The period of schooling commonly referred to as the middle years (Years 7 to 10) can be particularly challenging for many students. Firstly, it is in these years that many students face the increased social, emotional and physiological changes of adolescence. Secondly, the period coincides with many students moving from primary to secondary school. While students report that moving to secondary school is something they are looking forward to (Kennedy & Cox, 2008), the primary to secondary transition period can for some students mean greater than usual disruption to learning (Hawk & Hill, 2004) and engagement (Wylie, Hodgen & Ferral, 2006).

The New Zealand Curriculum has a vision for young people to be confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners. Having the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level 2 or an equivalent qualification gives people the foundation skills they need to have better opportunities for further education, employment, health outcomes, and a better quality of life. The New Zealand Government is committed to increasing the number of students achieving qualifications, with a target of 85% of all 18 year olds having NCEA Level 2 or equivalent in 2017. To do this, we need to reduce the numbers of students leaving schools without a qualification. Effective transitions are an important part of this process. Schools need ongoing and different approaches to respond to the diversity of all the students that transition to their school.

Young people who do not experience school support during the transition from primary to secondary school are at greater risk of disengaging from learning. The most vulnerable of these students are those who do not have a history of successful primary education, students with learning difficulties, and those from low income families. There are likely to be serious implications for their achievement, employment prospects, and wellbeing if they are not well supported through their transition to secondary education.

Transitions are not just a defined period of time in which specific orientation activities are put in place to support students to know about school systems, their teachers and their peers. ERO has found that transitions are most successful for students where there is a school-wide culture that progressively supports students to adapt to the ongoing educational and social changes at secondary school. Transitions take time, and students respond differently as they adjust to a changed environment, teachers and peers.

ERO has identified that information gathered at transition from primary to secondary school was not generally used well by teachers to identify what students already knew, and what teachers and students needed to work on next (Education Review Office, 2012c). This report, Evaluation at a Glance: Transitions from Primary to Secondary School is intended to help schools introduce practices that are likely to help students adjust and succeed when they transition to secondary school. The report combines current research and findings from recent ERO reports.