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

Leaton Gray, S; Saville, K; Hargreaves, E; Jones, E; Perryman, J; (2021) Moving Up: Secondary school transition processes during the COVID-19 pandemic. UCL Institute of Education: London, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

The COVID-19 global pandemic of 2020 onwards has revealed, and continues to reveal, a great deal about many of the social structures and processes that we take for granted. One of these is the everyday practice of sending children to school. It has been disrupted in a manner unprecedented outside wartime, with consequences that are not likely to become fully apparent for a long time. This study, funded by the UCL Office of the Vice-Provost (Advancement) and the Wellcome Trust, looks at the particular case of Year 6 children in England (aged 10-11 during the school year 2020-2021) who were undergoing transition from primary to secondary school during the initial phases of the pandemic. We chose this group of children as they were on the cusp of adolescence, and working through challenging educational experiences, the effects of which have been magnified by the pandemic. Our study is interested in how these exaggerated effects have shaped their future educational progress, social relationships, and mental health. Our review of the research literature suggests that a smooth transition to secondary school plays an important part in the general development of young people as they move towards adulthood. It also indicates that a successful transition is often the result of positive home and primary school experiences. Several additional factors are key to this. The first is carefully managing children’s expectations of secondary school. Ensuring suitable continuity of learning, as well as minimising any missed learning opportunities, are also important. All of these were heavily compromised by the pandemic. To investigate this, we used a combination of surveys and semi-structured interviews to engage with 196 children and 64 teachers in different regions and social circumstances across England via two fieldwork phases. The first took place in summer 2020 and the second in autumn 2020. We asked children and teachers about the different ways children’s educational experiences had diverged during the pandemic, whether there was likely to be any lack of learning opportunity or consequences for mental health and asked them to suggest changes that could be made to secondary school transition processes in general, in order to improve things in the future. A number of key themes emerged as a result of the research. Our participants reported that there had been increased fragmentation of learning, with some children making greater progress than usual, while other children missed out. This was sometimes, but not always, linked to deprivation. There were many problems with technology which had created barriers to learning, including deficits in national broadband infrastructure and tariffs, as well as hardware availability in some schools and homes. There was a general picture of uncertainty, compounded by the cancellation of Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) scheduled for the end of Year 6, which meant that teachers were unable to report formally on progress in the ways they were used to. Many children reported feeling more anxious than before about their education, as well as their peer relationships at school. In our findings, there were some positive outcomes of the pandemic for schooling, however. The teaching profession was forced into a programme of rapid modernisation and investment in terms of developing high level remote teaching skills. Additionally, those children attending school during the pandemic, because of Free School Meals (deprivation) status, or parental key worker status, sometimes made accelerated progress as a result of small group attention. Other children were able to explore their learning interests and hobbies in more depth than usual. We conclude that both positive and negative aspects of these children’s experiences during the pandemic provide opportunities for reflection around, and improvement of, secondary school transition processes generally. We make two specific recommendations, namely working further towards a distinct Year 7 phase in secondary school, and improving training in, and use of, educational technology by children and their teachers.

Type: Report
Title: Moving Up: Secondary school transition processes during the COVID-19 pandemic
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10126990
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