The transition from primary to secondary schooling: strategies for success in vulnerable populations

In recent years, low high school completion rates and school dropout have been of great concern within Québec and across Canada.

In Québec, students in public schools serving non-disadvantaged areas are one and a half times more successful in obtaining their diplomas than students attending schools serving disadvantaged neighborhoods. Gender is also an important factor in the risk equation: boys are at much higher risk of high school dropout than girls. Other factors, including individual characteristics such as behavioral problems, poor academic and social skills, and emotional difficulties such as high levels of anxiety may also identify "at risk" students. Ministry of Education statistics demonstrate that grade repetition is highly predictive of failure to obtain a secondary school diploma. Further, approximately half of all grade repetitions occur during Secondary Cycle-1, following the transition between primary and secondary schooling. The present project examined the predictors of school success across this critical and challenging transition.

Every Québec child deserves to be optimally positioned for a successful transition to secondary education.

The path to success across the challenging transition to secondary education begins early: from before school entry and the start of primary education. Essential academic and social skills are interrelated, and are acquired gradually across the years of primary schooling. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds need appropriate support over the entire course of the primary Cycles to acquire the basic skills necessary for success. In addition to academic skills, children's individual characteristics, including level of anxiety, self-esteem, social skills and other social/emotional indicators, as well as friendship patterns, predict adaptation during the first year of secondary education.

These results support the position that successful education is not only about acquiring academic competencies and knowledge, but also about learning effective social and emotional coping skills. The present findings have implications for the design and evaluation of preventive interventions to support children's development across these areas. Future research directions are discussed based on the premise that every Québec child deserves to be optimally positioned for a successful transition to secondary education.

Main researcher

Lisa Serbin, Concordia University

Research report

Call for proposals

Deposit of the research report: February 2009