activities that relate to the wellbeing and development of the school community. They bring a faith presence to the school.


Guidance Counsellor

Guidance Counsellors assist and advise students about academic and personal decisions. They help you make the best choices for you, and assist in assessing your ability and potential. They provide one-to-one support and liaise with other professionals in areas of wellbeing.

Some schools have really good afterschool and lunchtime programmes – you’ll find out all the things you can get involved in when you start. Taking part in these extracurricular activities is a great way of getting to know more students in the school and maybe even learning new skills! Whether it’s drama, music, the computer club or chess club, debating or the sports field, try everything out and find some new activities that you enjoy.

There is so much more to school than classes and homework, so try to take part in as much as you can. Try lots of new things – you never know what you might like, and you’ll make new friends and develop new skills and interests along the way.

Have a look at the school website to see what you can find out, and maybe consider getting involved in the student council.