Facilitating a smooth transition

Reading time: 2 minutes. SSAT partner expert insights: get involved in the Lift Off programme from ASDAN

Martina Veale, education director at ASDAN, looks at how to support pupils through a positive transition from primary to secondary school – and why it’s so important

When speaking on this topic for my Spotlight session at the SSAT National Conference 2017, I encouraged the audience to think back to their first few days at secondary school.

For most of us, this kind of exercise often evokes pretty strong emotions – whether that’s worry at meeting the higher expectations of your new teachers, or the daunting prospect of moving from being among the oldest at primary school to suddenly being among the smallest and youngest in a much bigger environment.

And it’s understandable that, when these challenges feel overwhelming, many learners struggle to integrate into their new school.

Why this matters

As Ofsted flagged in its 2016 annual report, the transition from primary to secondary continues to be a point where some pupils begin to fall behind. Research shows that a poorly handled transition can manifest itself in lower grades, poor attendance, increased anxiety and disruptive behaviour.

Even at age 18, low self-esteem, depression and poor academic attainment have been reported in pupils who described their move to secondary school as difficult – which may suggest the long-term impacts that a negative transition experience can have, although other factors may also have a part to play in this association, of course.

Meeting this challenge

In an attempt to address these challenges, we embarked on a research project and pilot programme in collaboration with The Progression Trust, with funding of £147,000 from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Our project aimed to explore ways in which important traits can be fostered in pupils, including self-confidence, resilience, personal skills and problem solving capabilities – all of which can make the transition from primary to secondary a positive one.

We worked with four schools in Warwickshire to pilot the programme, a secondary school and three of its feeder primaries. Teachers designed and developed new classroom activities and challenges that were trialled in the four terms before the learners starting secondary school in September last year.

A new way forward

The pilot, which was independently evaluated, proved a success. Researchers found that pupils who had participated were more likely to feel excited about the prospect of starting secondary school, with those taking part more likely to feel confident or happy about the transition.

When interviewed by researchers after starting secondary school, the learners who had participated expressed positive feelings such as enjoyment and satisfaction from being there. Teachers believed the project had boosted qualities among learners such as confidence, determination and initiative – even improving their attainment in English and maths.

This pilot programme resulted in the creation of our Lift Off programme. Below is an example of an activity from this to give teachers an idea of how it aims to help learners build their resilience. Such a course will be especially important for those lacking the essential skills needed for a smooth transition.

The sad truth is that if we get transition wrong, many children may never properly integrate into secondary school, leading to wasted potential. Without the skills and characteristics needed to progress through their secondary school journey, many young people will end up drifting into the NEET category (not in education, employment or training).

Boosting resilience

The Lift Off tutor resource pack contains many example challenges on helping learners develop the characteristics that promote a confident and successful transition. One, outlined below, focuses on boosting resilience, a key quality in helping learners fully integrate into secondary school and bounce back from any school-related setbacks.

Sample challenge for learners in years 6 and 7

Session time: 40 minutes
Aim: To identify when resilience may be needed, develop resilience strategies and identify support networks
Learning context: small groups and discussion
Curriculum areas: PSHE, careers


  1. Ask for examples of when the learners think they will need resilience in the coming year at their new school. Ensure that the focus is not all about bullying but being resilient to normal knock-backs. Examples include finding your way around, doing activities at lunchtime, making friends, end of year exams, doing homework, joining a sports team. (10 minutes)
  2. Learners in groups of four choose a timeline and annotate or illustrate to show the points at which resilience will be needed. (10 minutes)
  3. Each group suggests a strategy to be more resilient to each of the challenges they’ve identified, noted on a flip chart or board. Examples could include attending study groups, sports training sessions, seeking advice from school mentors. (Seven minutes)
  4. Individuals pick their favourite strategy and make a personal version on A5 paper so that they can stick it in their planner, put it on the inside of their locker etc, for reference and inspiration. (13 minutes)

If doing this challenge in primary school, you could invite the transition co-ordinator or Senco from the main secondary school to visit.
If doing this challenge in secondary school, learning mentors or lunchtime supervisors could visit the lesson to explain the support networks at the school.

To find out more about Lift Off, including the results of the pilot programme, visit: www.asdan.org.uk/courses/programmes/lift-off Contact: martinaveale@asdan.org.uk

Read more on the SSAT blog: Preparing students for secondary school: it’s not just how to get there

Follow Martina Veale’s organisation ASDAN on Twitter

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