Easing the Transition from Primary to Secondary Schooling: Helpful information for schools to consider

Publication Details

The present report is the last in a series of three. Each report presents findings from a Ministry of Education project A Study of Students’ Transition from Primary to Secondary Schooling .

Author(s): Research Division, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: June 2010

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Children/young people make educational transitions when they begin school, progress through year levels, transfer between schools, move from primary to secondary schooling, and when they move from secondary to tertiary education and beyond.

Any transition poses challenges for schools, children and parents.

As stated by Sanders et al (2005), during transitions children/young people need to acclimatise to new surroundings, adapt to new ways of working, make sense of new rules and routines, and interact with unfamiliar adults and peers.

Transition as Event and as Process

Despite the inherent complexity suggested in the previous sentence, anecdotal and other evidence indicates that transition points, including the Year 8 to Year 9 transition, are frequently largely regarded as quite short-term 'events'.

However findings from our transition study and the work of other researchers who have investigated transition points (eg, Hughes et al, 2008; Dockett and Perry, 2001) show that the transition from primary to secondary schooling needs to be seen as a process in which students are required to make ongoing adjustments over quite some time.

A young person's ability to respond to the added challenges that a transition is likely to present may be pivotal in how he or she progresses and develops. There is evidence — for example, from Wylie et al's (2006, 2008) longitudinal Competent Learners study — that young people experiencing particular difficulties at school at the time of transition are at considerably greater risk of poorer outcomes over the longer-term if their difficulties are not well recognised and addressed.

Schools therefore have a responsibility to provide systems, structures, and strategies that welcome and support their newest students if they are to meet Ministry of Education schooling goals concerning the provision of the best possible education pathways for all students.

The concept of transition as encompassing both event and process is integral to the ideas and discussion presented in this report.

The Purpose and Content of the Report

The aim of this report has been to provide helpful information, insights, and suggestions primarily for those in schools (but also parents and others) who are involved in the transition from primary to secondary schooling and beyond.

The report is mostly informed by findings from an in-depth exploratory project, A Study of Students' Transition from Primary to Secondary Schooling (described in Chapter Two), undertaken by the Ministry of Education's Research Division.

There is also reference throughout the report to findings from a literature review on transitions, carried out by McGee, Ward, Gibbons and Harlow (2003), that was commissioned just prior to our study, together with other recent material.

Although there are no prescribed solutions that can be applied across all relevant contexts to ease students' transition from primary to secondary schooling, it is hoped that this document will provide a useful basis for schools to:

  • evaluate what they are already doing to bring about positive experiences for students, and their teachers and families; and
  • refine, refocus or confirm existing practices.

The report incorporates 13 short student case studies to illustrate some of the key ideas within the document. As well, the report contains a series of questions for teachers and schools to consider when discussing or planning how best to cater for transitioning students in the particular contexts they are in.

As detailed in the contents page, the remainder of this report is organised into a further seven chapters.

Previous Reports

This report focuses on the the results of student assessments in reading, writing and mathematics carried out at four points throughout the transition study are considered, together with related achievement-based information from the student interviews and from questionnaires completed by teachers and parents.

Authors: Sharon Cox and Shelley Kennedy.

This report (The Case of Emily: A Focus on Students as they Transition from Primary to Secondary Schooling) has an emphasis on 'student voices'. As well as highlighting that the majority of students made a good overall transition, the report provides insights into the difficulties that students in general, and some students in particular, are likely to encounter at school.

Authors: Sharon Cox and Shelley Kennedy.


  1. Exemplified, for example, by the Ministry policy documents, Ka Hikitia—Managing for Success: Māori Education Strategy 2008–2012, and the Pasifika Education Plan 2009–2012.

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