Moving up – how can we help students to transition?Research 3 Dec 2021 6 minute read
ACER is assisting Life Education Australia to develop a suite of free resources to support student transition to secondary school.
The move from primary to secondary school is an important time within a student’s broader school experience. It is therefore important that schools and teachers are prepared to support students in their school transition, whether this support occurs before or after a change of school.
Life Education Australia (LEA), through the LEA Being Healthy Being Active project, aims to provide teachers, students, and parents and caregivers with a suite of resources to support school transitions. Stage 1 of the project – the Student Forums component – involved a number of initiatives that would build towards the development of these resources.
Firstly, LEA engaged ACER to conduct a literature review and environmental scan in order to learn what the key challenges in school transition might include, and gain an understanding of what resources already exist in the school transition space. It was found that while the research literature is a rich source of data and understandings related to school transition, these are not always easily or immediately transferable to the classroom. Similarly, while there are many quality resources aimed at supporting student transition, there are also a number of challenges or barriers to using these resources such as cost, focus on a particular cohort of students (for example, those with additional learning needs) or lack of evidence of student input or feedback.
Building on these strengths and challenges, the Student Forums initiative aimed to capture student voice related to school transition, which would subsequently be used to directly inform the production of resources for teachers, students, and parents and caregivers.
An ACER research team visited 15 schools in four Australian states between March and May 2021 and held 82 forums with 444 students who were in the year immediately before or after school transition (Year 6, 7 or 8). The forums involved four to eight students at a time and used written and spoken opportunities to elicit students’ ideas and opinions based on their own imminent or immediate experience of moving from primary to secondary education.
The most common responses regarding transition were related to:
- academic expectations
- high school operational systems
- the social domain.
Each of these response categories contained both positive and challenging responses. Some students indicated they were worried that the amount and difficulty of schoolwork in secondary school might be (or already was) too much for them, while others indicated they were looking forward to the increasing academic challenge.
Students indicated that secondary school systems were quite different from primary school, for example, having a personal timetable, and having different teachers and classrooms for different subjects. While some students thought this would be a positive and interesting change, some students also expressed fear of getting lost in a much larger environment or forgetting new rules.
Students also highlighted the positives and challenges related to being with new people. Some were looking forward to making new friends while others expressed anxiety about whether other students would accept them or if they would fit into the new social environment.
Toward the end of the forums, students were asked to choose their most pressing challenge and asked to ideate a solution or way to make the challenge easier to manage. Students provided a range of solutions at the school- and classroom-level where school policies or classroom systems could be changed in order to ease challenges.
What emerged most strongly, however, was that students particularly wished to solve problems themselves and to be their own agents of change and improvement.
Conceptually, students spoke of the difficulties inherent in managing uncertainty, whether future or current, and their wish to be able to manage and direct their own life changes. Therefore, one of the key recommendations from the project is that students are assisted in developing their own ‘wellbeing buffer’ that includes skills to manage school transition. This could then be expanded to assist students in transferring these skills to other life challenges, changes, and uncertainties.
Stage 2 of the LEA Being Healthy Being Active project aims to do exactly that. During 2021–22, ACER will contribute to the development of a suite of resources for teachers, students, and parents and caregivers, building directly on the findings from Stage 1 of the project. These resources will provide information about school transition, along with practical ideas and activities that will assist students in using their own agency to manage change and uncertainty. Once complete, the resources will be freely available via the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment Student Wellbeing Hub and the LEA website.
Read the full report:
Sniedze-Gregory, S., Felgate, R., O’Grady, E., Buckley, S., and Lietz, P. (2021). What Australian students say about transition to secondary school: Final report to Life Education Australia. Australian Council for Educational Research. https://doi.org/10.37517/978-1-74286-644-4