The high school honeymoon

Monday 1 February 2010

When pupils move from primary to high school their engagement levels, self-esteem, and well-being immediately improve, before beginning to decline six months later according to research carried out at the University of St Andrews.

The interdisciplinary study examined the transfer process from the perspective of a group of 393 children (195 boys and 198 girls) as they moved from 19 primary schools to four high schools.

The children’s school commitment, school belonging, school participation, self-esteem and well-being were evaluated four times over a 13-month period, twice before transfer in the final year of primary school and twice after transfer in the first year of high school.

The data was analysed using multilevel modelling to assess how behaviour, attitude towards school and self-perception changed over the time of the study, and how they related to the additional information collected on school context and various other aspects of children’s lives.

Despite evidence of an initial “honeymoon period” immediately after the move to high school, by the final questionnaire there was a decline in all outcomes except for the perception of self-esteem, which continued to improve.

Nearly 20 factors related to school were found to have an effect on outcomes. The most significant variable was the sense of school community, which influenced all outcomes except well-being. Feeling a valued member of the school was also important.

Other positive school factors included a good classroom environment with teacher support, and good school discipline.

Vivienne Horobin, researcher at the University of St Andrews said:

“There is no doubt that supportive parents are likely to enhance pupil performance. However, there are a number of ways in which might be able to maintain student motivation, such as developing a sense of school community and encouraging small groups to engage in various activities together.

“Further research is needed to discover whether the initial fall in school engagement is maintained and where the precise sources of disillusionment lie.”


Vivienne Horobin is available for interview on 01334 462 811 or email [email protected].

Issued by the University of St Andrews.

Contact: Emma Shea, Communications Manager on 01334 462 109 or email [email protected].

Category Research

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