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Off to a good start? Primary school experiences and the transition to second-level education


Smyth E. Groewing Up in Ireland Team

Subject Keywords: Education, Young People, Academic ability
Type: Report
Region: Republic of Ireland

Growing Up in Ireland: National Longitudinal Study of Children

The transition to second-level education is a major landmark in young people’s lives, as they adjust to new teachers, new school subjects and new friends. Off to a Good Start? looks at the way in which primary school experiences can provide a crucial foundation for a successful transition to second-level education. The findings are based on interviews conducted with young people when they were 9 and 13 years of age, as well as interviews with their parents and questionnaires completed by their principals and teachers. The report emphasises young people’s own views and perspectives, highlighting important issues for policy development and school practice.

Transition difficulties

  • Most young people settle well into the new school but around a fifth are anxious about making new friends and miss their primary school friends.
  • Young people become less confident about their own academic abilities as they move into second-level education and face new academic demands.
  • Girls experience greater transition difficulties than boys. Transition difficulties are greater among those from more disadvantaged backgrounds and among young people with special educational needs.
  • Children who were better at maths at the age of 9 settle into second-level education more easily, while those who disliked their primary teacher or school subjects become less confident over the transition period.
  • Social relationships play a protective role over this period of change. Young people have fewer transition difficulties if they have more friends and if they have better communication with their parents. The quality of interaction with second-level teachers plays a crucial role: those who receive frequent praise or positive feedback from their teachers settle in better while those who are ‘given out to’ or reprimanded more often lose self-confidence in their ability to do schoolwork.



Rights: © Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Suggested citation:

Smyth E. Groewing Up in Ireland Team. (2017) Off to a good start? Primary school experiences and the transition to second-level education [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 18th March 2018].


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