Image of How to Support Pupils' Transition from Primary to Secondary School

How to Support Pupils' Transition from Primary to Secondary School

Transitioning from primary to secondary school can be a time of great pride and excitement for children and their families, but it also brings with it some unique challenges and anxieties. Not least of all of these is the actual act of selecting a secondary school – with over 4,100 secondary schools throughout the UK, an already important choice is complicated by having to weigh up multiple schools against each other. This stress, combined with a world of unknowns, new experiences and changes, can make the transition from primary to secondary a stressful one.

In an attempt to help you better support students as they transition from primary to secondary school, we’ve collated some vital information about some of the key considerations at this time for parents, students and educators. While teachers might feel confident skipping this next section, let’s start off with a reminder of the basics.

When do pupils transition to secondary schools?

Pupils in England and Wales transition to secondary school at the end of Year 6. This differs in Scotland where pupils start secondary school following P7, and in Northern Ireland where primary school ends after Year 7. However, despite these differences in cohort names, it is only in Scotland where pupils go to secondary school at the age of 12 as opposed to 11.

For many parents and children, this change signifies the ending of one chapter and the start of another, with the teenage years, increased independence, and of course, some of the most important and formative periods in both educational and personal senses waiting. Indeed, with the start of secondary schooling comes the beginning of a journey towards college, university or the world of work, and so it is imperative that given the anxiety that such a change can bring, and that the process of transitioning between primary and secondary education is made as easy as possible. What are the main differences between primary and secondary schools? Aside from the expected academic differences between primary and secondary education, there are some other big changes which children will need to become accustomed to. Below is a list which, though by no means exhaustive, provides some of the main changes that pupils are likely to encounter following the transition.

Changing social circles

It’s a sad truth for many children that not all of the friends they made in primary school will join them at the same secondary school. While moving to bigger, more populous secondary schools can expose children to fantastic experiences and greater diversity than previously, they may also find starting secondary school to be challenging socially.

Additionally, pupils will have to acclimatise to being the youngest in the school again, having got used to being the oldest in Primary school. They will now be expected to share spaces with young people possibly up to the age of 18, should their secondary school also house a sixth form.

Maturity and independence

There are a number of ways in which the transition to secondary school may lead to children having more opportunities to exercise maturity and independence. For many children, this may be the first time they’re given the responsibility of getting themselves safely to and from school. At school, teachers may communicate with pupils differently, with an eye on developing their maturity.

Bigger sites

Generally speaking, secondary schools are much bigger than primary schools, and for a lot of pupils, this will be the first time that they’ve been expected to not only take lessons in multiple classrooms a day, but to find their own way to each one. Initially, this may prove to be a bit overwhelming for some children.

Subject-specific teachers

Throughout their primary schooling, pupils will have become used to having one teacher take them for all lessons (with possible the exceptions of music, PE or PSHE). At secondary school, pupils will have a range of teachers who specialise in specific subjects. This means that they will be exposed to a wider range of teachers than before and need to exercise different social skills as their teachers and classmates change multiple times a day.

How can transitions from primary to secondary be made easier?

Though the transition from primary to secondary school can be challenging, fortunately there are some ways in which this change can be made easier. Firstly, familiarity with their new surroundings prior to the start of the academic year can be greatly beneficial in ensuring that pupils feel more grounded. Transition days towards the end of the summer term, prior to the transition to secondary, where pupils are able to spend half a day or more at their new school, can go a long way to making students feel at ease and more comfortable once they begin.

Furthermore, academic preparations such as ensuring students gain greater familiarity with receiving homework and taking responsibility for its completion can encourage the development of good habits that will help them in secondary school. Extra preparation can be provided by helping pupils look ahead to some of the topics they may be studying and brush up on some related skills.

For parents who are wanting to provide their child with more independence on the journeys to and from school, but might have reservations or concerns, preparation is key. They might consider walking the route a few times with their child and making sure they are aware of how to deal with any possible dangers. Should they have access to one, this may also be a good time to explore the notion of sensible and responsible use of mobile phones with a child, providing them with the knowledge and confidence to navigate online spaces safely, while obviously ensuring that they are able to be contacted.

Supporting children’s mental health as they transition to secondary school

Transition from the primary to secondary phase represents one of the biggest steps in education and will always bring with it an element of emotional upheaval. As a result, we’ve produced a webinar titled ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing: Supporting Pupils’ Transition from Year 6 to Year 7 | Secondary’.

Initially created to address feelings of uncertainty and apprehension that may have arisen as a result of a reduced amount of face-to-face teaching time due to the pandemic, this webinar still contains many salient points and insights into supporting the mental health of children who are transitioning to secondary school.

This webinar is presented by Anna Bateman, a subject matter expert on mental health and wellbeing who works in an advisory role for the DfE. In it, she will identify evidence-based strategies and techniques which schools can employ to help all pupils, including the most disadvantaged, to progress to the next phase with resilience and confidence.

Supporting low attaining pupils with transition

The transition from primary school to secondary school brings a number of obstacles for all students, but this time can be especially challenging for low attaining pupils. One of these includes the announcement by the DfE to move to the National Funding Formula. This means that many schools will be looking to redirect funding they are receiving from other government measures to ensure low attaining and disadvantaged pupils don’t fall further behind.

In response, we’ve produced a webinar titled ‘Transition and Catch-up Plans for Low-Attaining Pupils in Year 7’. This webinar is presented by Amjad Ali, senior school leader, speaker and experienced education trainer. In it, Amjad will explore how schools can begin their preparations around welcoming new pupils into Year 7; how they can ensure a smooth transition; and what actions they can take to implement any necessary catch-up plans.