The Move From Primary to Secondary

I have been thinking a lot recently about the transition between primary and secondary school. As well as recently running a module on my EEF KS2/3 Maths course all about it, I have also been involved in a Sussex Maths Hub project aiming to look specifically at supporting teachers of year 6 this year. My oldest son is coming up to his own move to secondary as well and this is making me see this from both sides. Unfortunately, in our busy teaching lives we don’t often have the opportunity to cross phases and really look at what and how children learn either before they get to us or after they leave us, but every single time I have had the chance to work with my primary colleagues I have found the experience very rewarding and helpful to my practice. I will outline here some of the main things that I have learned.

Firm foundations

Our recent webinar and Zoom meetings with Sussex Maths Hub were led by Jenny Stratton (Primary Deputy Head and Maths Hub Assistant Lead) and aimed to look in detail at the specific knowledge and skills that are most important for our year 6s to have as they move to secondary school, given the gaps they have had in their schooling this past year. We surveyed local secondary teachers and then were lucky enough to have input from Alison Hopper, Primary Mathematics Specialist from MEI (Mathematics Education Innovation). She spoke about how important it is to have firm foundations and fluency in manipulating number and also a deep understanding of structure. We looked at activities which can help us to develop this in both primary and secondary, and we were also reminded of the wealth of helpful resources available such as the NCETM’s powerpoints focusing on the Ready to Progress criteria for Maths. In Brighton and Hove, both Jenny Stratton and Ruth Astley (Secondary Assistant Head and Mastery Specialist) have been involved in bringing together the secondaries and their feeder schools to decide which aspects of the year 6 curriculum should be prioritised this year.


The EEF Guidance Report on KS2/3 Maths recommends that “Primary and secondary schools should develop shared understandings of curriculum, teaching and learning” (Recommendation 8). In both our Hub Zoom meeting and my EEF course module teachers have been tasked with looking at questions from KS2, 3 and 4 assessments and trying to guess which key stage they come from. This has made for interesting discussion and is extremely difficult! Secondary teachers are often surprised at the complexity of questions from year 6 SATs papers, and primary teachers sometimes feel that all of their pupils would be capable of some of the easier Foundation tier GCSE questions, so ask why are some of them still at that level 5 years on? There is a well-documented dip in performance on transition from primary to secondary which can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • Emotional and social adjustment to a very different school environment (Galton et al, 2003)
  • Discontinuities in curriculum
  • Variation in how the curriculum is taught, and how learners are grouped (Symonds & Galton, 2014; Jansen et al, 2021)
  • Y6 focus on national tests (Galton et al, 2003)

We have an opportunity this year without the national tests in year 6 to try to address some of these, and trying to ensure consistency of approach is one important aspect. Alison Hopper talked about approaches to ratio in our Zoom meeting and I was surprised that although we would now teach ratio in a very similar way at Durrington, our primary feeder colleagues said they tackled it in a very different way. Could it be that our new intake children do know much more than we sometimes think, but they don’t realise this as topics are sometimes approached in such a different way at secondary school?


Collaboration is therefore going to be a key way that we can start to solve this problem. At Durrington we are finding that the more collaboration that goes on between maths staff, the better and more consistent our lessons and teaching are becoming. As we jointly plan lessons during our SPDS meetings, or informally chat about them between lessons in the office – what went well, what could be better next time – we are giving students are better deal: they can build upon their learning when moving between classes, teachers and year groups without feeling everything has changed. We need to be doing this much more across the primary / secondary divide, and this is why these webinars and meetings, and the contacts we are now starting to make with our feeder schools, are so important.


The change from primary to secondary is a really big one. My own son will go from being one of the oldest 60 children in his school of just over 400, to a massive institution where there will be not far off 400 children in his year group. It is no wonder that some students who flourished at primary lose much of their confidence and start to believe that they “don’t know anything” – there is so much that is new and unfamiliar. We need these children to enter secondary school being able to build on previous knowledge, to make useful connections with things they have previously seen, and for their teachers to be aware of these to get the best out of them.

Having now made the initial connections with our feeder schools and started the ball rolling we are hoping this project will continue to grow: this should not be a flash in the pan, a couple of meetings and a visit by a year 7 teacher 3 weeks before the end of term, but an ongoing collaboration. We need to discuss pedagogy, share teaching methods and look at different ways our students will approach questions. Being now used to meeting remotely might be the lynchpin in this: of course it will be great to meet face to face when we can, but Zoom meetings do allow us to get together on a much more regular basis and keep those contacts going during our busy lives. It is so important that we make this a priority so that we can give as many of our students as possible the confidence to thrive at secondary school.

Deb Friis

Deb is a maths teacher at Durrington High School. She is also a Maths Research Associate for Durrington Research School and Sussex Maths Hub Secondary Co-Lead and is currently delivering our training on the EEF Guidelines for KS2 and 3 Maths.

Thanks to @AlisonHopperMEI @ruthastley @SEMathsHub @JennyStratton3 @NewickSchool

EEF Guidelines for KS2/3 Maths can be found here

This blog from Aidan Severs also has some really useful thoughts on the transition to secondary

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