IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Moving Up: optimising secondary school transition processes during the COVID-19 pandemic

This project provides guidance on optimising secondary school transition processes for pupils during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The circumstances facing the graduating Year 6 2019/2020 cohort were unprecedented.

We felt schools needed guidance in how best to accommodate this group of children to ensure the most seamless transition possible, building on their experiences for subsequent cohorts of children. This seemed particularly necessary because the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the onset of adolescence in many cases. 

This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and UCL Office for the Vice Provost (Advancement). It will run from July 2020 until January 2022.


It was clear that the potential for exacerbated mental health difficulties within the next two to three years would be substantial if school transfer was not approached in a manner consistent with children's actual experiences of disruption. This may have included periods of learning fragmentation, ill-health and bereavement.

School transfer also needed to take account of ongoing difficulties with the organisation of schooling as the pandemic unfolded. 

By the summer of 2020, teachers were being forced to extrapolate from the experiences of prior cohorts, or anecdotal information, rather than having an evidence base to draw upon in relation to transition to secondary school. It was also difficult for schools to develop a rigorous understanding of the impacts on mental health. 

We were awarded funding in July 2020 to investigate these issues, as well as many other related challenges, and worked over the summer to develop evidence for schools.

By 1 September we had issued guidance for both secondary schools and incoming Year 7 students on which aspects of schooling and pastoral care should be prioritised during the coming term, and how young people should cope with their lives at school during unsettled times. 

We continue to produce ongoing guidance for schools and children based on our research findings.


The main aims of the project are to:

  • develop an evidence base of educational experiences (including the perceived impact of learning fragmentation on mental health) from the 2020 graduating cohort of Year 6 children during the COVID-19 pandemic in England for use by schools, parents and policymakers.
  • explore the impact of cohort fragmentation on secondary school transition.
  • contribute to national UK risk and resilience planning arrangements, as well as international efforts to accommodate children’s social and educational needs during pandemics.
Research questions

We are seeking answers to four questions:

  • How have the educational experiences of the 2020 graduating cohort of Year 6 children in England diverged as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What is the likely scale of learning fragmentation amongst the cohort, and what consequences might there be for children’s mental health?
  • What potential consequences of the pandemic are there for secondary school transition, both in England as well as internationally?
  • How can any consequences be best accommodated by parents, children and teachers, as well as the schooling system in general, to ensure best outcomes for children in Year 7 and beyond?

We are conducting:

  • large scale surveys of Year 6 and Year 7 teachers and children who were part of the 2020 graduating Year 6 cohort
  • follow up interviews with a smaller sample of teachers and children.

Data has already been collected from two phases (Summer 2020 and Autumn 2020) with Phase 3 planned for early Summer 2021. This has allowed us to monitor how transition has been lived out during an exceptional Year 7 for the students.


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