Students' transition from primary to secondary school has been associated with negative psychological, social and academic changes. In particular, students' self-concept has been found to be adversely affected by the transition. Some have argued that transition programs are effective and practical in easing the transition from primary to secondary school. The present study evaluates the effectiveness of one such program for targeting students' self-concept at the time of the move into secondary school, for girls in an independent single-sex school in Sydney NSW Australia. Results indicate that this specific program was not effective in enhancing self-concept. It is concluded that further quality research is needed to investigate the full range of benefits of transition programs for students entering grade 7 before ad hoc implementation in schools. The study did, however, identify interesting effects of continuation from primary to secondary within the same school institution. Initial lower entry self-concepts for 'new' relative to 'continuing' students had not recovered by mid-year 7, implications of which are subsequently explored.
The transition from primary to secondary school represents for many students a stressful move from the nest of a protective, familiar environment with considerable individual attention, into an often impersonal and intimidating atmosphere in junior high (Berliner, 1993). In the State of New South Wales (NSW) Australia, where the present study was conducted, primary school spans grades 3 to 6, followed by secondary school which spans grades 7 to 12. Once students reach the 'transition point' on commencement of grade 7, school size is significantly larger than it was in primary school, academic standards are more rigorous, social circles and peer pressures change profoundly, discipline is more abruptly delivered, and students often believe their performance is assessed publicly and has life-long implications (Berliner, 1993). Concurrent with the transition from primary to secondary school is the beginning of adolescence. Enormous physiological, social, emotional, and environmental changes are beginning or are on their way.
Clear evidence has been found for negative psychological, social and academic changes among adolescents making the transition to junior high school (Simmons & Blyth, 1987). In addition to declines in self-concept (Roeser, Midgley, & Urdan, 1996; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989a; Simmons & Blyth, 1987; Simmons, Blyth, Van Cleave, & Bush, 1979; Yates, 1999), declines have been found for academic performance (Anderman & Midgley, 1997; Watt, 2000), motivation (Harter, Whitesell, & Kowalski, 1992), quality of teacher/student relationships (Midgley et al., 1989a; Midgley, Feldhaufer, & Eccles, 1989b), and perceived quality of school life (Eccles et al., 1993; Roeser et al., 1996; Ward et al., 1982). Similarly, negative attributes such as psychological distress (Harter, 1982; Hirsch & Rapkin, 1987; Nottelmann, 1986; Roeser, Midgley, & Urdan, 1996; Simmons et al., 1979; Trent, 1992; Trent, Russell, & Cooney, 1994), feelings of alienation (Youth Research Centre, 1995a, 1995b), and anti-social behaviour (Blyth et al., 1978; Seidman, Blyth, Van Cleave, & Bush, 1994; Wigfield, Eccles, Iver, Reuman, & Midgley, 1991) were amplified over the transition.
Some studies have found that students' self-concept is at its highest in year 6 due to them being the oldest in the primary school and therefore having the greatest status (Marsh, 1987). At this time, students know their school routines well and their school environment is familiar. In contrast, in year 7 they are the youngest in the secondary school and are adjusting to their new school environment, and as a consequence, their self-concept plunges (Wigfield et al., 1991).
Negative psychological, social and academic effects post-transition to secondary school may well be due to differences between the cultures of primary and secondary schools. Primary schools are mainly concerned with the development of basic skills of literacy and numeracy and the social, aesthetic and emotional development of young children (Midgley et al., 1989a). Secondary schools, in contrast, tend to concentrate on curriculum subject matter rather than the developmental needs of students (Midgley et al., 1989a). According to person-environment fit theory (Eccles et al., 1993), motivation and mental health are both influenced by the fit between the characteristics individuals bring to their social environments and the characteristics of these social environments. Individuals are not likely to do well, or be motivated, if they are located in social environments that are not meeting their needs. If the social environments in secondary school do not 'fit' with the psychological needs of adolescents, then person-environment fit theory predicts declines in motivation, interest and performance (Eccles et al., 1993). In fact, such declines in academic self-esteem, class preparation, and grade point average have been found across ethnic and gender groups (Seidman et al., 1994). Differences may be expected across socioeconomic groups, although little has been done to investigate how transition effects may be differential for those groups. We may speculate, for instance, that the transition impact will be less marked for students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, given the possibility of greater congruence for school and home educational values, although comparative designs would need to be employed to investigate such suggestions. Primary and secondary schools have very different environments and it is the disjuncture between these environments on commencement of year 7 that is likely to result in negative effects to students, both actual and perceived. Since it has been argued that children are affected to a greater extent by their perceptions than by actual events (Goodnow, 1988), this study focuses on changes in students' self-concepts. There is often a discrepancy between a child's self-perceptions and more objective indexes of actuality, because self-perceptions are not always a result of objective realities (Conger, 1991). The way students perceive events may amount to reality for them, since students' interpretations of themselves and their environments have been argued to be more important than more objective indexes (Goodnow, 1988).
Self-concept is made up of a number of components, which can be affected in different ways. When making the secondary school transition, self-concept domains investigated here are those proposed as key by Harter (1985). The present study assesses the dimensions of perceived scholastic competence, social acceptance, physical appearance, behavioural conduct, and global self-worth, proposed as components of self-concept by Harter (1985). Self-concept can be viewed both as an enduring personal disposition characterised by temporal consistency, and also as a variable state of self-evaluation regulated by environmental events (O'Malley & Bachman, 1983). Harter's model of self-concept adopted in the present study, includes both individuals' overall sense of self-worth as well as their multidimensional self-evaluative judgements (Trent et al., 1994). The assessment of a child's self-concept should take into account cognitive developmental changes (Rosenberg, 1986), represented here by the scholastic competence self-concept dimension; as well as major concerns associated with particular periods of development (Rosenberg, 1986), addressed here by the social acceptance and physical appearance dimensions.
Many teachers of young adolescents have reported their students' learning is inhibited by the fragmentation of the curriculum of the secondary school into a large number of subject-based units. Also, students moving from primary to secondary school are affected by the lack of proper articulation or continuity between the curricula of the two stages (Schools Council, 1993). The Schools Council (1993) has found that transition problems can occur for students due to the large number of teachers students are expected to deal with on a daily basis, as well as the large range of subjects. One longitudinal study found students' academic self-concept in Mathematics and English declined following the transition to junior high and, although it recovered to some extent later in the year, it did not recover to pre-transition levels (Wigfield et al., 1991). These declines were attributed to differences between classroom environments in primary and secondary schools, within the person-environment fit theoretical framework. Declines in perceived academic competence following the move to junior high school have also been found in other studies (e.g., Simmons & Blyth, 1987). Watt (2000) supports these findings within the Australian context when she identified the transition to junior high as negatively affecting students' self-concept of ability as well as subjective valuation in both Mathematics and English.
The larger social group in year 7 compared with year 6 can also result in declines in academic self-concept, particularly for competent students who suddenly find themselves no longer at or near the top of their class given this broader comparison group. The Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect (BFLPE) occurs as a result of external comparisons when equally able students have lower self-perceived academic skills and self-concepts when they compare themselves with more able students (Marsh, 1987), which is more likely to occur given the larger and broader comparison group in secondary school.
Secondary school teachers appear to use higher standards in judging students' competence and grading their performance than primary school teachers (Eccles & Midgley, 1989). There is evidence that secondary school teachers use stricter and more socially comparative standards than primary school teachers to assess and evaluate students' competence, leading to a drop in grades for many adolescents as they make the transition (Eccles, et al., 1993). This drop in grades can also mean a drop in academic self-concept. Adolescence is known to be a time of increased academic concerns and general self consciousness, and some studies have found that competitive academic environments may serve to increase these feelings of self-consciousness at a time when this could be detrimental to adolescents' self-image (Roeser et al., 1996; Eccles & Midgley, 1989). The competition to 'be the best' pervades many school climates and can lead to anxiety and threats to self-worth. These threats are thought to occur due to secondary school environments being more impersonal, formal, evaluative, and competitive than the primary environment (Harter et al., 1992).
For adolescents who enter secondary school with close friends or a stable cohort of peers, adjustment appears to be considerably less stressful than for their more socially isolated peers (Hirsh & Rapkin, 1987). There is evidence that for girls, looks and peer popularity are particularly important elements of their value system (Simmons et al., 1979). These two aspects are particularly of concern at the time of the transition to secondary school, when appearance is often changing dramatically during puberty, at the same time as peer groups are unstable due to an unfamiliar environment (Simmons et al., 1979). Young adolescents entering secondary school look forward to making new and more friends. However, they are also concerned about being picked on and teased by older students, having harder work, getting lower marks, and getting lost in a larger, unfamiliar school (Mizelle, 1999). Declines in perceived social ability have in fact been found over the transition to junior high school (Wigfield et al., 1991), and although rising through year 7, do not regain earlier year 6 levels (Wigfield et al., 1991). Work by Simmons & Blyth (1987) suggests that some young adolescents never regain their pre-transition levels of confidence in their social ability.
A secondary school transition program typically includes a variety of activities that provides students and parents with information about the new school, provides students with social support during the transition, and brings primary and secondary school personnel together to learn about one another's curricula and requirements (Mac Iver, 1990). Effective and comprehensive transition programs help to build a sense of community, respond to the needs and concerns of the students, and provide appropriate, multifaceted approaches to facilitate the transition process (Schumacher, 1998). Transition programs aim to establish a sense of belonging among the multiple constituencies involved, appropriately respond to the needs of incoming students, and provide multiple opportunities for all constituencies to develop meaningful roles during the transition process, as well as maintain those roles throughout the school year.
Mac Iver (1990) asked school principals to list ten articulation activities in their school designed to help students make a smooth transition to the middle grades. The three most common activities for easing the transition from primary to secondary school were having primary school students visit the secondary school, having administrators of the secondary and primary schools meet to discuss programs and articulation, and having secondary counsellors meet with primary counsellors or staff members. Mac Iver found that the average number of articulation activities employed by each school was 4.5, indicating that principals recognise a significant 'school transition' occurs between primary and secondary schools.
Concern over education for young adolescents has increased in recent years, as evidenced by burgeoning research literatures investigating the transition to junior high school and also students' experiences in middle school years. Psychologists point to this period in the life cycle as a critical stage in human development. Adolescence encompasses puberty, value formation, and social-group identification, as well as marked shifts in learning (Smith, 1997). Points of transition have been identified as periods of psychological disequilibrium, marked by both an increased opportunity for psychological growth, and a heightened vulnerability to psychological disturbance (Felner, Primavera, & Cauce, 1981; Simmons et al., 1979). In particular, the primary to secondary school transition is a major cause of disruption. This disruption would likely have a negative effect on children's psychological orientation toward school at any grade level. However, it is particularly harmful at early adolescence, given what is known about psychological development during this stage of life (Eccles et al., 1993). It has been argued that adolescents need a reasonably safe, as well as intellectually challenging environment to adapt to these shifts; but the move to secondary school seems to emphasise competition, social comparison, and ability self-assessment (Simmons & Blyth, 1987).
Research into schooling in the transition years has identified aspects of a transition program that include ways in which schools can smooth the transition from primary to secondary school without major re-organisation (Hargreaves & Earl, 1990). A variety of approaches has been proposed, including the building of constructive liaisons between secondary schools and their feeder schools (Youth Research Centre, 1995a); as well as focusing on encouraging and facilitating communication, planning and joint work among teachers from different school levels through meetings, visits and exchanges, and by establishing norms of collaboration and collegiality (Hargreaves & Tickle, 1980). Providing for and encouraging some career flexibility among the teaching force could allow staff to work on both sides of the primary-secondary divide. By having contact with the same teachers from primary to secondary school, negative effects could be reduced by having a continuous stream of teachers. Also, by ensuring that student records are well written and accessible, receiving teachers can use them to assist incoming students. Finally, by creating orientation programs for students entering the secondary school, students and their parents can get a realistic and thorough sense of what the next stage involves. With such initiatives, primary students will be more familiar with their high school surroundings and the schools' expectations and should therefore find it easier to settle in following the secondary school transition. It has been proposed that a school transition program with several diverse yet articulated activities is the most effective and practical method for easing the transition to secondary school (Mac Iver, 1990).
A subsidiary element of this study investigated possible effects on self-concept for students continuing from primary to secondary, within the one school. This 'continuation' was thought possibly to contribute to changes in self-concept over the transition, based on findings by Simmons et al. (1979). Their findings indicated that new girls entering the junior high school environment appeared to be at a disadvantage in terms of self-esteem compared with girls who continued at the same school from kindergarten to secondary school. This finding was attributed to adolescents entering secondary school with close friends or a stable cohort of peers having considerably less stressful adjustment than their more socially isolated peers (Simmons et al., 1979).
For the present study, the school with the transition program was chosen as it had a relatively new program, first implemented in 2000, and staff were excited to find out the effectiveness of it. This school was an independent girls' school in Sydney's inner west. The total population of the secondary school at the time of the study was approximately five hundred students, and the socioeconomic status of children attending this school was upper-middle to upper class. The comparison school was similar in these aspects, with a slightly larger secondary school population of approximately six hundred students. The transition program that was assessed was called "Step Up to Year 7", and the designer of the program drew on school staff and her own expertise, and also consulted with students about their perceived needs over the transition period in developing this program, which was implemented for year 7 students. Core features of the program are described in Appendix A.
The anticipated effectiveness of the transition program in terms of enhancing self-concept can be determined by examining its goals. The relationships between program goals and self-concept dimensions are outlined in Table 1. It was expected this specific transition program would be most effective in enhancing perceived scholastic competence as 8 of its goals were directed at this. Social acceptance and global self-worth also had a large proportion of the program goals aimed at them (5 and 4 correspondingly). Weaker effects were expected for behavioural conduct and physical appearance, as these were only targeted minimally (3 and 2 goals respectively).
|Self-Concept Dimension||Relevant Program Goalsa|
|Scholastic Competence||2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10|
|Social Acceptance||1, 3, 4, 6, 10|
|Physical Appearance||1, 10|
|Behavioural Conduct||2, 4, 10|
|Global Self-worth||1, 2, 5, 10|
|aNote: This mapping of program goals to self-concept dimensions was gained from the year 7 coordinator at the school with the transition program.|
The present study evaluated the effectiveness of this specific transition program in enhancing children's self-concept across a range of self-concept dimensions. The major aim of the present study was to assess possible benefits of the transition program through comparing changes through year 7 across the two schools. A subsidiary aim was to explore whether students who continued their primary and secondary education within the same school institution evidenced better adjustment compared with those students new to the school in year 7.
In response to considerable concern about the negative effects that the transition from primary to secondary school can have on young adolescents, many schools have looked at different strategies to ease the transition. The use of a transition program has been found to be an effective strategy (Mac Iver & Epstein, 1991), most likely because it is easy to adopt across a range of schools with varying student needs and backgrounds. Support within a transition program can be shared among the primary and secondary schools, the parents, fellow peers and teachers. This eases the load on any one person and surrounds the student with a choice of support systems. However, schools with transition programs in place may simply assume their students will now be better off, which may not necessarily be the case. It is therefore important to monitor and evaluate program effectiveness.
Findings that self-concept 'recovers' to some extent during the first year of secondary school (Wigfield et al., 1991) may suggest that with or without a transition program, students will settle into secondary school, and self-concept will naturally recover without formalised support structures. Wigfield et al.'s (1991) research design is more extensive than most research investigating school transition effects, which has tended to assess outcomes only prior to and immediately following the transition point (e.g., Marsh, 1987; Simmons & Blyth, 1987; Simmons et al., 1979). Wigfield et al. (1991) employed a longer-term design, continuing their research with a follow-up assessment later in the first year of junior high school, finding evidence of considerable further changes through this year. To effectively evaluate a transition program, it would therefore be valuable to investigate student perceptions in two similar schools, one with a specific transition program commencing in year 7, and the other not having a dedicated program aimed at smoothing the school transition, both immediately prior to and following the transition, as well as at a later point in the year. Due to the constraint of the one-year timeframe of this project it was not possible to commence the study with year 6 students, instead commencing with students in the first weeks of year 7. Administration of questionnaires right at the start of year 7 should capture student perceptions prior to potential benefits of the transition program which we would expect to occur later than the first week of the school year.
Following the two questionnaire administrations, the year 7 coordinator at the school with the transition program was asked to express her views about the effectiveness of the transition program. The interview was conducted via telephone since this was the method that best suited the coordinator, who was asked to rate how effective she believed the transition program had been for each of the five target areas relating to scholastic competence, social acceptance, physical appearance, behavioural conduct and global self-worth. She was then asked to comment on the reasons for her responses, and further comments were elicited with reference to the actual results found in the analysis of questionnaire data.
Statistically significant 'school' effects indicate where self-concepts differ for students from each of the two schools, while statistically significant 'continuation' effects show which self-concepts are higher for students who have either continued from the feeder primary school or are new to the secondary school. Significant effects of 'time' demonstrate self-concepts that have changed between the two administrations. Interaction effects of time and either school or continuation show self-concepts that have changed differentially between the two occasions for students who are in different schools, or who continued from the feeder primary school or not. The central aim of the project, assessing whether self-concepts for students in the school with the transition program adjusted more smoothly than those for students in the other school, is addressed by findings of significant interaction effects between time and school. If students in the school having the transition program experience greater positive change (or less negative change) than students from the other school, this is likely to indicate that the transition program has effectively targeted those self-concepts.
Figure 1: Self-concept construct means for both schools at time one and time two
There was also a significant difference between schools for global self-worth (F(1,109)=5.28, p=0.02). The school without the transition program had higher mean scores (M=3.26, SD=0.61) than the school with the transition program (M=3.06, SD=0.71), with both school means remaining stable over time. This direction of effect was not expected, since the transition program aimed to increase students' perceptions of their global self-worth. Not only did mean ratings for global self-worth not increase over time, but the school without the transition program maintained a higher mean rating than the school with the transition program.
The significant difference between new and continuing students for the scholastic competence construct (F(1,109)=5.06, p=0.03) was due to students 'new' to the school having consistently lower mean scores (time one M=2.80, SD=0.64, time two M=2.80, SD=0.58) than 'continuing' students (time one M=3.01, SD=0.60, time two M=2.98, SD=0.52). It is interesting that perceived scholastic competence for new and continuing students stayed parallel over time. It was thought that as the new students settled into their new school their perceptions of scholastic competence would increase, however the data do not support this expectation.
The significant difference between new and continuing students for the social acceptance construct (F(1,109)=6.12, p=0.02) was due to new students having consistently lower mean scores (time one M=2.98, SD=0.65, time two M=3.08, SD=0.66) than continuing students (time one M=3.12, SD=0.52, time two M=3.27, SD=0.49). It is again interesting that social acceptance for new and continuing students stayed parallel over time, as it was expected that as the new students settled into their new school they would increase in their feelings of social acceptance more so than continuing students who were likely to be familiar with the peer group.
In a separate follow-up telephone interview, the researcher informed the year 7 coordinator of the students' decreased perceptions of their behavioural conduct and asked how these results might be explained. The year coordinator was surprised, but speculated that the students' perceptions of what may be 'naughty' behaviour was actually perceived as confidence by the teachers. She had noticed a difference in the students' behaviour over the year, but had attributed this to students' increased familiarity with the school and their peers. The year 7 coordinator preferred the students' behaviour later in the year when they were more relaxed and confident. She said that while some students had developed friendships that were deleterious to their behaviour, for the most part she was happy with the behavioural conduct of year 7 students.
|Reasons for rating|
The child's perception of his/her competence or ability within the realm of scholastic competence.
|The girls gained important skills in research, while not being conscious of these skills. The girls are achieving well.|
The degree to which the child feels s/he has friends, feels popular, and feels that most kids like him/her.
|The girls spend a lot of time together, they have opportunities to try new things, to perform and to speak in public. The girls have learnt to value other girls talents.|
The degree to which the child is happy with the way s/he looks, likes his/her height, weight, body, face, hair and feels s/he is good-looking.
|While physical appearance is not directly targeted, it is hoped that the overall tone in self-esteem abilities will translate to their physical appearance. Physical appearance and body issues are focused on a lot during their PDHPE lessons.|
The degree to which children like the way they behave, do the right thing, act the way they are supposed to, avoid getting into trouble, and do the things they are supposed to do.
|The culture of the school is what determines the girls' behaviour. As the year has progressed the girls have become more 'culturated' into the school. At lunch time the girls sit quietly and talk, whereas at the primary school they run around and climb and yell.|
The extent to which a child likes him/herself as a person, is happy with the way s/he is leading his/her life, and is generally happy with the way s/he is.
|Anxiety and high expectations are issues at our school. We are aware of these issues and can monitor the students' response, but the whole culture of the 'pushy' parents and school might work against the transition programs effectiveness.|
Another explanation for lowered mean ratings of students' perceived behavioural conduct in the school with the transition program could stem from aspects of the transition program focusing on behaviour. Part of the transition program consisted of an ethics-based program established by the Chaplain and year 7 teachers, and was incorporated into the English and History program, concentrating on values and morals, and causing the students to be conscious of their own behaviour. Students were also instructed to keep a 'learning diary' to review their studies and reflect on other areas of their lives. These two aspects of the program may have caused the students to develop a heightened awareness of their behaviour. Students may have been particularly sensitive to their behaviour by the time of the second questionnaire administration, when the results reflected a decrease in mean rating of perceived behavioural conduct. In reality the students' behaviour may even have improved, and they may simply have been more aware of times when their conduct was poor.
Alternatively the transition program may have been so effective that the students felt at ease with the school system and were comfortable pushing its boundaries. According to the year 7 coordinator, the students became more familiar with their environment and more confident over time. However, although the year 7 coordinator said she had noticed a change in the students' behaviour, she did not necessarily perceive it to be a negative change. She explained that the students' perceptions of what may be 'naughty' behaviour was actually perceived as confidence by the teachers. She had noticed a difference in the students' behaviour over the year but explained that it was due to their increased familiarity with the school and their peers. Therefore, students' low rating of their behavioural conduct could be due to the different perception of 'bad' behaviour by students from teachers. The information provided by the year 7 coordinator may reflect 'actuality' more so than the students' own perceptions. Irrespective of whether students were involved in the transition program or not, there was significant improvement for perceived social acceptance over time. These results are consistent with findings of Wigfield et al. (1991) and Nottelmann (1987), who found that students' social self-concept decreased immediately after the transition to junior high school, as students adjusted to the school change and developed new social networks and roles. As adjustment proceeded, young adolescents' social self-concept rebounded slightly by midway through the year, although not to previous year 6 levels (Nottelmann, 1987). Although the present study could not identify whether there was a 'drop' for social acceptance between years 6 and 7, the fact that continuing students had higher scores than the new students in social acceptance at time one provides indirect support for this. Certainly the improved perceived social acceptance over time supports notions of positive social adjustment through year 7.
Despite the transition program's focus on these social aspects, it is possible that if the students did not enjoy the company of their peers in their class group, or did not identify with their teacher, their social acceptance would not increase. By placing students in ability groups students could experience the Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect (Marsh, 1987), which occurs when equally able students have lower self-perceived academic skills and academic self-concepts when they compare themselves with more able students. Although this effect would most likely relate to students' scholastic rather than social self-concept, it is possible that if students felt inadequate surrounded by their peers, that this may affect them socially. The year 7 coordinator was surprised by the lack of a large increase in students' perceptions of their social acceptance, as she had noticed a dramatic change among the social structure of year 7 as the year progressed, where students were happier, more confident and more familiar with the other students and teachers. Her observations were supported by significant increases in social acceptance, however, this increase was similar in both the schools. The comparative design employed for this study reveals this increase to be a natural adjustment due to progression through secondary school and not specifically due to the presence of the transition program.
Similarly to social acceptance, global self-worth was also higher for those at the school without the transition program, and these results did not change significantly over time. Again, this direction of effect was not expected, since the transition program aimed to increase students' perceptions of their global self-worth over time. Aspects of the program that encouraged global self-worth included placing students in the same classes with the same teacher, students participating in an ethics-based program, and keeping a learning journal. These initiatives aimed to encourage students to socialise, learn about themselves, try new things and mentally challenge themselves. Not only did mean ratings for global self-worth not increase over time, but the school without the transition program maintained higher mean ratings. It is possible the setting the students at the school without the transition program were exposed to was a more relaxed positive environment. That school was larger in size which may in part contribute to between school differences. There was also a lower proportion of 'continuing' students in the non-transition program school, which may have resulted in an environment where there was greater frequency of new social interactions. The year 7 coordinator from the school with the transition program rated the transition program as 'quite effective' in improving global self-worth, however, she acknowledged that the transition program may not have been effective in removing the anxiety and high expectations that many of the students felt from 'pushy' parents and a high performing school culture. The coordinator said that staff monitored students' behaviour and were aware of these issues, but had not found a way to reduce feelings of anxiety that students experienced, which may have counteracted positive aspects of the transition program.
Interestingly, effect sizes between new and continuing students for social acceptance and scholastic competence perceptions were stable over time. It was expected that the new students would initially have lower mean ratings for these constructs but that they would 'catch up' with continuing students through the year. The fact that trajectories were parallel raises several questions. Why do new students not 'catch up' over time? How long does it take for new students to achieve similar ratings to continuing students? Do new students ever really catch up? To answer these questions longitudinal designs must be employed, and it is possible that these apparent disadvantages are never quite made up. Specific interventions tailored to 'new' incoming students would be necessary in this case.
Importantly, it was found that students who continued their secondary education within the same school as their primary education had higher self-concepts for social acceptance and scholastic competence going into secondary school than students new to the school. This was attributed to continuing students being more at ease while surrounded by a familiar peer group and having some knowledge about their academic abilities. Midway through the year, continuing students' self-concept scores for social acceptance and scholastic competence were still higher than the new students' by a similar amount as at time one. This provokes questions about when or whether new students ever make up these differences. Implications here are in terms of a possible need for interventions focused specifically towards 'new' students, to help them adjust as smoothly as possible to their new environment.
The current study involved students from two independent girls' schools in Sydney's inner west. The potential transferability of these findings to other settings cannot be assessed without further research investigating other types of settings. A study involving boys is needed to determine how a transition program affects them. Due to the different stages of physical and psychological development boys and girls are in at year 7, results may vary. A study involving students from different 'types' of secondary schools, such as Government, Catholic, or Regional schools, may also lead to variation in results due to the different school cultures, as may research with students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Indeed, it is possible that the dynamic interactions between the cultural capital of upper-middle class students in the present study and the culture of the school, were such that 'transition' problems were not an issue. Studies with students from lower socioeconomic groups could further explore this possibility. Further work is also needed with a larger sample of transition programs, to increase generalisability of findings about the effectiveness of different 'types' of programs, since the present study can only make inferences relating specifically to the transition program evaluated here.
Clearly there is a need to formally evaluate transition programs, since the assessment of students' self-concept across year 7 failed to confirm positive outcomes of the transition program on any self-concept dimension, contrary to the year 7 coordinator's subjective personal evaluation. It would be useful, in future research, to canvass the evaluations of other staff and parents relating to the transition program. It is also possible that the transition program had other beneficial outcomes that were not assessed in the present study, and future research could fruitfully explore a broader range of outcomes than self-concept, focused on in the present study. It is clear that further research is needed to investigate the full range of benefits of transition programs for students entering year 7 before they are implemented ad hoc in schools.
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|Please cite as: Tonkin, S. E. and Watt, H. M. G. (2003). Self-concept over the transition from primary to secondary school: A case study on a program for girls. Issues In Educational Research, 13(2), 27-54. http://www.iier.org.au/iier13/tonkin.html|