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BFFs make transition to secondary school easier

27 September 2018

Keeping a best friend during the move to secondary school is linked to better academic attainment and behaviour. These are the findings from a paper published today in the British Journal of Educational Psychology by Dr Terry Ng-Knight of the University of Surrey.

The study involved 593 children during their transition to 10 English secondary schools.  Data was collected at the end of their last year of primary school, and at the end of their first year of secondary school.  The study examined the association between self-reported friendship stability and academic attainment, and two aspects of mental health: emotional problems and behavioural problems.  The study is novel in assessing friendship stability and its association with changes in these important functional outcomes during the transition to secondary school.

There was substantial instability in children’s friendships as they moved from primary to secondary school, with only 27 per cent keeping the same best friend until the end of the first year of secondary school.    Children who did maintain the same friends tended to do better academically and showed lower levels of behavioural problems, even after taking into account the children’s earlier levels of academic attainment and behaviour problems at primary school.

Keeping the same best friend was not associated with benefits to emotional mental health, but maintaining other lower-quality friendships was linked to worsening emotional health across the transition.  The findings also identified that children with pre-existing emotional and behavioural problems and lower academic attainment are at higher risk of losing best friends.  There may, therefore, be value in supporting friendships among these children.

Dr Terry Ng-Knight said,

“We found that children who kept the same best friend over the transition tend to do better.  Children’s best friends change for all sorts of reasons, but the transition is likely a big factor disrupting friendships.  If we can find ways to support friendships during this time this may help us to improve attainment and behaviour. 

Secondary schools vary in the extent to which they actively support pupil friendships during transition.  Some schools encourage children and parents to nominate friends they would like to remain with and some schools do not allow any input from children and parents. Allowing children to choose which friends they would like to be with appears to help children maintain their friendships, but little is known about the knock-on effects of such policies so it deserves more research attention.”

The article will be free to view online until the end of October.




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