what works

Transitions are a part of the human experience they occur throughout our lives, they enable us to grow and develop as human beings.  Often transitions are seamless while others can be challenging and it is useful to have support to enable successful transition to be achieved.
Children’s development into adulthood is made up of a series of transitions that enable their emotional and intellectual growth and development and a sense of self  and place.   Every transition has particular challenges, new levels of expectations, new friends, new location, rules and behaviours and an ever evolving skill set.  Each new transition builds on the previous range of experiences and the quality of those experiences impact on the transition experience.  

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

  1. 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
  2. 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


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


What Works

Children settle in  second level if they have more realistic expectations about what second-level school will be like; this can be facilitated through formal visits to the school beforehand or informally through information provided by siblings and friends.
Formal student integration programmes help students to settle in, but only if they are underpinned by a positive school climate, that is, by positive interaction between teachers and students, and among students themselves.
Transition is often regarded as an ‘event’, it should more appropriately be regarded as a ‘process’. Evidence shows that it can take up to a full year for some children to transfer.
Evidence from the UK shows that when primary and second level school work jointly on a transfer programme make a qualitative difference for all stakeholders, children, parents and teachers. What is evidence here

Check out Belonging Plus+ The NBSS Transition and Transfer Programme Belonging Plus+ is the NBSS transition and transfer programme that partner schools implement with incoming first years. The programme is tailored to the specific needs of each school.Transition and transfer is an area of focus in NBSS partner schools as the move from primary to post-primary is a crucial stage in a young person’s educational career.

WHAT WORKS?  Transfer Programmes Guidelines towards Best Practice

Transfer programmes assist in the transition from Primary to Post Primary, they provide information on the new system and structures which the young person will encounter, they prepare the child by encouraging them to identify strategies which will assist them in overcoming the difficulties which may arise, they give a forum to the young person transferring and their parents/guardians to express any fears they may have during this process of change.

• Gain parental/guardian consent for inclusion in the Transfer Programme by way of a signed permission form and explain the workings of the programme to parents or guardians.
• All 6th class primary students should have the opportunity to participate in the programme. Big classes need to be broken into smaller groups to facilitate questions-and-answers sessions.
• A follow-up session in the first month of post-primary school should be part of the programme.
• A tour of the secondary schools that primary students will attend could be organised, where they can meet the Principal, teachers and other staff and familiarise themselves with the layout of the school before starting in September.
• Parents or guardians should take part in an information day/session on transfer. The HSCL Co-ordinator could facilitate elements of the programme that involve parents or guardians.
• Include formal and informal elements in the programme. Informal activities such as swimming, bowling, outdoor activities can put young people at ease and in a position to ask questions about post-primary school.
• Provide a mentoring element to the programme. Students in 5th year and 6th year could participate in the Transfer Programme.
• Consult with other stakeholders such as the HSCL Co-ordinator and the Visiting Teacher for Travellers.
• Be aware that some children may need additional support with transfer. Link with the appropriate agencies to develop Transfer Programmes.
• Ensure that a transparent child protection policy is known and implemented by all stakeholders.
• Ensure that a transparent health and safety policy is known and implemented by all stakeholders.
• On-going evaluations and reviews are essential quality assurance elements in Transfer Programmes.

School Completion Programme

SEE Transition Programmes that Work HERE