Ofsted monthly commentary – the challenges of primary to secondary transition. What the research evidence has found.

Primary schools in England are doing well, according to Sir Michael Wilshaw. In his first monthly commentary the Ofsted Chief Inspector said that children are leaving primary school with a good level of reading and writing and a standard in maths which will set them up for transfer to secondary school. But this is not ‘built on’ when they start year 7. “My inspectors tell me that much of the good, structured work done in primary schools on understanding and using correct grammar, both when writing and when speaking, is lost when pupils enter the secondary phase,” said Sir Michael.

What does the research say about the transition phase? Comment from Dr Frances Rice, lead investigator on UCL’s School Transition and Adjustment Research Study (STARS):

“The transition from primary to secondary school is a challenging but exciting time for pupils, parents and teachers.

A ‘dip’ in academic attainment following the transition to secondary school has been observed in several countries other than the UK (Galton et al., 2000). Research emphasises the importance of open and effective communication between primary and secondary schools in terms of supporting children to make a successful transition both academically and socially (Rice et al., 2015; Keay et al., 2015; Neal et al., submitted). It is also clear that children’s mental health and well-being is related to how well children do academically at this transition (McLaughlin & Clarke, 2010; Riglin et al., 2013; Riglin et al., 2014).

Many schools implement programs to support pupils making the transition to secondary school and in the UK these approaches have focused on familiarising children with the practical routines of secondary school and abating the common concerns expressed by young people such as “being able to do the work,” “losing old friends” and “older children (Rice et al., 2011; Rice et al., 2015; Evangelou et al., 2008).”

Whilst ensuring academic gains made at primary are supported at secondary is crucial, it is also clear that pupil’s concerns about the more social aspects of transition are warranted with, for instance, substantial levels of instability in friendships reported over the first year of secondary (Rice et al., 2015).

The transition from primary to secondary is an important period that can have longer-lasting effects on academic and psychological adjustment. There is evidence that programs that promote dialogue and information exchange between primary and secondary schools may enhance pupil transition. It is likely that schools may need to show flexibility in adjusting provision to meet individual pupil need for groups of children deemed to be vulnerable at the transition such as those with special educational needs (Neale et al., submitted).”


Rice F, Frederickson N, Shelton KH, McManus IC, Riglin L, Ng-Knight T. (2015). Identifying factors that predict successful and difficult transitions to secondary school. www.ucl.ac.uk/stars

Riglin, L., Frederickson, N., Shelton, K. H., & Rice, F. (2013). A longitudinal study of psychological functioning and academic attainment at the transition to secondary school. Journal of Adolescence, 36, 507-517.

Rice, F., Frederickson, N., & Seymour, J. (2011). Assessing pupil concerns about transition to secondary school. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 244-263.

Evangelou, M., Taggart, B., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., & Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2008). What makes a successful transition from primary to secondary school? Department for Children, Schools & Families Research Report No. DCSF-RR019. London:DCSF.

Neal, S., Rice, F., Ng-Knight, T., Riglin, L., & Frederickson, N. Reducing Anxiety Across Secondary Transition.

Riglin, L., Petrides, K.V., Frederickson, N., & Rice, F (2014). The relationship between emotional problems and subsequent school attainment: a meta-analysis. Journal of Adolescence, 37, 335-46.

Keay, A., Lang, J., Frederickson, N (in press). Comprehensive Support for Peer Relationships at Secondary Transition. Educational Psychology in Practice.

Galton, M., Morrison, I., & Pell, T. (2000). Transfer and transition in English schools: Reviewing the evidence. International Journal of Education, 33, 341–363.

McLaughlin, C., Clarke, B. (2010). Relational matters: a review of the impact of school experience on mental health in early adolescence. Educational & Child Psychology, 27, 91-103.

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