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Child looking back from school gate

The big day has arrived, the new uniform is looking smart, and now our 'senior' Primary school learners are about to become important 'junior' Secondary school students. For most of us, this is a memorable experience and, therefore, very significant. However, whilst some learners approach this milestone with great excitement and enthusiasm, others are nervous and anxious.

How can we make this transition as smooth as possible? As with all successful teaching and learning, we need to 'know our learners'. This requires effective communication. It involves teachers, students and parents. Raising awareness of students' strengths, interests and prior learning via conversations between the feeder school and the receiving school is the starting point. A report by the New Zealand Ministry of Education recommends that, "Schools have structured, frequent and collegial communication... to ensure that students experience continuity in their learning".

What is transitioning?

Communicating academic information and data is straightforward – but wider considerations around individual students’ psychological, physical, cultural and linguistic backgrounds will make all the difference to the transitioning process.

A report evaluating the nature of transitioning recommends a school-wide approach to pastoral and academic care. It notes that transitions constantly occur – when moving between year levels and subject areas, as well as when changing schools – so we need to acknowledge that transitions are not just something to deal with at the beginning or end of a year. Instead, we need to consider regular adaptation. That might mean navigating a series of ongoing small changes for learners, whilst always maintaining a clear sense of continuity and direction.

Transitioning to Secondary school occurs at a time when students are grappling with questions of identity and belonging. It is therefore essential that we factor in early opportunities for them to share about themselves and their aspirations, their values and fears. From a student’s perspective, they want to be ‘known’, so investing time in providing opportunities for them to express their values, strengths, interests and learning challenges is mutually beneficial to both learners and teachers. This can be promoted by teachers also sharing about themselves.

Making transitioning easier

What does this look like in practical terms? A few ideas include

  • The receiver school hosting a social gathering for new students and their families before their arrival.
  • Holding an outdoor education camp, or similar, at the start of the year, to provide an opportunity to get to know one another in an off-site setting.
  • Teachers from both the Primary and Secondary schools meeting face to face - this is more likely to lead to effective communication than simply sending spreadsheets and reports.
  • Ensuring that information related to specific student talents, interests and achievements is noted, so that new teachers can factor in opportunities to show curiosity and interest in a student early on in the year.
  • Inviting senior Secondary students to buddy with new arrivals, and providing some meeting times for them to connect and develop a sense of belonging. Seniors can play a vital role in bridging the gap between teachers and learners and can support in many ways. However, don't forget that they need training up!
  • Providing an opportunity for learners to have a voice where it affects their role within the school.
  • Responding sensitively to the emotional swings learners encounter at this time.

In short, students need to be able to connect their new learning with their prior knowledge and experiences through positive transitions. This requires teachers to be knowledgeable about each learner, taking an inclusive approach where all cultural and linguistic diversity is valued, thus ensuring that learners feel accepted.


Ministry of Education. Transitions: //  (02/12/2014) 

Education Review Office: Evaluation at a Glance: Transitions from Primary to Secondary School (November 2012)


Education Review Office. Evaluation at a Glance: Transitions from Primary to Secondary School  (November 2012)

Ministry of Education. Interview: Staff from Mt Roskill Primary School, Auckland, NZ Smooth Transitions for students with special educational needs. (Published on 22 Aug 2014)

Ministry of Education. The New Zealand Curriculum// 

Ministry of Education. Transitions: //  (02/12/2014) 

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