Change is a normal part of life and can provide opportunities for children to develop their resilience. Whether a child is starting primary school, changing schools, or moving from infants to juniors or primary to secondary school, this transition period needs to be carefully managed. If a child struggles with a transition it can have a negative impact on their wellbeing and academic achievement.

During any transition period, it’s important that children are able to talk about their concerns and are supported to cope with any readjustments.

Who is more likely to struggle with transitions?

It’s important to prepare students who are more likely to struggle with moving to a new school, these include children with:

  • additional learning needs (also known as SEND or ASN)
  • mentally health problems
  • behavioural problems
  • limited parental support
  • experience of transient living, such as being in care
  • anxiety
  • experience of being bullied.

Children who don’t feel that they belong in their school; who struggle to develop good relationships with school staff and peers; and who struggle with changes to a routine may also find this transition challenging.


How to spot if a child is struggling

If children struggle with moving to a new school, they are at an increased risk of poorer attendance, lower grades, feeling disengaged with school, and having reduced confidence and self-esteem. It may also increase their chances of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Here are a few things to look out for which may suggest a child is struggling with their transition:

  • struggles to make friends
  • doesn’t feel that they belong
  • has ongoing difficulties coping with daily routines
  • increased number of unauthorised school absences
  • challenging or disruptive behaviour

lower than expected grades or a disinterest in school.

Facts about transitions

  • Two in five pupils fail to reach expected academic progress after transitioning to secondary school.
  • Feeling like you belong has an impact on achievement and how well a child transitions.
  • Children with additional learning needs are more likely to feel isolated and vulnerable if they don't have a smooth transition.

Starting primary school

Starting primary school is an exciting time. It can also be a big change for children and families. For many children it will be the first occasion they spend time away from their family or in a more formal group setting.

For some children, starting primary school may increase anxiety around separation from their main caregiver. These feelings can also be exacerbated by a parent or carer who transfers their own feelings of anxiety onto their child. But this phase is usually temporary and can be successfully managed through staff, parents and carers working together.

Children who change schools often

Children who change primary schools regularly may struggle with the transition process and find it hard to settle in.

Moving between schools can be more common for Travellers, Gypsy and Roma children, or for those whose parents or carers are in the Armed Forces, children with additional learning needs or who are looked after.

Children who are new to the country may also struggle to settle in or feel that they belong in their new school environment.

Transitioning to secondary school

Starting secondary school - what are children most worried about?

Most children will typically feel nervous, scared and excited about transitioning to secondary school. And it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit anxious or worried about a changing situation. However, anxiety can become a problem if these feelings persist and disrupt a child’s life.

When moving to secondary school, studies have found that children are most worried about the following things:

  • getting lost
  • losing old friends
  • discipline and detentions
  • homework
  • being bullied.

Communicating with parents and carers during this transition period is particularly important as this is a key point where children with additional needs are at a greater risk of being excluded from school.

What schools can do

There are lots of things that schools can do to help pupils prepare for, and cope with, change - and also build resilience, self-confidence and self-esteem.

Engage with parents and carers

Parents and carers are often key to making sure that a child has a good transition to a new school. A few things that parents, carers and teachers can do include:

  • checking in with the child to find out how well they are coping academically, but also in terms of their wellbeing
  • keeping an eye on how they are socialising, if they are making friends and hanging around in positive peer groups
  • helping the child to be cyber-savvy and understand how to be safe online
  • providing opportunities for parents and carers and staff to link up.

Connect with early years practitioners and local secondary schools

  • Work with early years practitioners and local secondary schools to identify children who may require additional support, and develop strategies (such as mentoring) to support them.
  • Create social events between transitional settings, including talks, taster days, Q&A sessions with children, parents and carers who have already been through the transition process.
  • Think about developing a peer support or buddy system. This is where older pupils support younger children with their move to a new school (see this toolkit for how to get started).

Use health & wellbeing lessons to prepare pupils

Children who recognise change as stressful, and who seek support and problem-solve, often cope better with change than those who deny or avoid the emotional impact of a transition.

Schools can use health and wellbeing education (RSHE, PD&MU, Health & Wellbeing) to help pupils develop good emotional and social skills from the start of their education. These skills will help pupils prepare and cope with change by focusing on how to recognise and manage thoughts and feelings, build resilience, and also learn how to problem-solve.

Find resources to support with transitions.

Helping pupils with mental health needs and additional needs transition smoothly

Schools need to make sure plans are in place to support pupils with mental health needs and additional needs to negotiate the change from primary to secondary school or moving into alternative education and then transitioning back.

Related resources

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Transitioning to secondary tips

Tips sheet for pupils transitioning to secondary school.

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  • Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

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GRT provision guidance

Good practice guide for provision for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families in schools which has some...

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  • The Estyn (Inspectorate) in Wales

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Transition to secondary school

Parent/carer guidance on supporting children with transition to secondary school.

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  • Oxfordshire County Council

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Transition to secondary poster

A poster tool to support children’s transition to secondary school.

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  • Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

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