Starting with the data: Student wellbeing during the transition from primary to secondary

School nurse Courtney Croxford explains how at Lilydale Heights College, the Department's Student Transition and Resilience Training (START) resource has engaged students with their wellbeing as they transition from primary to secondary school.

In an educational journey, beginning secondary school is one of the most significant growth experiences for a young learner. A good primary to secondary school transition experience can make a difference for life.

The START resource consists of evidence-based survey questions and activities to support students' reflection and personal development throughout their transition to secondary school. The START Survey for schools contained in the resource enables an understanding of how students are feeling about secondary school.

Program activities are suitable for upper primary and lower secondary students, and schools can use the survey data to identify wellbeing issues and select reflective activities for students. Completed reflections contribute to a personal student portfolio. Ideally, students will begin a portfolio in Year 6 and review it in Year 7, but the activities can benefit students when undertaken in isolation at either year level.

At Lilydale Heights College, Courtney used the START Survey for Schools first in 2018, part way through the year with the Year 7 students and then at orientation with the 2019 cohort of Year 6 students. In 2019, Courtney is working with the survey data to inform the implementation and use of other resources in the START guide.

Introducing the START Survey for Schools at Lilydale Heights College

'I actually introduced [START] to Upper Yarra Secondary College first and used my success with Upper Yarra to introduce it at Lilydale Heights. I basically said, 'there's this fantastic transition resource that's just come out.' I was a new adolescent health nurse', reflected Courtney.

'I was still getting my head around the things going on for brand new year 7s and so I thought this will be a really good opportunity for me to learn about the sorts of wellbeing and health issues that they might have going on, but also a really good opportunity to identify students that might have wellbeing problems; to learn about the group as a cohort. What some of their issues might be, whether it's organisation skills, bullying, friendships or whatever. I thought it could be great to inform the orientation process for next year.'

'The school leaders were happy to support it. They said, you just do what you need to do. Then when they got the results they saw it was actually more useful than they were expecting.'

'The first student survey [at Lilydale Heights College] was run part way through 2018. It gave us some really good wellbeing data, some interesting trends in terms of their engagement in certain classes and subjects, and how they were feeling about their organisation.'

'Lilydale Heights has a class at their school called 'Self', which is like a self-improvement pastoral care kind of class. That was identified as the best class to run the survey in and then the teachers took it upon themselves to run the survey, put all the surveys in my pigeon hole once they were complete and then I got to work straight away collating the data.'

Insights from data

'One of the really useful things about the data was that it identified some students that probably weren't coping as well as we'd realised or expected and that gave me a chance to follow up with those students one-on-one and see what was going on,' explained Courtney.

'Some of them really did need some support and they've got ongoing support now. For some of them it was just a check-in conversation and now they know that wellbeing support is there if they need it.'

'I think it's also a really positive message to send to the students – that we care about your wellbeing, we care how you are as people and we're not just interested in your academic results, we want to make sure that you're happy and safe at school. That's a really good message.'

'Another interesting finding was the confidence students had with different classes. It became really clear that some classes were loving maths and some were not enjoying maths, or enjoying English and finding PE more of a struggle.'

'The data was shared with the school leaders so they could discuss it with individual teachers.'

'I know the principal gave a few transition talks to primary schools and she was able to talk about some of the data. She could say in general they've adjusted really well this year and the data was mostly positive.'

STARTing with a survey on orientation day

'I've already started the work for this year [2019]. I surveyed the grade 6 students last year in preparation for coming in to the school this year. It was through their orientation day survey.'

Courtney explains: 'I went in on orientation day and introduced myself to all of the students so they knew who I was and then gave them this survey. It was almost the first thing they did on orientation day.'

'Then I collated the results over the summer holidays and it was really interesting to see – you could get a clear idea straight away of the students who are feeling very anxious, very nervous. And so I sent the list of those students to the Year 7 coordinator as well as the student wellbeing coordinator so they can keep an eye on those certain students from the get-go.'

Year 10 peer support leaders work with the data to tailor support for Year 7s

'I'm working with the peer support leaders (year 10 students) at Lilydale this year and so I'm going into their class next week and I've come up with a report for each class with general trends – no students are actually identified – so the leaders have got a really good sense of their class in particular, the kids who are in it, what they really like and what they're worried about. And they can use that as a platform to start some conversations about more serious things.'

'I showed the resource as a whole to the peer support leaders last year and told them there were some really good things in here. But this year I want to drill down on that a little bit more and say, here's your data for your class, you can see that a high percentage of them are very worried about their organisation and which books they need for which class, what activities in the START resource could you run with them that might help them feel more comfortable about that?'

Advice for teachers, school nurses and wellbeing coordinators

'So far, having just run the survey for one year, the immediate benefit has been engaging those students with wellbeing. A colleague of mine who ran the survey with her schools, she was able to pick up some students who were either low in literacy or had very poor comprehension of the questions and that's led to them getting funding now that they probably wouldn't have had, or not have had as early in the year.'

'When you're using the resource, you've got to be prepared for the responses you can get. Doing the survey, some of the things that you read can be quite confronting and challenging. I've got the wellbeing resources and background but for others, that can be a challenge.'

'Second of all, with the survey, in a school that's got a lot of Year 7 students, just collecting the data can take a while. As nurses, we've got the capacity to sit with that and really analyse it but for your standard teacher or student wellbeing coordinator it is a bit of a process to get your head around, look for the trends, write things up so that's probably a bit of a challenge (to implementation).'

Courtney has written templates for her colleagues to use while they're collecting the data.

'One thing I'm looking at this year is to do an online version. I'm still trying to work out the privacy and confidentiality aspects and which platform we can use but I'm investigating that. Because that would save the average teacher or student wellbeing coordinator a lot of time.'

The role of school leaders

'I think the underlying thing is that you need to have your teachers engaged with the program, understanding it and on board. And if they're on board and they can see the use, they're much more likely to run the START activities in their classroom. But part of that process is then educating the teachers so they know what it's about. And why it's important and how it can fit in with the curriculum. And that's a big job in itself.'

'If a principal says I'd really like us to have a go at START, teachers will respect that. It means more coming from school leaders.'

Supporting transitions

Explore Professional Practice Note 13: Supporting students during the transition from primary to secondary school

​​For information about how the START resource can support student wellbeing through the Year 6 to 7 transition, see: Teacher tip: Practice principles that support students transition from primary to secondary school​​​

To access the START Resource, see: Student Transition and Resilience Training (START)