Predicting successful and difficult transitions to secondary school

The 'School Transition and Adjustment Research Study' (STARS) aimed to find out why some children settle in to secondary school easily while others find it difficult.

Key findings

First, the study 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
  2. feeling a sense of belonging to school.

These two domains can be measured by primary school teacher reports on a four-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.

No single group was especially vulnerable to a poor transition. Instead, there were a range of risk and protective factors that were associated with transition success. The results suggest that effectively supporting pupils 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.


The researchers followed a group of around 2,000 pupils as they moved from primary school to secondary school. They 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.

It is hoped the results of this study will help schools and other educational professionals to provide support for pupils. Resources for schools and teachers can be downloaded from this page, and from the STARS website.

Project details



Dr Frances Rice, Professor Norah Frederickson, Professor Chris McManus, UCL

Dr Katherine Shelton, Cardiff University

Grant amount and duration:


1 October 2011 – 30 June 2015

Project website