Donaldson, Caitlyn

Caitlyn Donaldson
Start date:
October 2019
Research Topic:
How does transition from primary to secondary school impact upon young people's mental wellbeing?
Research pathway:
Research Supervisor:
Dr Graham Moore and Dr Jemma Hawkins
Supervising school:
School of Social Sciences,
Primary funding source:
ESRC Studentship

This project is aiming to better understand how young people’s mental wellbeing is impacted by the transition from primary to secondary school.

It has been proposed that mental wellbeing is the “balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced” and this research posits that transition is a challenge that will require a young person to respond by utilising psychosocial resources.

Psychosocial resources are built in childhood as the first step towards future mental wellbeing status, yet childhood socio-economic status is an important mediator of the development of psychosocial resources. Where young people have fewer psychosocial resources to start with, transition becomes a greater challenge.

This is supported by findings that students from low SES backgrounds frequently have more negative experiences of transition than those with higher SES.

Young people who fail to engage with secondary school when they first join may never do so. This may mean that they never reach their academic potential, which has implications for health, employment, income and life expectancy.

Drawing from Bernstein’s theory of cultural transmission, it is proposed that young people who are unable to connect to their school will be more likely to be become disengaged and experience poor mental wellbeing. Conversely, if school culture aligns with each young person’s own cultural understandings, they will view the school as highly meaningful to them and be more inclined to engage with the school’s learning environment.

The school environment can thus act as a centripetal or centrifugal force on students, either drawing them inwards into the school culture, or outwards, towards situations that may produce health inequalities.

The first stage of this project will be multi-level modelling of school survey data. The findings from the quantitative analysis will then be used to inform qualitative interviews of school pupils.