PsychologiCALL

On primary to secondary school transition, with Charlotte Bagnall

March 26, 2021 SalvesenResearch Season 2 Episode 8
PsychologiCALL
On primary to secondary school transition, with Charlotte Bagnall
Show Notes Transcript

Dr Charlotte Bagnall is a developmental psychologist at The University of Exeter who specialises in school transition research. During this podcast she chats to Sue about a piece of work looking at Year 7 parents', children's and Year 6 and 7 teachers' retrospective experiences of primary-secondary school transition using focus group methodology and how these stakeholders feel this period can be improved. This research has made a unique contribution to the field of primary-secondary school transition, both in terms of the findings and the analytical method used, as Charlotte describes.

You can find out more about Charlotte by following her on twitter here.

The paper discussed during this podcast is:
Bagnall, C. L., Skipper, Y., & Fox, C. L. (2019). ‘You're in this world now’: Students’, teachers’, and parents’ experiences of school transition and how they feel it can be improved. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(1), 206-226.

More related papers from Charlotte and her colleagues are:
Bagnall, C. L. (2020). Talking about School Transition (TaST): an emotional centred intervention to support children over primary-secondary school transition. Pastoral Care in Education, 38(2), 116-137.
Bagnall, C. L., Fox, C. L., & Skipper, Y. (2021). When is the ‘optimal’ time for school transition? An insight into provision in the US. Pastoral Care in Education, 1-29.

Many thanks to Naomi Meiksin for editing the transcript for this episode. 

Intro:

Oh, it is recording. I see the little figure. Okay, great, I will do my little spiel and then I'll introduce you. Nice . Okay, here I go.

Sue:

Hi everyone. I am Sue from the Salvesen mindroom research center at the university of Edinburgh, and I'm recording an episode of our psychological podcast, which is all about , um , developmental psychology, understanding children's learning and development and cognition. Um, and hopefully making a bit of a contribution because that seems to be something we're talking about a lot right now, which is great. And today I am talking to Charlotte Bagnall, who is an associate lecturer at the university of Exeter. And she's going to talk to me about a paper , um, looking at experiences of school transition and how students, teachers, and parents feel it can be improved. So hello, Charlotte, how are you today?

Charlotte:

Em , I'm good, thank you.

Sue:

Great. Um, so I'm really excited to hear about this paper because I think school transition is something we need to investigate a bit better as researchers. So , um, why don't you start off by telling me what you and your colleagues discovered in this bit of research?

Charlotte:

Okay. Em, so , um, I , myself and two colleagues who I work with as part of my PhD, so Dr. Claire Fox, at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr. Yvonne Skipper at the University of Glasgow, published a paper in the British Journal of Educational Psychology to look at year seven parents, children, and year six and seven teachers' retrospective experience as a primary to secondary school transition and how they felt it could be improved using em asynchronous and synchronous focus groups . So I think the main finding that was shown in this paper is that there is a need for greater communication across systems. So between primary schools and secondary schools, but also between stakeholders; so the school and the home over at school transition, so that children are met with uh an element of continuity and also consistency during this period of time. Another thing that was missed empirically, what's sort of shown in this research, was the need for primary to secondary school transition provision to be managed gradually and sensitively, so there is a balance between exposure and to some of the challenges that transition, um, poses to children, but also consistency. And this was discussed mostly by the year seven children. So, in other words, they wanted a degree of insight into what secondary school would look like, and how to sort of navigate these different challenges, but they also wanted this exposure to follow a clear continuum with a limit. And children also need consistency during this time to - support for that and feeling overwhelmed.

Sue:

That is really interesting and important work. Thank you, Charlotte, so much. So , um, why don't you just , um, take me back a bit and tell me what motivated you to investigate this question in this , in this way?

Charlotte:

Okay. So one major limitation across primary to secondary school transition literature is that we try to understand transition without understanding what's happening to significant others in the child's ecosystem or the child's life. So, we know that primary to secondary school transitions are challenging times for children and that children who have greater resilience and have greater support systems, um, cope better, but what is not recognized is how primary to secondary school transition can also be a period of substantial change for support figures, such as parents who also have to adjust to new roles and expectations um during this time. I wanted to investigate how these first time, these stakeholder's first time experiences, as a process of primary to secondary school transition, are sort of related. As, without sort of understanding how children, parents, and teachers views of transition are in an efforts to improve them. Um, it's hard to know how we can make this transition period better for all stakeholders.

Sue:

That's so interesting. Um, so tell me a bit more, a bit about the, the people who took part in the, in the study. I guess I'm specifically curious about whether the parents you spoke to and the students you spoke to were related to each other, or if they were separate groups of students and parents.

Charlotte:

Yeah! So I recruited the children, parents and teachers from schools were in the West Midlands. So , so the child's , um , focus group , they take part, um, in class. So they were thinking the focus group take part, take place in real time whereas the parent's and their teacher's focus groups, where possible, we tried to ensure that parents and teachers were recruited from the same schools, but that isn't always possible, but also we wanted sort of a variety of responses. So we recruited some parents and some teachers from different secondary schools and different primary schools and those focus groups took place online, so they were an asynchronous focus groups; they didn't take place in real time. And this was sort of recognized and the parents and teachers are very busy lives and how to sort of obtain their insight during the time convenient to them. So they could log in and out of the online focus groups at a time point that was convenient with them. And this overcome some of the limitations that have been shown , using focus groups with these stakeholders.

Sue:

So how did you find using that , um, asynchronous kind of online focus group method ? That's something that we just did for the first time last year, I'm curious what you thought of it as a , as a technique for collecting data.

Charlotte:

I thought it was, it was very useful, particularly for the context in which I was doing it because I wanted the focus groups to be sort of anonymous. Um , I didn't want their parents and the teachers to know who was participating in the group so they could, they could be more honest with their responses. And I think the online format, um, aided an element of the focus group been decontextualized, so they were non-confronting. And I think it encouraged stakeholders to share more honest insights and also to get sort of a wider variety of participants than we may have done if we would have done it, face-to-face. (Inaudible) and, I suppose, of location and getting to the focus group at the same time. So I suppose it enabled us to have a sort of a , a wider variety of participants taking part.

Sue:

I think that's so important actually, you know, because a lot of this research we do end up with, you know, tends to be kind of middle class families who have got a bit more resource and a bit more flexibility to take part in this kind of thing. And I think you're completely right as well about the confrontational element, you know, so always a worry if you're doing a face-to-face focus group, that , that it will be sort of dominated by people with strong opinions. And it's actually quite hard in that, in that room, you know, when you're sitting with people to disagree with them and so I'm always left wondering if there's more range of opinion than necessarily came across, you know? Um, so it's great that you can capture that by doing this online system, that's fab.

Charlotte:

And all of the parents and teachers also have pseudonyms as well. So I think that helps as we encourage participants to not share any information that would reveal their identities and they also could have their own pseudonym. So I think again, that, um, afforded that level of aninym , um , I can't say anonymity! That word I sort of struggle with, but yeah, it sort of enables them to sort of be confidential.

Sue:

Yeah, that's great. Um, so I'm going to ask you bit about how you analyzed it in a minute, but first, just for one clarification, for people who might be listening from abroad, can you just tell us where year six and year seven is in relation to primary to secondary transition? So, are those the first two years after moving into secondary school?

Charlotte:

Um, so year six is the last year in primary school, so, 10- 11 year old children, and year seven is the first year in secondary schools , they're 11-12 year olds.

Sue:

Right. Great. So you're looking at either side of that transition - people anticipating it and then people looking back on having just done the transition.

Charlotte:

Yes. Well, this particular research was, was conducted using retrospective focus groups that I used year seven children, um , year seven parents and year six to seven teachers, because I think it was, well, it was many factors really, but the main one was that we didn't really want to ask children questions abut how they felt moving on when they were in year six before they'd made the move to , um, secondary school, because we didn't really want to, pump any anxieties they may not have already had about secondary school by asking them questions they may not have anticipated. But also they hadn't transitioned yet so I suppose they hadn't had the exposure into the differences between primary school and secondary school. So that was one of the reasons really why we , um, used a retrospective focus group.

Sue:

That makes sense. Um, so tell me a bit about the analysis. How did you, you know, did you analyze the student and the teacher and parent datasets separately, or did you bring them all together? How did you go about that?

Charlotte:

Um, so that what was actually one of the unique elements of the analysis. So what we did was that we conducted an inductive thematic analysis initially on each group of transcripts. So the parent transcripts, the children transcripts and then the year six and seven teacher transcripts . So we coded these separately, we looked at sort of semantic similarities and differences across the groups of transcripts, but then we brought them together to form overarching themes and sub, three subthemes. And this sort of reflected discussions across the three focus groups, but also identifiable distinctions between the groups. So some of the sub themes were unique to one specific stakeholder. Some of them were relevant to two of them from three, but , um , we wanted to sort of cap capture that in the analysis really.

Sue:

And so you talked at the beginning about some of the kind of key findings around, you know , better communication and consistency and managing the transition process. Were there any places where there was a really strong contrast or, or even, you know , kind of opposing opinions between groups in terms of what would be helpful?

Charlotte:

Um, so, I suppose I don't think there's really been differences. So what we sort of found was that children, parents, and teachers experience at school transition was actually shown to be quite similar. They all sort of navigated an analogous process, like, they managed either their own or others , um, emotions or the relationship expectations. But subjects who communication disjunctions between the school and the home, but also fears of transferring worries, especially between the parents and the children, so we didn't want to let the other path who were anxious sort of had um apprehensions about the transition there wasn't really recognition of this . So communication across sort of the stakeholders but also the systems is quite limited. I think - oh, go on, sorry.

Sue:

Well I was just gonna [laughs] you go, Charlotte.

Charlotte:

Well, I'm going to say this has really limited implications. So when we're sort of thinking about our current climate because it suggests the importance of having discussions really between year six children and teachers , um , year six children and parents which I suppose is more prevalent now with , um , home education, um, to sort of help prepare year six children for their move ahead to secondary school.

Sue:

So , um, so what I was going to say is that, you know, I think it's really good news actually, that you see such consistency between the groups , because that suggests, you know, more kind of fertile ground for making changes. So I suppose if I could just draw you out of this a little bit further on the implications, you know, if someone, if a teacher or a parent or a , a pupil in their final year at primary school is listening to this, you know, what would be a sort of concrete action that you would recommend one of those people or all of those people might take to help them , um, make the smoothest possible transition?

Charlotte:

So I think for the children , um, communication , so the importance of talking to other people about how you're feeling. So there was some findings shown in the research that , um, children didn't really talked to their , um, their peers, or they didn't think their classmates felt the same way as them , so encouraging, um, sort of children to talk to each other, talk to their parents, seek support from the school, the home. I think for parents , um , they need to again, have those discussions with their children about primary to secondary school transition, about moving on, maybe thinking about similarities between their transition to secondary school and their child's. But can I just sort of - what I spoke about at the start of the podcast about the need for these discussions to be gradual and responsive to children's needs, because we don't want them to feel overwhelmed. We don't want them to also though feel under-prepared. So these are discussions need to be gradual, sensitive and child-lead as much as possible. And I suppose as , these are again , even more important now, when we are thinking about the current climate, so ensuring that we are nurturing children's confidence and their self- esteem, their feelings of control...and this will not only help children with sort of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 in the short term , but also feed forward and build in that emotional resilience for, um, at risk time points, such as primary to secondary school transition.

Sue:

That's so interesting and important isn't it actually, because I guess if I can , um, well you tell me if I'm getting it wrong, but I suppose in a way, the conversations then that parents and teachers and children are having around primary to secondary transition, you know, that then provides , um , almost like a practice or an opportunity to hone those skills that might then also be applicable in other times of difficulty or stress, right?

Charlotte:

Oh, definitely.

Sue:

Um , like you said, you know, it's happening right now. So if we can get that right then, you know, we can, we've got a good solid foundation for overcoming difficulties in the future.

Charlotte:

Yeah, definitely builds in sort of the resilience, the coping skills, being able to draw on um support figures for , um, social support - it has so many implications really , um, not just with regards to transition, but also other turning points in children's lives as well.

Sue:

Oh, that's so great, Charlotte. And actually my eldest is going into secondary school in , uh , in September. So this is perfect for me personally.

Charlotte:

Oh, brilliant.

Sue:

So, finally, as you know, we normally ask , um, if you've got any advice for kind of early career researchers or post-grad students who are listening , um, I believe you're in your , um, first lectureship post-PhD, congratulations, Charlotte! So , um, I wondered if you had any kind of hot off the press advice for people who are following in your footsteps.

Charlotte:

Okay. Em I suppose looking back to sort of my own academic journey, I suppose, would be to sort of follow your research interests and find sort of an academic home um and teams who are willing to support this. So I've always really been interested in primary to secondary school transition, I suppose, really from day one when I was an undergraduate and I sort of went to my primary supervisor (who was Dr. Claire Fox) with this idea on how to sort of measure social support over time to secondary school transition. And I suppose I was quite lucky really to be able to look at it from a final year um undergraduate student but then follow this same theme of research into my master's and then my PhD. And then able to, after that, a supportive team who wanted to follow this path with me. And I suppose that would be my main advice in terms of sort of , um, research, but also sort of the importance of enjoying and celebrating all successes, whether that's a big success , um, you know, getting, getting your first job post PhD, or it's a small or a smaller success. Um, I think that that's really important, particularly in our current climate and then the importance of sort of a work-life balance. Although I do feel a bit of a hypocrite to the amount at the moment. So I suppose the additional time at home as been more opportunity to sort of follow up on research projects in the evening, but it is really important to me to make sure I've got that balance right.

Sue:

Mm , great advice, Charlotte . I love this idea of finding your academic home. That just sounds so nice and , and sort of snuggly, doesn't it? It's great.

Charlotte:

Yeah. And like it's just so important really, to be able to have , um, sort of an academic home that shares the same interests as you and for your sort of I suppose, you know , your lines of inquiry. So yeah, that's , that's important.

Sue:

Thank you. Well , that is great advice, Charlotte and fascinating research on a really important topic . So I'm delighted that we have the chance to talk about it today. Um, for anyone who is listening, you will be able to find out more about Charlotte's work by following the links in the podcast description on Buzzsprout or in your podcast app. Thank you so much, Charlotte!

Charlotte:

Thank you . Thank you for this opportunity today.

Sue:

Not at all. Bye!

Speaker 1:

Okay. We did it. I thought that went quite smoothly!