A four-stage longitudinal study exploring pupils' experiences, preparation and support systems during primary to secondary school transitions

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    The primary-secondary school transition is viewed as a crucial and significant period (Coffey, 2013). Several researchers have measured and reported a dip in attainment at the time of primary-secondary transitions with a lack of expected progress and sometimes regression (Alexander, 2010). However, this focus on academic attainment is unfortunate at a time when children, and indeed parents, are more focused on the social and emotional aspects of transitions (Jindal-Snape, 2018). Further, there is paucity of literature that has focused on the holistic transition experiences of children over time, with previous research focussing on either an aspect of transition, and/or hopes and worries expressed by children immediately before and/or after primary-secondary transition. Therefore, this leads to a fragmented and ‘in the moment’ account of what is happening for the child, suggesting conceptualization of transition as a one-off event rather than an ongoing process (Jindal-Snape, 2016, 2018). Further, none of these studies have tracked whether the anticipation of the hopes and fears, and reality (both positive and negative) match, especially over time. In terms of practice, although the importance of providing transition support for children has been widely acknowledged (see Hanewald, 2013), the focus is again on providing transition support immediately before or after the move to secondary school. This support is primarily provided by primary and secondary schools, with some acknowledgement of support from families, professionals and communities. This potentially diminishes the role and agency of the child actively developing, and tapping into, their own support systems. The latter becomes even more important given the differences between children and adults’ views, with children being more concerned about the social aspects such as making new friends (Mellor and Delamont, 2011), and teachers focussing on the academic aspects (Galton, 2010). Further, previous research has not captured in full this support provided by schools and significant others over time, nor have they looked at its effectiveness from the perspectives of children or through the actual impact on the transition experience. Therefore, the research questions for this study were: 1.What was the dynamic transition experience (including anticipation and reality) of pupils across three school years, and why? 2.What planning and preparation was put in place by schools across the three school years, and whether that was effective and why? 3.What were the pupils' most important support networks during transitions, and what support did they provide? One secondary school and 14 feeder primary schools participated in the study. After due ethics considerations and processes, data were collected from the children over three school years at four stages; final year of primary to end of Year 2 of secondary school. The same cohort of children were followed, although not all children chose to participate in every stage. Data were collected using online questionnaires as those were deemed to be the best option by the advisory group. Results highlight the ongoing and dynamic nature of transitions, with children adapting at different times. It seems that those who anticipated problems when in primary school were more likely to experience problems with the move to secondary school; this has implications for the discourse around transitions and its impact on pupils’ anticipation of transition experience. This study highlighted that although transition planning and preparation by schools are important and varied, they are not always effective nor provided in a timely manner, and do not tap into the naturally occurring support networks in the home and community. This paper will discuss these findings and implications for school transitions practices. Alexander, R. (ed). (2010) Children their World, their Education. Final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review. New York: Routledge. Coffey, A. (2013) Relationships: The key to successful transition from primary to secondary school? Improving Schools, 16, 261 – 271. Galton, M. (2010) Moving to Secondary School: What do pupils in England say about the experience?’. In D. Jindal-Snape (Ed.), Educational Transitions: Moving Stories from around the world, pp. 107-124. New York: Routledge. Hanewald, R. (2013) Transition Between Primary and Secondary School: Why it is Important and How it can be Supported. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38, 62 – 74. Jindal-Snape, D. (2016) The A- Z of Transitions. London, Palgrave Macmillan. Jindal-Snape, D. (2018) Transitions from Early Years to Primary and Primary to Secondary Schools in Scotland. In T. Bryce, W. Humes, D. Gillies, & A. Kennedy (Eds.), Scottish Education (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Mellor, D. & Delamont, S. (2011) Old anticipations, new anxieties? A contemporary perspective on primary to secondary transfer. Cambridge Journal of Education, 41, 331 – 346.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2019
    EventBritish Educational Research Association Conference - Manchester University , Manchester, United Kingdom
    Duration: 9 Sept 201912 Sept 2019


    ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • Primary school
    • Secondary school
    • Transitions
    • Longitudinal study
    • Multiple and Multi-dimensional Transitions Theory


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