A study by Glasgow University researchers shows that ethnic minorities face the most difficulties and often struggle with their English language skills. It confirms recent evidence at Hillhead High in the city where Asian pupils achieve lower results in English than in other subjects.
The study, involving 600 pupils in three Glasgow secondaries and three link primaries, found a generally positive picture of the transition from primary to secondary.
Pupils say that teachers who manage the transition should emphasise that secondary school is less frightening and more enjoyable than expected and allows you to make new friends. New entrants to S1 should be encouraged to talk about how they feel and not listen to rumours.
Some children did find some aspects worse than anticipated. One in five disliked homework, around one in six could not find their way around a larger school and a few said that there were too many teachers. Only 2 per cent of the group interviewed reported persistent worries, mainly about making friends and school work.
Catherine Graham and Malcolm Hill of the university's Centre for the Child and Society say S1 pupils were mainly positive about their teachers.
"Significant numbers reported differential treatment by teachers on the basis of a child's characteristics, such as behaviour and gender," they state.
"Rather more than one-tenth of pupils of minority ethnic backgrounds believed there was differential treatment related to religion, and slightly fewer that treatment differed on the basis of ethnicity."
More than one in three said that it was easier to talk to their primary teacher, but one in five said the opposite.
Secondary appeared to have less teasing and bullying, with the number of incidents reported down from 61 per cent in primary to 21 per cent in S1, although the researchers caution that other studies do not support this.
Primary teachers' predictions about how pupils would cope with the wider world of secondary proved remarkably accurate.
Secondary teachers singled out English language skills among Asian pupils as a worrying factor. But they were not united about how well Asian pupils settled: some thought they did not face any particular problems, while others took the view that they had different or additional problems.
"The S1 reports showed that fewer minority ethnic children were performing very well compared to their white counterparts, but white pupils were most likely to receive the lowest ratings. Asian pupils had a much greater tendency to miss school than pupils of other ethnic groups (40 per cent, compared to 9 per cent of white children)," the researchers state.
"Yet teachers were slightly more likely to report that Asian pupils had a very good attitude to schoolwork (73 per cent, compared to 68 per cent of white pupils)."
Negotiating the transition to secondary school, by Catherine Graham and Malcolm Hill of Glasgow University's Centre for the Child and Society, is published in Spotlight 89 by the SCRE Centre at Glasgow.