Transition from primary to high school

Advice to support schools in facilitating an effective transition from primary to high school by strengthening continuity of learning practices.

Transition to high school and the curriculum

The transition from primary to high school is a pivotal moment in a student's academic journey. It involves building relationships and understanding the diverse range of student transition needs. Effective transition practices support teachers to identify what a student knows and can do, so they can build upon and extend their learning.

Curriculum reform provides a unique opportunity to strengthen transition processes and continuity of learning practices.

NSW is delivering a new curriculum for Kindergarten to Year 12 to:

  • build strong foundations for future learning
  • establish new syllabuses focused on what is essential to know and do in the early and middle years of schooling.

A deep understanding of the evidence-base in the new syllabuses and the curriculum, enables teachers to develop effective pedagogical approaches that support continuity of learning.

Watch 'Understanding transition from primary to high school' (4:53)

Understanding the transition to high school

Duration : 4 minutes 53 seconds


The first years of high school are fundamental to improving the long-term learning outcomes of students.

The Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation’s (CESE) study called Improving high school engagement, classroom practices and achievement tells us that new learning experiences that build on students’ prior learning keeps students engaged and improves their overall learning outcomes.

Transitioning into high school through the curriculum supports students to build on their learning while also supporting teachers to get an understanding of where students are at in their learning.

This usually means determining what students know, understand, and can do to strengthen their learning and development in school.

The transition to high school can be an exciting time for many primary school students. It the beginning of a new stage in their life. Did you know that a student who shows academic interest and motivation in Year 7 is, on average, of 3 months ahead in their learning by Year 9? That’s compared to a student who shows no interest or motivation in Year 7.

This means an effective transition process, influenced by the teacher’s implementation of teaching and learning techniques, is key in creating positive learning experiences early on.

The transition from primary to high school can be a complex process that presents diverse educational experiences for young people.

Research indicates that students may become less engaged in their learning during the transition from primary to high school. This can impact on a student’s application to learning, their value of learning and their sense of belonging in school.

Teachers and school leaders play an important role in understanding their students' academic needs and how they learn.

Information sharing and communication between primary and secondary schools play an important role in establishing continuity of learning. It allows students to access the curriculum based on their existing knowledge and gives teachers the opportunity to support and challenge student development in the long term.

Continuity of learning can be supported by collaboration between primary and secondary schools, establishing processes for sharing student information, communication with parents, carers, and communities.

While student experience and wellbeing are central considerations in the transition process to high school, an understanding of curriculum requirements and effective teaching and learning practices are essential to support students’ academic development and continuity of learning.

Schools are encouraged to implement practices that support the alignment of curriculum documents, policy and school priorities.

Curriculum alignment is a process which demonstrates coherence and consistency across the key curriculum documents in schools. It is essential to maximise the learning outcomes for all students. Some key curriculum documents in schools include NESA (NSW Education Standards Authority) syllabuses, scope and sequences, teaching and learning programs, assessment records and schedules, student work samples, class/year timetable.

Implementing transition practices helps students progress to high school. This can ensure students stay focused and engaged in their new learning environment. Transition practices give students opportunities to reinforce concepts and skills that were covered in previous lessons.

By sharing student knowledge and understanding the demands of syllabuses across various stages, teachers can provide learning opportunities and experiences that reflect student's prior learning.

[End of transcript]

Continuity of learning

Continuity of learning is where new learning builds on prior learning, by consolidating and extending student knowledge. This is strengthened when primary and high schools, parents and carers share information about students’ prior learning experiences and pedagogical approaches.

Continuity of learning can be seen in students:

  • experiencing familiarity in how and what they learn
  • having opportunities to build on and apply prior learning
  • transferring and adapting their learning in a new context.

Watch 'Transition and Continuity of learning' (5:07)

Transition and Continuity of learning

Duration : 5 minutes 07 seconds


Primary and high schools work hard to ensure students feel comfortable and confident as they take on one of the largest changes in their educational journey. In this video, we explore what is continuity of learning, the New South Wales syllabuses and curriculum reform, and how to strengthen continuity of learning. So what is continuity of learning? Continuity of learning is when a student's current learning is informed by and builds on their prior learning.

By understanding a student's prior knowledge, skills, and previous exposure to the curriculum, teachers can develop more informed learning sequences that gradually build on existing learning experiences.

In the context of transition to high school, implementing continuity of learning ensures learning experiences are planned, optimises learning for each student, helps address learning needs and avoids unnecessary repetition, supports high expectations of students and provides teachers with opportunities to present the appropriate level of challenge for students.

New South Wales is delivering a new curriculum for kindergarten to year 12. The New South Wales Education Standards Authority, NESA, is responsible for the development of the syllabuses for kindergarten to year 12 students, in accordance with the New South Wales Education Act of 1990.

As part of the New South Wales curriculum reform, NESA is developing new syllabuses to provide greater clarity for teachers and students. In these syllabuses, teaching and learning is organised in key learning areas. This structure supports students' continuity of learning through the development of subject-specific knowledge. NESSA is using a framework approach to support continuity of learning by having a new, consistent and streamlined syllabus structure.

The new New South Wales syllabuses provide a sequence of learning that builds on prior learning and lays the foundations to further students' knowledge, understanding, and skills. To support continuity of learning between primary and high school, teachers need to identify what a student knows and can do so they can plan learning experiences that build upon and extend their learning.

A deep understanding of the curriculum supports teachers to develop educational programmes for students that support continuity of learning. Opportunities to deepen understanding of curriculum and support continuity of learning include professional learning, focused on understanding syllabuses that come before and after the stage being taught, identifying prior learning in teaching and learning programmes, using diagnostic and formative assessment to determine where individuals are in their learning so that teaching can be differentiated and further learning progress can be monitored over time.

For continuity of learning to be established in year seven, both primary and high school teachers must understand each student's journey. The transition to high school is an opportunity for schools to connect and support one another. Strong communication and transparency can ensure that student learning is continuous and student learning outcomes are strengthened.

Effective approaches to continuity of learning involve sharing knowledge of student learning between primary school and high school teachers. Many schools are pursuing innovative and inspiring strategies to enhance this vital aspect of education, laying the groundwork for successful student transitions and long-term academic success.

Some strategies include conducting lesson observations or quality teaching rounds between stage three and stage four teachers, building communities of practise between primary and secondary schools that focus on effective pedagogies, engaging with curriculum reform communities, which support schools with the implementation of new syllabuses and the development of school contextualised curriculum, participating in professional learning on effective pedagogies within networks to support consistent teaching practises between primary and high school.

When schools work together to communicate important information about student learning and wellbeing, they ensure that positive experiences for students are cultivated across stages and across educational contexts

[End of transcript]

The importance of continuity in learning

Continuity of learning contributes to a strong and successful start to high school. When learning experiences build on students’ prior learning, they feel secure, confident and connected to their new learning environment. Building integrated, relevant and practical knowledge of a subject is central to ensuring that learning experiences can be applied in the real world.

Reflection questions

  • Are shared curriculum conversations carried out between primary and high schools in your context?
  • How do teachers across the transition to high school communicate and share information to support continuity of learning?
  • What activities could be undertaken to support teachers to engage with the new syllabuses that come before or after the stage they are teaching?


  • Teaching and learning


  • All high schools
  • All primary schools
  • Classroom teachers
  • Curriculum and Reform
  • Principals and school leaders
  • Teaching and learning
  • Teaching, Learning and Student Wellbeing
  • Web page
  • Year 5
  • Year 6
  • Year 7

Business Unit:

  • Curriculum and Reform
  • Teaching, Learning and Student Wellbeing
Return to top of page Back to top