UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


School Transition and Adjustment Research Study (STARS)

'STARS' is a research study based at UCL and Cardiff University which aimed to find out what helps children make a successful move to secondary school

Why was the study done?

Some children settle in to secondary school easily whilst others find it difficult. We are interested in finding out about children's experiences of moving to secondary school. Our results help us understand the circumstances under which children experience both success and difficulties in making the change from primary to secondary school. This information will help schools and other educational professionals to provide support for pupils. Resources for schools and teachers can be downloaded from this website.

What did we do?

The study followed a group of around 2000 pupils from South-East England, UK as they made the transition from primary school to secondary school. It collected information from pupils, parents and teachers throughout the transition period and asked about pupils’ well-being, academic achievement, and their views about school and relationships with friends and teachers. We looked at how pupils changed and adapted to secondary school over the course of the study.

Summary of some key findings

We first developed a reliable way of measuring a successful transition. A successful transition involved functioning well in two areas: 1) being academically and behaviourally involved in school and 2) feeling a sense of belonging to school. These two domains can be measured by primary-school teacher reports on a 4-item questionnaire called the Secondary Transition Adjustment Research Tool; ‘START.’

Most children had some concerns about moving to secondary school which reduced once they started secondary school. Concerns about friendships, discipline and homework reduced more slowly. Friendships changed considerably across the transition to secondary school. Parents appeared to have a good idea of the sorts of things their children were likely to need help with over the transition to secondary school.

There was no single group of children who were especially vulnerable to a poor transition. Instead, there were a range of risk and protective factors that were associated with transition success. Taken together, results suggest that an effective approach to supporting pupils through transition might involve a combination of strategies delivered to all pupils that aim to deal with common concerns with additional strategies for vulnerable individuals delivered on a case by case basis according to the individual’s needs.

Findings relating to strategies employed by primary and secondary schools to support transition

Primary and secondary schools differed in the strategies that they implemented to help support children over transition. Different strategies were associated with better functioning in different domains. In particular, the use of systemic strategies at primary school which involve building links and continuity between primary and secondary school (e.g. bridging units - work projects that children begin in primary school and complete in secondary school) was related to lower school anxiety.

A number of secondary school strategies were associated with better academic progression between Year 6 and Year 7. In the evaluation of our research, all of these strategies were rated as 6 high in acceptability by teachers not involved in STARS.

A range of practices that secondary schools employed to support friendships was identified given that this was an area of persistent concern for pupils.

Where can I find out more?

You can download the report of the main findings from STARS on this website. The report also includes a list of the scientific publications from STARS. Resources for teachers, pupils and parents can be downloaded from this website.