Executive summary

All students coming from Year 8 should expect to be successful at secondary school. A good start at secondary school is essential to this success and will help students achieve the foundation skills necessary for future wellbeing, training and employment. Transition to secondary school is not a one-off activity. It is a process that enables students, their parents, whānau and aiga to work in partnership with the school to help learners develop a sense of belonging and the confidence to participate within new contexts.

Education Review Office (ERO) reports and research from other agencies have foundsix factors that contribute to successful transitions. Effective secondary schools focus on:

  • understanding the features and importance of education transition
  • preparing well for successful transitions
  • providing additional support for vulnerable students
  • using effective transition processes
  • introducing a curriculum that responds to the diversity of their students
  • ongoing monitoring and review of transition processes.

Education transitions

Students’ wellbeing and learning must be maintained as they transition from primary to secondary schools. A student’s transition can be complicated by the social, emotional and physiological changes that can negatively impact on their learning. Teachers that understand how these changes impact on their students are better placed to help students make positive adjustments to their new school, and smoothly proceed with their learning in a new setting.

Preparing for successful transitions

Staff at both primary and secondary schools have important roles supporting the transitions of all students. Primary schools are responsible for preparing students academically and socially for secondary schools and sharing information with the student, families, whānau and the receiving school. The values, ethical orientation or culture within a secondary school is fundamental to how well it welcomes and supports students.

Support for vulnerable students

New Zealand students who are most vulnerable include Māori, Pacific, those with special education needs and those from low income families. These students and some with poor self esteem or few friends often require specific structures or approaches that are tailored to their individual circumstances. Successful approaches start early and include a range of people to support these students including parents, whānau and agia, other agencies that have worked with the student, a pastoral support team from the school and leaders and teachers from their previous school.

Using effective transition processes

Transition to secondary school is more complex than just developing orientation processes for students to become familiar with the school’s environment, personnel and programmes. The time students take to transition varies for individual students and is dependent on how long each one takes to feel they are included and are learning. Relationships with and between teachers and students are critical in the transition process. Relationships and communication with parents, whānau and aiga, and the community are also important during transition.

Responsive curriculum

Transitions are more successful when students’ learning is seamless as they move from primary to secondary schools. Students are more likely to stay at school, engage with learning and achieve secondary qualifications when they experience a curriculum that has meaning for them. Teachers who find out about and focus on students’ achievement levels, interests, cultural background, strengths and needs can provide such meaningful curriculum.

Monitoring and review

Two key self-review activities can assist secondary schools develop or improve transition processes. Firstly, teachers and deans can monitor how well individual students have adjusted and are making good progress. They do this by talking with the student, their parents, whānau and aiga and their other teachers and by checking the individual’s assessment and attendance data. Secondly, the school can consider how well they are ensuring each student experiences a successful transition through its strategic self review using Year 9 and school-wide data.