The number of children facing challenges in their emotional well-being during the transition from primary to secondary school is increasing rapidly, according to a prominent educational psychology expert. Dr Charlotte Bagnall, who conducted research at The University of Manchester, emphasizes that this issue is particularly critical for vulnerable children, including those with special educational needs, adverse childhood experiences, or those receiving Pupil Premium Funding.

In an article published by the University’s policy engagement unit, Policy@Manchester, Dr Bagnall underscores the potential for enhanced understanding of how to support vulnerable children, stating that it “has the potential to improve the mental health and educational trajectories of children across the life course, reducing long-term inequalities.”

Dr Bagnall notes that children facing social, emotional, and mental health difficulties without an education, health, and care plan are more likely to face exclusion or suspension during the transition period. However, she suggests that improved “collaboration and communication channels across systems and stakeholders” can mitigate these challenges.

The academic from the University of Manchester proposes three recommendations for education policymakers to address the key difficulties encountered by children transitioning from primary to secondary schools.

Firstly, she advocates for an “early-intervention, gradual, and sensitive primary-secondary school transition curriculum,” spanning from the beginning of Year 5 to the end of Year 7. Drawing on her 2020 research, she asserts that this approach is a “promising school-based intervention,” referenced in recent NICE and Health Policy Scotland guidelines. Dr Bagnall urges the Department for Education and local authorities to collaborate with educators to implement this curriculum more widely, emphasizing lessons that focus on developing children’s coping skills and emotional awareness.

Secondly, Dr Bagnall calls for a “systemic approach to primary-secondary school transitions provision,” with emotional well-being as a central focus. She recommends both universal and targeted support for children’s emotional well-being throughout the transition, extending beyond primary school. This support should help children recognize, understand, and manage their emotions.

Thirdly, she reveals that her research team at the University of Manchester is developing a scale named the “Primary-Secondary School Transitions Emotional Wellbeing Scale (P-S WELLS)” to measure children’s emotional well-being during this period. This tool aims to provide practical value at a community level, enabling educational practitioners to gain immediate insight into the universal support needed for their class and identify specific children requiring additional support. Dr Bagnall encourages education policymakers and local authorities to engage with the development and implementation of this instrument, advocating for its integration into a transition curriculum.

Dr Charlotte Bagnall’s article, ‘Supporting Vulnerable Children over Primary-Secondary School Transitions,’ is available for free on the Policy@Manchester website.