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Age group 6 to 11 years

Transition to high school

Moving from primary school to high school is a significant event in a child’s life. It often involves new classmates, changing friendships, multiple classes with different teachers, self-directed learning and an increased workload including homework. Children are often also experiencing the changes and challenges related to going through puberty at the same time.

Students in Year 6 need to be prepared for, and ideally optimistic about, their transition to high school.

There is limited data reporting on whether WA children transition to high school successfully.

Overview and areas of concern

The move from primary school to high school is an important transition point for children and can mark the onset of a decrease in engagement in school, particularly for many of the state’s more disadvantaged students. Attendance rates and levels generally decrease from the final year of primary school to high school.

Attendance rates and levels for WA students, all sectors, in per cent, Year 6 to Year 10, 2017

Attendance rate

Attendance level

Year 6

93.2

80.0

Year 7

92.4

77.9

Year 8

90.6

72.3

Year 9

89.1

68.2

Year 10

88.1

66.0

Source: Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (ACARA), National Report on Schooling 2017 – Student Attendance dataset

There are a number of reasons why student engagement can decrease upon entering high school, including:1

  • The higher academic expectations and work level in high school may affect their engagement.
  • Young people are developing their autonomy and may have more direct involvement in the decision to attend/not attend school.
  • Young people aged 11 to 15 years are more susceptible to illness and injury than primary school students.

Data overview

There is limited data on WA primary school children’s transition to high school.

Areas of concern

The lack of data measuring whether WA children feel ready for the transition to high school and how they experience that transition.

Endnote

  1. Hancock KJ et al 2013, Student attendance and educational outcomes: Every day counts, Report for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, p. 248.
Measure: Optimism about the future

There is evidence suggesting that children with lower socio-emotional wellbeing find the transition to high school more difficult. Research using data from the Longitudinal study of Australian Children (LSAC) found that emotional and behavioural problems appeared to have the most important influence on the level of difficulties children experience when transitioning to high school.1

Optimism reflects the extent to which children and young people hold generally favorable expectations regarding their future. Higher levels of optimism have been linked to better subjective wellbeing, more persistence and resilience and coping mechanisms, and also better physical health.2 Within childhood and adolescence, higher optimism has been linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety, stronger academic achievement, and higher peer acceptance.3

Students experiencing disadvantage are also at an increased risk of becoming disengaged from school during the transition from primary to secondary school.4 In particular, research by the Telethon Kids Institute has found that socio-economic disparities in attendance rates which are evident in Year 1, remain constant throughout primary school, and then become wider upon the transition to secondary school.5 Poor adjustment to high school and disengagement can lead to multiple other longer term poor outcomes, including limited employment opportunities.6

The Commissioner’s 2016 School and Learning Consultation,7 did not include any questions about whether 3 to Year 6 students are optimistic about their future.

Limited data exists reporting WA children’s views on their future. 

Endnotes

  1. Maguire B and Yu M 2014, Chapter 5: Transition to Secondary School, LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  2. Carver CS et al 2010, Optimism, Clinical Psychology Review, Vol 30 No 7, pp. 879–889, http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006.
  3. Gregory T and Brinkman S 2015 Development of the Australian Student Wellbeing survey: Measuring the key aspects of social and emotional wellbeing during middle childhood, published by the Fraser Mustard Centre, Department for Education and Child Development and the Telethon Kids Institute.
  4. Hancock KJ et al 2013, Student attendance and educational outcomes: Every day counts, Report for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, pp. 51, 247.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Maguire, B and Yu M 2014, Chapter 5: Transition to Secondary School, LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014, Australian Institute of Family Studies.  
  7. The Commissioner for Children and Young People’s School and Learning Consultation was conducted from July to November 2016. The purpose of the Consultation was to seek the views of Year 3 to Year 12 students enrolled in government, Catholic and independent schools across WA on the positive and negative factors that influence their engagement in education. In total, 1,812 students across 98 schools participated in the survey and 1,174 students participated in the group discussion between July and November 2016. Schools from all nine geographic regions of WA were involved in the consultation. For more information refer: Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
Measure: Feelings about the transition

Limited data exists on the experiences of WA children in their transition from primary school to high school.

The School and Learning Consultation, did not include any questions about whether Year 3 to Year 6 students feel positive about their transition to high school. 

The National School Opinion Survey does not include questions on the transition from primary school to secondary school. 

The Australian Institute of Family Studies explored the transition to high school using data from the national Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) and found that a relatively small proportion of children and a slightly higher proportion of parents, reported having difficulties with the transition.

For children, ‘making new friends’ was the most commonly reported difficulty. Parents ‘more often reported that their children were having trouble with factors related to the demands of learning tasks and the structure of secondary school (e.g. dealing with the increased number of school subjects and different teachers at primary school)'.1

This data cannot be disaggregated by jurisdiction.

Endnotes

  1. Maguire B and Yu M 2014, Chapter 5: Transition to Secondary School, LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Children in care

There is no available data on the views of WA children in care about their future or their transition to high school.  

Children with disability

There is no available data on the views of WA children with disability about their future or their transition to high school.  

Policy implications

There are multiple factors that influence a child’s transition to high school, including:1

  • School level support such as orientation tours at the high school, peer-support programs (buddy programs) and discussion sessions.
  • Socio-economic and demographic characteristics such as gender, socio-economic status and whether the child has older siblings.
  • Individual factors such as self-esteem, ability to make friends, temperament and academic performance.
  • Parenting style, research has found that children with parents who are engaged in their education and warm and supportive generally experience smoother transitions.

Some key activities that have been identified as important for a successful transition are:

  • assistance with developing new friendships through mentor programs or joint activities with older students
  • visits to high schools, induction and taster days, and information booklets
  • initiatives that help children develop their social and personal skills (friendships, self-esteem and confidence).2

Data gap

The lack of data on how WA children anticipate or experience the transition from primary school to high school is a significant gap. Without this data it is difficult to determine why attendance rates in high school decline and implement appropriate policies and practices to improve attendance and engagement in learning.

Endnotes

  1. Maguire, B and Yu M 2014, Chapter 5: Transition to Secondary School, LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 84 
  2. Evangelou M et al 2008, What Makes a Successful Transition from Primary to Secondary School?, Research Report No. DCSF-RR019, Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education 3-14 Project (EPPSE 3-14), United Kingdom Department for Children, Schools and Families, Institute of Education, University of London.
Further resources

For more information on the transition to high school refer to the following resources: