Key transition skills

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Ready for secondary? Learners from Northlands Primary School in Rugby helped pilot the activities in the Lift Off programme under the guidance of assistant head Tash Bonehill

The Lift Off project is helping to support pupils’ transition to secondary school. Martina Veale explains more and offers some free resources for SecEd readers

Imagine a learner who starts secondary school confidently. They may have many good qualities and characteristics such as high self-esteem, the ability to communicate effectively, collaborate with others and solve problems.

They may also be resilient, determined, work efficiently and have self-control. Such a student has high aspirations and sees education as meaningful, knowing that it will unlock their ambitions and long-term goals.

A learner with the above qualities is set to thrive in year 7, progress well throughout secondary school and move seamlessly into higher education, vocational education, training or employment. But many students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are a world away from this scenario. This September, many will cross the daunting divide into year 7 without the basic characteristics needed to thrive in secondary school and reach their full potential as people.

Research shows that when the transition from year 6 to 7 does not go well, it can later manifest itself in lower grades, poor attendance, increased anxiety and disruptive behaviour (for more, see Identifying factors that predict successful and difficult transitions to secondary school, a summary of results from the School Transition and Adjustment Research Study, known as STARS).

Low self-esteem, depression and poor academic attainment at age 18 have been reported in pupils who described their move to secondary school as difficult.

Ofsted, too, has acknowledged the significance of a smooth transition, with its 2016 annual report reading: “Transition from primary to secondary school continues to be a point where some pupils begin to fall behind.”

Bold new approach

To tackle the well chronicled issue of transition, ASDAN ran an 18-month research project and pilot with its partners the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Progression Trust. Activities to develop self-esteem, resilience and personal skills were trialled in a secondary school and three local primary feeder schools.

Researchers, who independently evaluated the pilot, found that pupils who had participated were more likely to feel excited and confident about the prospect of starting secondary school. When interviewed by researchers after starting secondary school, the learners who had participated expressed positive feelings such as enjoyment and satisfaction from being at secondary school. The most successful strategies from the pilot were compiled to form the Lift Off programme.

Free resources

Three of the key characteristics identified in the pilot as being key to succeeding in year 7 are strengths, purpose and problem solving. ASDAN is giving SecEd readers free resources to help learners develop these characteristics ahead of their transition to secondary. The resources involve one hour and 40 minutes of teaching and activities.


This activity includes a PowerPoint presentation, a 20 minute starter activity and a worksheet.

The PowerPoint defines strengths by dividing them into skills and attributes, before asking students to make a list of their strengths. Learners identify strengths for each other, which boosts their confidence and helps them identify what they are good at. Learners are encouraged to continue the discussion about their strengths at home with their family.

The starter activity encourages learners to explore the meaning of skills and attributes. Students use the worksheet to write down their strengths as well as identifying what they are not so good at. Learners are encouraged to write down a plan for overcoming any weaknesses they may have.


The purpose activity is a 40-minute lesson that comes with a PowerPoint and a lesson plan outline. Learners are encouraged to think about what life would be like without a “purpose” or long-term aspiration. Students discuss how to identify a strong purpose for their life, for example a profession, before listing the skills and attributes needed to accomplish their goal. Learners summarise their ideas in a poster or report.

Problem solving

This 40-minute lesson comes with a PowerPoint and a lesson plan. Students are encouraged to define what a problem is before exploring the structure presented in the PowerPoint on how to address a problem. Students are given a problem to solve: the water bottle challenge. This involves going through the stages of the problem-solving cycle before using resources to launch the bottle as far as it will go in the playground.

Empowered students

Students who have developed the characteristics of strengths, purpose and problem-solving will feel empowered: they have self-esteem, high aspirations and a proven structure to help them overcome any problems they encounter.

Characteristics like these can’t be taken for granted in young people, especially when they face the considerable challenge of transition. The prospect of big, unfamiliar school, new sets of friends and a different classroom and teacher for every lesson can be difficult and stressful. Students need every support possible to develop the qualities and characteristics that will help them experience success in secondary school. 

  • Martina Veale is education director with ASDAN.

Further information


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