The impact of personal background and school contextual factors on academic competence and mental health functioning across the primary-secondary school transition
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Students negotiate the transition to secondary school in different ways. While some thrive on the opportunity, others are challenged. A prospective longitudinal design was used to determine the contribution of personal background and school contextual factors on academic competence (AC) and mental health functioning (MHF) of 266 students, 6-months before and after the transition to secondary school. Data from 197 typically developing students and 69 students with a disability were analysed using hierarchical linear regression modelling. Both in primary and secondary school, students with a disability and from socially disadvantaged backgrounds gained poorer scores for AC and MHF than their typically developing and more affluent counterparts. Students who attended independent and mid-range sized primary schools had the highest concurrent AC. Those from independent primary schools had the lowest MHF. The primary school organisational model significantly influenced post-transition AC scores; with students from Kindergarten - Year 7 schools reporting the lowest scores, while those from the Kindergarten - Year 12 structure without middle school having the highest scores. Attending a school which used the Kindergarten - Year 12 with middle school structure was associated with a reduction in AC scores across the transition. Personal background factors accounted for the majority of the variability in post-transition AC and MHF. The contribution of school contextual factors was relatively minor. There is a potential opportunity for schools to provide support to disadvantaged students before the transition to secondary school, as they continue to be at a disadvantage after the transition.
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