Thursday, 6 August, 2020 - 13:45
Student advice on transitioning to Secondary School

The transition from primary to middle and secondary school presents a bag of mixed emotions for most students.

Fast fact

The Tell Them From Me findings show that peer relationships in primary school are a strong predictor of students’ adjustment to secondary school. Primary schools can help students develop strategies to build relationships and work successfully with others. Some examples of good practice include: explicitly teaching students social skills, creating spaces in the classroom that support and encourage students to work together, providing opportunities for students to work collaboratively, inside and outside the classroom; and creating opportunities for students to act as peer tutors or helpers.

On the one hand there is excitement and enthusiasm as students contemplate a new school, new friends, a new uniform, greater subject choices and perhaps taking public transport for the first time.

Tempering this, however, is fear of the unknown. What happens if I don’t like my new school? Will I fit in? Will I make new friends? What if I lose my way to school? Or can’t find my class? Or can’t cope with the workload?

And just to add to the mix, the transition occurs at a time when young people are already going through a range of social, emotional and psychological changes as they grow into adolescents.

So how exactly do students feel about transitioning to middle and secondary school, and how can educators help smooth the path for them?

Each year, the New South Wales Government’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation initiates a suite of online surveys that measure student engagement and wellbeing.

In 2015 and 2016, the thoughts of around 12, 000 NSW students who completed the Tell them from Me surveys in Year 6, and then again in Year 7 were analysed.

The key findings of the analysis – which examined the relationship between a student’s sense of belonging at school and other measures of student engagement over the primary to secondary school transition - included:

There is a decline in student engagement during the transition from Year 6 to Year 7. This includes a decline in students’ effort in learning, valuing of school outcomes and their sense of belonging at school.

Students from low-SES backgrounds and Aboriginal students experience a greater decline in sense of belonging from Year 6 to Year 7.

Students’ sense of belonging in Year 7 is influenced by their prior sense of belonging in primary school.

Students who report positive friendships and teacher-student relationships in primary school are more likely to report a positive sense of belonging in early secondary school.

Students who experience bullying in Year 6 are less likely to have a positive sense of belonging in Year 7.

Students’ relationships with peers and teachers at the beginning of Year 7 are also positively associated with their sense of belonging in Year 7.

Support for learning at school and at home are both positively associated with a positive sense of belonging in Year 7.

You can read more about the results of the study here:

The role of educators

Staff at both primary and secondary schools have an important role in supporting the transition of students.

Primary schools can help prepare students academically and socially for secondary school, and be attentive to students’ sense of belonging and their relationships with teachers and peers, especially in the lead up to the transition.

Secondary schools have an important role in developing strong, supportive student-teacher relationships as early as possible.

Planning ahead

Middle and secondary school require another level of organisation altogether for students. For the laid-back or unprepared student, the transition can come as a real shock.

All of a sudden, they may find themselves running behind with their assignments, running late for school or being ill prepared for their classes.

One way to help students prepare for the transition to middle or secondary school is to really get them to think about the practical aspects of transitioning – and map out a plan to help them transition with greater ease.

The ‘mapping’ session can start with a general class discussion about using free periods constructively, time management, public transport and balancing work and social time.

Students can then spend time preparing their own individual written ‘map.’ Some of the questions you might pose to them could include:

  • How will I stay organised for assignments and classes – particularly with less teacher monitoring?
  • Where will I do my homework? Do I need to prepare anything now to achieve a quiet homework zone at home?
  • How will I use free periods?
  • How will I get to school each day? What can I do to ensure I get to school on time?
  • What challenges do I personally face that may make it difficult for me to transition successfully? Can I do anything practical to help overcome those challenges?

Five things to consider during transition

The National Middle School Association (NMSA) is an international education association dedicated exclusively to the middle level grades. The association has more than 30,000 members in 46 countries – including Australia – and provides professional development, journals, books, research and other information to assist educators.

According to the NMSA, there are five key aspects that occur when adolescents move from childhood to adulthood that are useful for educators to consider during transition.





Young adolescent learners are curious, motivated to achieve when challenged, and capable of critical and complex thinking.

Students have opportunities to be curious and to have their thinking extended.


Young adolescent learners have an intense need to belong and be accepted by their peers while finding their own place in the world. They are involved in forming and questioning their identities on many different levels.

Students’ need to be social and to know about themselves is met through a culturally responsive program and a classroom culture that celebrates diversity.


Young adolescent learners mature at varying rates and go through rapid and irregular physical growth, with bodily changes that can cause awkward and uncoordinated movements.

The program caters well for students’ needs to be physically active.

Emotional and psychological

Young adolescent learners are vulnerable and self conscious, and often experience unpredictable mood swings.

Teachers are sensitive to the emotional and psychological changes that are happening to students.


With their new sense of the larger world around them, young adolescent learners are idealistic and want to have an impact on making the world a better place.

There are opportunities for students to participate in decision-making that affects their life within the school.