Social Relationships and the Transition to Secondary Education

Emer Smyth

Abstract


International research has pointed to the social and academic adjustment required of young people moving to secondary education and the importance of social support in easing this transition. However, studies have rarely looked at the simultaneous impact of different social networks on this process and how these networks may mediate the influence of social background. This paper draws on Growing Up in Ireland data to look at the influence of parents, peers and teachers on two dimensions of the transition process, which capture social, socio-emotional and academic aspects of the adjustment: the ease of settling into secondary education, as measured by parents’ reports of transition difficulties among their children, and academic adjustment to secondary education, as reflected in changes in young people’s academic self-image. Parental support is found to play a crucial role in helping young people adjust to the new school setting but, contrary to much previous research, formal involvement in their children’s schooling, especially in helping with homework, plays a much less important role. Over and above supportive relations, parental cultural, economic and social resources are found to play a direct role in improving young people’s confidence as learners and in enhancing transition experiences. Peer networks typically grow larger over the transition to secondary education but those young people who were more socially isolated at primary level experience greater difficulties. In keeping with previous research, the quality of relations with teachers emerges as a key driver of academic and social adjustment to secondary education.

Keywords


secondary education; schoolchildren; Ireland

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