TP challenges
School Transition from Primary to Secondary can be difficult for many children. This video from the School Transition Project, based in Hinckley, Leicestershire, captures some valuable comments made by students who have made the move from Primary to Secondary School.


The transition from primary school to secondary school poses particular challenges to young people it is the end usually of an eight year cycle where the child has established a set of friends an understanding of a system, curriculum and teaching methodology. The 6th class child is the senior child in the system.These challenges fall into two broad categories , pre transition and post transition.

Pre-transition concerns

Similar to the international evidence, pre-transition concerns of pupils in Ireland are best characterised as anxiety that relates primarily to academic and social concerns Academic concerns

Academic concerns about post-primary school among Irish pupils are consistent with the international data and relate to: tests; more homework; more subjects; more teachers; the longer day; getting lost; discipline; and streaming

Social Issues Again consistent with international evidence, social worries relate to being separated from best friends, social isolation , inverted social status and being bullied

First and second-level schools are different worlds. Students have to acclimatise to a new, and often much larger, physical environment, they also need to adapt to new ways of working, different teachers and teaching methods, a greater range of subjects, new routines and expectations, as well as interacting with a much larger pool of students. A student’s ability to cope with these changes is likely to influence how they feel about school and how they progress and develop.

The challenges can be grouped in three clusters:

  1. adolescent challenge— the personal, social and intellectual changes accompanying early adolescence
  2. learning challenge— the shift in the nature of the learning environment especially in terms of curriculum and assessment
  3. organisational challenge— the move from the ‘world’ of the primary school to that of the second-level school(Naughton)

There is no National Transition Programme in operation in Ireland but the new Junior curriculum is designed to help smooth the transition from primary curriculum and teaching methodology and those in secondary school going some way to addressing the academic challenges. Contact between Second Level Schools and Primary Schools is extremely limited.

In second level an Induction Programme has emerged that most schools subscribe to, it includes an open day prior to students arriving and/or an induction day to familiarise first year students with the rules and practices of the new school. Many schools also operate an early week for first years to familiarise new students with new location and routines. In most schools, a class tutor has responsibility for an in-coming class and helps students to adjust to the new school setting. A significant number of second-level schools have student mentors, where older students take responsibility for looking after a small group of first year students.

Post-transition experiences

Similar to international findings, evidence from Irish studies has indicated that most pupils settle in quickly. According to Smyth et al (2004), 20 per cent of pupils settle immediately; 43 per cent in one week; 25 per cent in one month; and 14 per cent take longer.

However, a minority of students – about one in six – take longer to settle in. To some extent, this process reflects the background characteristics of students – girls report taking longer to settle in than boys, newcomer (immigrant) and Traveller students take longer to adapt, and students who were already identified of “at risk” have greater adjustment difficulties.

Students in streamed schools take longer to settle into the new school and make less progress academically

Ireland up to the 1990s undertook little research in the area of school completion and early school leaving and relied to a large extent on international research primarily conducted in the UK and the United States. In recent decades this situation had changed substantially and a significant amount of research has and is been undertaken on school completion, transfer and early school leaving. Irish research findings concur with international findings which have been consistent over the last thirty years.

  • International studies have found that streaming results in very different educational and social experiences for children attending the same school. Children allocated to lower streams experience very different learning processes, with lower academic demands and less emphasis on the kinds of discussion based approaches which facilitate achievement (Applebee et al., 2003; Oakes, 1990, 2005).
  • As a result of being labelled in this way, many students develop very negative views of their own abilities (Hansell and Karweit, 1983), resulting in some instances in the development of an anti-school culture (Lacey, 1970; Hargreaves, 1967).
  • There is a mismatch between the more teacher-centred methods used in second-level schools and the more active methods which young people find engaging (Smyth et al., 2007, 2011).
  • The pace of instruction in many second-level classrooms does not match student needs (Smyth et al., 2004), with less use of differentiation (that is, tailoring teaching approaches to meet the range of abilities in the class) than desirable in some settings (DES, 2007, 2008).
  • The exam-focused nature of the system has had the effect of narrowing the range of learning experiences to which young people are exposed and has focused both students and teachers on ‘covering the course’ or ‘teaching to the test’ rather than achieving deeper understanding (Smyth et al., 2007, 2011).
  • Student attendance is higher where young people experience positive relations with their teachers and those teachers have high expectations, and where staff are more involved in school decision-making (Smyth, 1999).
  • Negative interaction with teachers and peers is also associated with early school leaving (Byrne and Smyth, 2010).
  • There is persistent inequality in educational outcomes: young people from working-class backgrounds have lower scores on literacy and numeracy tests, achieve lower exam grades at both Junior and Leaving Certificate levels, and are more likely to drop out of school before reaching the Leaving Certificate (Cosgrove et al., 2010; Smyth, 1999; Smyth et al., 2007; Byrne and Smyth, 2010).

Find above Reports and other relevant Transition Programme Reports HERE