Primary-secondary transitions : what helps adolescents with learning support needs, family members, and teachers? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Transition from primary to secondary school marks a significant milestone in a young person’s life. Research indicates some students, particularly those for whom primary school presented considerable learning challenges, can struggle to settle into their new school. Gaps in understanding exist about what helps those students, their families and their teachers have positive transition experiences.
This case study explored what personal and contextual factors assisted students with learning support needs transition from primary to secondary school and what helped their parents and caregivers, and teachers at transition time. Taking a strength focus and utilising a pragmatic approach, the research drew upon personal experiences of transition to investigate the question: What helped? The main objectives were to inform transition pedagogy and policy, and professional development within schools; to generate serious contemplation about primary-secondary transition which seems to have been almost forgotten within current educational policy; and to contribute to the domain of knowledge about qualities that enable students with learning support needs and their school communities to flourish.
The sequential design utilised two main data collection methods. Questionnaire data, including scaled and short answer responses, were collected from students with identified learning support needs, their family members, primary teachers, and secondary teachers from one urban New Zealand schooling district, before and after transition. Following transition, a subsample of students who had reported making a positive transition, along with subsamples from each participant grouping and a small group of expert educators then shared their views and knowledge about the transition, by way of individual interviews. Open-ended questionnaire data and interview data were coded and analysed using thematic analysis.
Systemically, four key features interacted to help transition. These features, applicable across all stakeholder groupings were: deliberate responsibility for the transition process; purposeful and timely engagement; strategic transition knowledge and practice; and targeted support for transition. Systemic processes were effective when schools took the lead in fostering family-
student-school relationships and new skills for transition, which enhanced participants’ feelings of efficacy. Transition was found to be an event (e.g. first day) and process (e.g. school engagement). Being present on the first day of the school year appeared to have lasting effects for students, indicating robust enrolment and school placement processes were essential; this topic area emerged as a direction for future investigation.
Transition process and practice knowledge was found to reside predominately with secondary school managers, while all classroom teachers were not entirely comfortable about catering for new students’ learning needs; suggesting students’ learning needs may not be accommodated optimally in general classrooms. Information transfer systems operated throughout the district but may have been under-utilised and not always accessible for classroom teachers. Secondary classroom teachers required support to become more versed about transition matters and practice, including assisting students to adapt to routines and demands over time. It was suggested that transition pedagogy be incorporated into classroom teachers’ repertoires and prioritised for all students.