What makes a successful transition from primary to secondary school?

 The move from primary to secondary school is a big step for children – and often their families too - as pupils they leave their homely Year 6 classes and playgrounds and head to much larger learning environments, with different teachers, where far more will be expected of them in terms of self-organisation and independent learning. Some children will be starting a school that is 10 times larger than their primary.


It’s a change that can upset any child, but is generally especially difficult for more socially disadvantaged children, such as those eligible for pupil premium funding and free school meals, who take longer to adapt to their new environment.  Couple this move to secondary school with the acknowledged ‘summer learning loss’, which can affect literacy and numeracy standards, and the challenge for year 7 teachers becomes even more marked.


Research[1] shows that one of the main features affecting a successful transition includes whether or not children had received a lot of help from their secondary school. This is why a Summer Transition course such as those we run at PET-Xi can be so useful. Held at the secondary school during the summer holidays, the purpose of such programmes is to familiarise learners with their new surroundings, introduce them to some of their new classmates and – crucially – to include elements of numeracy and literacy which will reduce the impact of any ‘drop-off’ during the holidays.  The courses are always fun and help with learner confidence and engagement – aiming to boost the learner by at least one sub-level during the 10-day course.

The theme is ‘a journey’ – which as well as the obvious link to the journey from primary to senior school, also references the child’s personal journey as they come to understand more about themselves as they take on this new challenge and become more independent and responsible.

They will now often be travelling alone for the first time, needing greater social skills to make new friends and expected to organise equipment for lessons and juggle multiple homework requirements from new and subject-specific teachers. It’s a lot for them to take on and therefore vital that they are given the confidence to deal with it all and some to see it as an exciting step, rather than a worry.

Secondary schools which successfully support children’s transitions employ a range of practices including the use of ‘bridging materials’; the sharing of information between schools; visits to schools by prospective teachers, children and their parents; distribution of booklets; talks at the schools; taster days and other joint social events between schools.

Children who felt they had a lot of help from their secondary school to settle in were more likely to have a successful transition. This included help with getting to know their way around the school, relaxing rules in the early weeks, procedures to help pupils adapt, visits to schools, induction and taster days, and booklets.

Low SES (socio-economic status) has been found to have an association with less positive transitions for children. Surveys show that experiences of bullying, concern about their ability to do the work or about having new and different teachers for subjects, or worrying about whether they can make friends, were all associated with a poor experience of transition.

The move to Year 7 is probably the biggest change your pupils will have ever known. As Professor Julian Elliott, an educational psychologist at Durham University, says: "For many children, secondary school represents a step towards autonomy and the whole process of growing up and leaving childhood behind."  It can be overwhelming for children and parents alike.


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