Education resources › Blog › Surviving the transition from primary and secondary school

Surviving the transition from primary and secondary school

Surviving the transition from primary and secondary school

4 min read
  • Stress management & well-being

If going back to school after a long summer break, months of distance learning and in the middle of a global crisis wasn’t stressful enough, many students face added pressure transitioning from primary to secondary school. Arriving in this new environment with new demands is often accompanied by a decline in positive attitudes and academic outcomes. Research suggests that lacking a sense of belonging can negatively impact a student’s academic and career path.

Although the downsides of this transition are inevitable, evidence suggests certain strategies are quite effective to help students cope. So, why do they struggle with this transition, and what can we do to help?

Why do students struggle with this transition

The transition from primary school to secondary school can feel especially daunting. Students aged 11-13 are already experiencing the dramatic changes that come along with early adolescence, from physiological changes to social ones. When you add joining a new school, dealing with heightened expectations or leaving behind their comfort zone to it, the transition can intensify existing stress and lead to many issues.

It is typical for young students to feel as though they don’t belong, or fit in with their peers. This is especially true when you have to get used to a new school, where you may not know many people. This can cause them to develop a negative attitude towards attending school and participating in class. Students particularly struggle when starting secondary school because of the lack of openly available social and emotional support they often perceive.

Another explanation is the influence that uncertainty has on stress levels. Being unfamiliar with your environment and peers, wondering if you’re up to the challenge and, in true 2020 fashion, what the academic year will even look like… All of these elements create a perfect storm for increased stress levels.

How can teachers help?

Research has suggested that a simple intervention encouraging students to engage in reflection exercises can help students transition more easily from primary to secondary school. In this study, students were asked to express their concerns about the standard of work required and also their worries about interpersonal relationships with their classmates and teachers.

Having time to reflect allowed students to formulate a plan for how to overcome these difficulties and understand that these worries would disappear over time. Additionally, carrying out these exercises with their classmates meant that students recognised that they were not alone in their concerns, and that there is the necessary support available at school should they need it.

A good relationship between teachers and students is very important for many reasons, but particularly during this challenging transition. To find out why student-teacher relationships matters and which strategies to use to develop them, check out this blog on the subject.

Practical, evidence-informed Teacher CPD your staff will actually love. Develop Teaching & Learning at your school thanks to Cognitive Science research.

How does the intervention help students?

Overall, the research found that introducing this simple intervention lead to an improvement in students’ academic performance. This was caused by higher levels of student well-being and a decrease in student disengagement.

Student well-being can be improved through creating more positive attitudes towards the school environment. Improving attitudes is particularly important in dealing with stress, as it allows students to devote more time to their studies rather than their worries.

Decreasing student disengagement improves outcomes for students. Not only does this mean that students are more likely to attend classes, but they are also more likely to concentrate in them. High levels of concentration and engagement in class are essential for learning: this increases the chance that the information students are being taught will be transferred to their long-term memory– and hence will be retrievable in the future.

Final thoughts

Whilst the transition between primary and secondary school will undoubtedly be a difficult time for many students, there is a lot we can do to help them navigate this period. They can hopefully come to understand, through a simple intervention and reflection exercises, that they are not alone in this, that they do belong with their peers, that they can count on their teachers’ support and that they will overcome this.

Overall, increasing students’ well-being is beneficial to everyone and will help them learn much more efficiently. So, if you want to learn about our favourite stress-management strategies, check out these blogs:

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Follow on XConnect on LinkedIn