4 Factors associated with differences in experience of the transition to secondary school
This chapter further explores differences in child transition experience using the overall transition measure derived in section 3.1. The proportions of positive, moderate and negative transition experiences are compared in relation to different demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, as well as in relation to other factors such as child expectations of the transition, involvement in sports, youth groups and other activities, family and peer networks, and school characteristics.
4.1.1. Existing international research
Previous international research has looked at differences in primary to secondary transition experiences in relation to a number of characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors and disabilities, as well as a host of other factors including children's expectations of the transition, homework, extra-curricular activities, peer and family relationships.
In terms of gender, in the USA, girls have been reported to do academically better than boys but also as having more difficulties with transitions due to anxiety; their grades have also been found to decline more rapidly later (Benner & Graham, 2009). However, in another study, Benner et al. (2017) found that boys were more likely to develop depressive symptoms across secondary school transitions.
In relation to ethnicity, Benner and Graham (2009) found that, rather than ethnicity having an impact per se, the African American and Latino students in their study found transitions difficult if they moved to secondary schools with fewer children with the same ethnicity as them.
Existing studies have suggested that socioeconomic status seems to have an impact on educational outcomes, with increased prevalence of difficulties during the transition process amongst less advantaged children (Benner & Graham, 2009; Benner et al., 2017; Burchinal et al., 2008; Serbin et al., 2013).
Additional Support for Learning legislation in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2004) places specific duties on local authorities in Scotland, with clear timescales for transition planning and practice for children and young people identified as having additional support needs. This reflects a range of research which has found that having additional support needs prior to transition is a risk factor for negative transition experiences, including for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD, Hannah & Topping, 2012, 2013) and English as an Additional Language (EAL, Bailey & Baine, 2012). Notably, most of these studies focussed only on children with specific support needs, rather than studying differential impacts of transitions. That is, few studies have compared transitions of children who have additional support needs with those who do not.
Children's expectations of the transition experience seem to be linked to their actual transition experience; in Australia Waters et al's (2014a) study found that, those who had a positive expectation of the transition were three times more likely to have a positive transition. Similarly, in Scotland, Jindal-Snape and Cantali (2019), although with a smaller sample size, found that those with positive expectations were almost three times less likely to experience problems with transitions.
Ganeson and Ehrich (2009) found that there were competing demands of homework from several teachers, which children found to be problematic. Similarly, in England, Symonds and Hargreaves (2016) found that children were concerned about the amount of homework they were given, rather than about the difficulty level, and this led to disengagement and a reduction in positive attitudes towards secondary school.
Some studies have found that children were excited about the opportunities of joining a diverse range of activities and clubs (Jindal-Snape & Cantali, 2019; Jindal-Snape & Foggie, 2008). Involvement in sports, youth groups and other activities can provide additional opportunities for developing social networks and has been seen to be one way of promoting self-esteem and developing resilience during transitions (Newman & Blackburn, 2002).
Existing international research also suggests that when parents were involved in the transition process, this had a positive impact on the child's transition (Davis et al., 2015). Conversely, a lack of participation by parents and other stakeholders has been found to be detrimental to effective transition practice (Lubbers et al., 2008).
Family relationships have been found to be more important during transitions than relationships with teachers and classmates, and any other factors (Benner & Graham, 2009; Waters et al., 2014b). Those with a close relationship with their parents have been found to be more likely to have a relatively positive transition (Waters et al., 2014b) and higher level of academic motivation (Frey et al., 2009). Based on existing international research, important family-related factors for positive primary-secondary transitions include: a stable home environment (Hammond, 2016); consistent and ongoing support from parents (Smith et al., 2008; Waters et al., 2014b); engaged parents (Hammond, 2016); and having an older sibling already attending the secondary school (Mackenzie et al., 2012).
Peer networks have been found to have an impact on positive or negative transition outcomes, including aspects such as the level of peer acceptance and existing number and quality of friendships before moving to secondary school (Kingery et al., 2011; Waters et al., 2014b). Good peer relationships have been found to act as a protective factor – helping children manage difficulties related to transition (e.g. Hammond, 2016; Tso & Strnadova, 2017) – and to have contributed to academic achievement (Kingery et al., 2011). Unsurprisingly, lower levels of bullying in secondary schools have also been found to also be a positive factor (Farmer et al., 2011). Even so, most studies appear to highlight the difficulties related to forming relationships with new peers and concerns about losing primary school friends during transitions (Hammond, 2016); something which has been found to be especially difficult for children with special educational needs (for instance, from Ireland Scanlon et al., 2016).
4.2. Experience of transition by demographic factors
In the following we outline our findings comparing the overall transition experience according to demographics such as gender, household status and socioeconomic status and area characteristics.
4.2.1. Child demographics
As shown in Figure 4‑1, boys were less likely than girls to experience a positive transition to S1, with a nine-percentage point difference between genders and more likely to experience a negative one (a seven-percentage point difference). The difference between boys and girls experiencing moderately-positive transition was not statistically significant.
Exploring differences in transition by other demographic variables reveals some association with religion. Protestant and other non-Catholic Christian children were more likely to have a positive transition (41%) compared with non-religious children (35%) and were less likely to have a negative transition (non-Catholic Christians 17%, non-religious 23%). The survey data suggests that slight differences might exist in regard to ethnicity – the survey recorded a smaller proportion of children who are white experiencing a positive transition (36%) compared to children from other ethnic backgrounds (42%). However, it is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion as this difference was not statistically significant.
4.2.2. Household composition
Exploring the relationship between household composition and experience of transition revealed differences for both the presence of an older sibling in the household and for single parent status.
Children from single parent households were more likely to have a negative transition (28%) than children from couple family households (20%), while children with older siblings were also more likely to have a negative transition (24%) than children with no older siblings (19%). Neither of these factors were associated with differences in positive or moderate transitions.
4.2.3. Socioeconomic status and area characteristics
A clear pattern emerged in regard to socioeconomic status and disadvantage. Equivalised household income (Figure 4‑2), area deprivation and highest parental education level were all strongly associated with child experience of transition. The proportion of children reporting a negative transition increased across all three measures as the level of disadvantage increased, while the prevalence of positive transitions decreased. No relationship was found between whether schools were urban or rural and transition experience.
Comparing the most and least disadvantaged, the greatest difference in the proportion of children reporting a positive transition was seen in relation to equivalised household income. For those in the top income quintile, 44% had a positive transition to secondary school. For those in the bottom quintile, however, there was a 19-percentage point difference, with 26% having had a positive transition.
Note. Data drawn from GUS sweeps 8 and 9. Unweighted base: n=2,385. Percentages are weighted.
Parental education was a more salient predictor of experience amongst children who had a negative transition than a positive one. Amongst children whose parents had no qualifications, 44% had a negative transition experience and 30% had a positive transition experience compared with 16% and 42% respectively of those whose parents were degree educated.
4.3. Experience of transition by other influencing factors
The following sections outline findings comparing the overall transition experience according to factors including additional support needs, children's expectations of the transition, their experience of homework, engagement in sports, youth groups and other activities, parent-school communication, peer and family relationships and school characteristics.
4.3.1. Additional support needs
Transition experience was related to whether or not a child had any additional support needs. Overall, children with additional support needs were less likely to have a positive transition and more likely to have a negative transition than their peers who did not have any additional support needs. Of those who had additional support needs at either of the time points considered, 26% experienced a positive and 32% a negative transition. This compares with 39% and 19% respectively, of children with no additional support needs.
4.3.2. Child expectations of transition
Children's anticipated experience of secondary school was largely in line with their transition outcome. For those who reported looking forward to starting secondary school 'a lot', 44% had a positive transition. In comparison, 14% of those who were not looking forward to secondary school 'at all' had a positive transition. In regard to negative transitions, a similar pattern was seen in reverse – 42% of children who were not looking forward to going to secondary school 'at all' have a negative transition, while the figure is 15% for those who were looking forward to this 'a lot'. However, for this question, children were asked to 'think back' to how they felt before they started S1 although they had in fact already started S1. Their experiences of S1 may therefore have biased their recollection of how they felt before starting secondary school.
Where children did not go to the secondary school of their choice, the likelihood of a negative transition was considerably higher. Overall, 40% of these children had a negative experience, compared with 20% who did attend the school of their choice. However, only a minority of children (5%) reported not attending their preferred school.
4.3.3. Child experience of schoolwork
As shown in Figure 4‑3, the extent to which children feel pressured by the amount of schoolwork they are required to do in secondary school was strongly associated with transition experience. Only 14% of children who reported not feeling at all pressured their school work had a negative transition, compared with 58% of those felt pressured 'a lot'.
This finding was supported by parents' views of how well a child is coping with their schoolwork. The extent to which parents felt that their child was struggling is strongly correlated with children's own views of whether or not they are struggling, and with child-reported transition experience. For example, 45% of children whose parents strongly agreed that their child was coping with their schoolwork had a positive transition, while 14% of these children had a negative transition.
Data drawn from GUS sweeps 8 and 9. Unweighted base: n=2,357. Percentages are weighted.
4.3.4. Involvement in sports, youth groups and other activities
Children who regularly took part in sports, youth groups and other activities after starting secondary school were shown to be less likely to have a negative transition and more likely to have a positive transition. Overall, 20% of children who regularly took part in any form of such activities had a negative transition experience compared with 33% of those who did not (Table 8-5, whilst 37% of those who took part in activities had a positive experience, compared with 30% of those who did not However, it is not possible to determine the causal nature of the relationship and it is possible that children are more likely to take part in these activities because they have had a positive transition, and vice versa.
4.3.5. School communication and engagement
Regular parent-school communication and engagement were strongly associated with transition experience. This was shown to be the case with both primary school and secondary school communication. As the frequency at which secondary schools had contacted parents to provide general school information or to ask them for the views on the school increased (Figure 4‑4), the proportion of children having a positive transition increased.
Furthermore, as parent-reported satisfaction with the support received at primary school increased, the proportion of children having a negative transition decreased. Of children whose parents were very satisfied with support from primary school, 19% had a negative transition, compared with 41% of those whose parents were not at all satisfied with the support they received (Table 9-5).
4.3.6. Family relationships
The quality of the parent-child relationship after children had started secondary school was associated with transition experience; 18% of children reporting a poor relationship with their parent had a positive transition, compared with 44% of children who had an excellent parent-child relationship (Table 9‑5).
4.3.7. Peer relationships
Peer relationships at secondary school similarly displayed an association with transition. The ease at which children reported being able to make friends at secondary school was associated with positive transition - 39% of children who experienced a positive transition found it very easy to make new friends compared with 22% of children who experienced a negative transition. Finding it more difficult to make friends was less strongly associated with transition experience – 22% of those with a positive transition found it very difficult to make friends compared with 28% of those with a negative transition. Friendship quality (as assessed through a series of child reported measures such as 'my friends pay attention to me') was also shown to interact with transition quality - 37% of children who experienced a negative transition reported poor friendship quality compared with 26% who experienced a positive transition. However, unlike ease of making friends, this appears to be equally associated with both positive and negative transitions (Table 9‑5)
4.3.8. School characteristics
School administrative data were incorporated into the analysis in order to assess whether school size and school location, in terms of urban-rural classification, were associated with transition experience. No relationship was found in regard to a school's urban or rural classification. However, associations were observed in relation to transitions between schools of different or similar sizes.
Those children who moved between a large primary to a large secondary school were the most likely to have a positive transition (40%). This was in contrast to those who moved between a small primary and a small secondary school – this was the group least likely to report a positive transition (28%). These children were, however, considerably more likely to report a moderate transition. The likelihood of experiencing a negative transition did not vary according to any combination of moves between large or small primary/secondary schools. Although a move from a small primary to a large secondary appeared to confer the greatest risk of a negative transition, this was not statistically significant and was possibly due to the lower sample sizes for this group (Table 9‑5).
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