Schools need programs and structures in place to support the transition from primary to secondary, but research also suggests students' positive expectations could make the experience easier. A study by Associate Professor Stacey Walters, Associate Professor Leanne Lester and Professor Donna Cross investigated the issues worrying youngsters about their impending move to secondary.

Students who reported they were expecting an easy or somewhat easy transition into the first year of secondary school were three times more likely to experience a positive transition than those students who had a negative expectation in their final year of primary school. Lester, from the University of Western Australia, says transition can be a difficult time for some students as they adapt to changes at school and new social roles in new social groups. 'Students go from a primary school environment characterised by smaller class sizes and a smaller student cohort ... and one main classroom teacher, rather than multiple teachers [and specialist staff].’
In the research, the issues students were worried about included:

  • How much homework they'd have.
  • Finding their way around or getting lost.
  • Hard classes.
  • Hard or unfriendly teachers.
  • Getting to class on time.

On the flip side, the things they were looking forward to were:

  • Being able to choose some classes.
  • Making new friends.
  • More school activities.
  • Attending more school events.
  • Participating in sport and clubs.
  • Getting grades.
  • Having school lockers.

Students who were concerned about a great number of factors reported a more difficult transition experience. The researchers also looked at gender differences. Females were significantly more likely to look forward to new features of secondary school than males – including new friends and new teachers. But, more females than males were worried about finding their way around, making friends, negative peer group pressure, being bullied or made fun of and riding the bus.

Lester says many fears can be eased through a transition program in the final year of primary school and the first year of secondary school that highlights new opportunities and addresses any student concerns. Practical strategies could include: primary and secondary students spending time visiting each other ‘with the aim of building social norms portraying how much students enjoy high school’; regular contact with families and students to highlight enjoyable activities available at high school such as camps, extracurricular programs, independence and choice; and organising ‘house days’ to help transition students make new friends, build connectedness and reduce the likelihood of bullying.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit