ESRI Research Bulletin

The long road to secondary school: background, home learning environment and transition difficulties

ESRI Research Bulletin Articles provide short summaries of work published by ESRI researchers and overviews of thematic areas covered by ESRI programmes of research. Bulletin Articles are designed to be easily accessible to a wide readership. A reference or references to the full publication is included at the start of each Bulletin article.

May 23, 2022
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A young person’s move from primary to secondary school can be difficult. For most, settling into a new school setting or experiencing a new way of learning can cause temporary difficulties. However, for others, school transition difficulty has lasting effects, resulting in poorer educational outcomes. While there is a good deal of research on the transition process, there has been little attention paid to whether and why transition difficulties are greater among young people from more socio-economically disadvantaged families. Our research addresses this gap, looking at social inequalities in the transition from primary to secondary school. It draws on data from Scotland but highlights issues relevant to policymakers and school practitioners in Ireland.

Internationally, debate centres on whether what matters is who parents are (the income they have and their insider knowledge of the education system) or what they do (in particular, whether they provide an environment at home that promotes child learning). Some researchers and policy makers have argued that the home learning environment can close the gap in educational achievement between children from low-income families and other children. Our article considers three aspects of inequality (parents’ education, family income and family social class) to unpack the mechanisms behind school transition difficulty.