Let’s talk transition. The pathways through education in Australia 

Transitioning to primary and secondary school, or life beyond schooling is an exciting milestone for a child and their family. It can also feel daunting for many. But there are strategies that support children in practical ways and go some way to allay their fears. This week, School Stream is going to take a look at the concerns for children, tips for a successful transition at any stage, and potential pathways for the secondary students who are finishing up at the end of the year. 

We’re here to support schools. Click here to see how much School Stream could save your school or read on for our overview on school transition strategies.

For teachers: What the research says

Research published in Teacher Magazine in 2018 reiterates the central role of educators in helping children to settle into their new surroundings, daily structures and learning activities. Researcher Lisa Kervin says: 

‘… it’s important to look at transition from the perspective of the child. ‘In my work I look at what’s happening from preschool to the first year of formal schooling in particular, but it’s the same for Year 6 – for the end of primary school to the first year of secondary school. If we’re reframing the transition perspective and looking at it from the perspective of those who are actually making the transition, then I think that there’s some important insight for us into our practices at either end.

From Preschool to Primary School – Advice from educators.

“How was orientation today, Isobel?”

“Good. I was the only kid who didn’t cry.”

All over Australia, preschool-aged children are beginning the orientation process at ‘big school’. There is no doubt this is a huge step for any child, so it is only natural they are worried about finding their feet in a new place where everything is new. Schools are experts at transitioning children into formal education settings. The following are examples of schools and families working in partnership to smooth the way for children entering formal education for the first time. 

  • Schools excel at making school exciting at orientation activities. They encourage parents to stay on song by also speaking enthusiastically about the change at home. Schools suggest keeping the focus on fun stuff such as all the interesting things they will learn and the new routines they will establish.

From primary school to secondary school. The issues for students & schools

Children may well be excited about starting secondary school (or high school, as it is often referred to), but it can also come with a dose of anxiety and worry. Students of this age have been at the top of the food chain in primary school and they are about to be at the bottom again. It’s quite a bit to negotiate when you remember they are making this big transition during their adolescence, a time of significant development that even Aristotle described as a time of ‘storm and stress’. The following themes emerged from a  UK study of 2000 students who were starting secondary school: getting bullied, getting lost, getting detention, increased homework demands and losing friends. The study also found ‘a successful transition involved functioning well in two areas: 1) being academically and behaviourally involved at school and 2) feeling a sense of belonging to school.’ Worryingly, in 2018, a study found many Australian school kids feel they ‘don’t belong’ in school’. You can read more about the study and why it’s important here.

Making the transition to secondary school: What have schools found helpful?

In most cases, schools have excellent orientation programs in place that help ease the way for a successful transition to secondary school. The following strategies have been described by schools as being particularly useful:

  • Encourage future students to attend orientation. Orientation is a good chance for new students to see the layout of the school. As with students transitioning to primary school, familiarity with the school environment will go a long way to reducing anxiety. Secondary schools are typically much larger than primary schools and students will be expected to navigate their way around the school for different classes. Knowing where everything is will help budding Year 7s feel more confident from the get-go.
  • Let new students know about the clubs and hobbies available at school. If a student has a special interest, let them know if there is a way to pursue it at school. Whether it’s the robotics club, choir or Quidditch team, supporting new students to get involved is an opportunity for them to meet likeminded peers while fostering a sense of belonging to the school. 
  • Keep an eye on stress levels. As you know, secondary schools can be intense, competitive and socially complex places. Monitor stress levels and get an expert involved to support students if need be.

From Year 12 onwards

This is possibly the apex mountain of transitions. Students are leaving the schooling system they have known for the past 14 years and will be out on their own. For students who need a qualification to follow their chosen career path, there are plenty of options available. 

Higher education options: university or TAFE?

Students who hope to go on to university certainly feel the weight of expectation and pressure to achieve an ATAR that will “shape the rest of their lives”. Schools often advise parents they can relieve some of the pressure by pointing out that most universities offer multiple points of entry these days and offer a range of options to suit all circumstances. The decision of whether to choose TAFE or university as a pathway depends entirely on what career students are hoping to pursue. 

We at School Stream would like to wish all the teachers of children and teens off to the workforce, university, TAFE, primary school or secondary school next year the very best for the coming months.

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