Transition to secondary education: children’s aspirations, assessment practices and admissions processes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents research into the processes, practices and experiences of transition to secondary education in Northern Ireland from a children’s rights perspective. Three aspects of the contemporary landscape of transition are considered: availability of school places and children’s school choice aspirations; privately operated unregulated tests used for selection; and school level admissions arrangements which mediate transfer. The overarching aim of the thesis was to understand how inequities in each of these areas are potential barriers to children’s enjoyment of their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989).

The mixed-methods study was conducted in three strands: a documentary analysis of school admissions policies for 205 academically selective and non-selective secondary schools offering admission in September 2014; a collaboration with children as research advisors to inform the purposes, processes and outcomes of the research which reflects a rights based approach; and a questionnaire of a broad sample of transition age children (10-12 years, n=1327) which extensively investigated their views and experiences of the policy and practice of transfer. The rights based, mixed methods approach was intentional, so as to place the voices of those directly affected by the transfer arrangements at the heart of the research.

The findings illustrate serious inequities which represent a system-level failure to safeguard the child’s right to education (article 28) under the CRC and according to Tomaševski’s 4-As conceptual framework; that education should be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable (2001). Aspects of transition procedures, such as the differential availability of school places and inconsistencies in school admissions requirements, limit school choice and contribute to inequitable access to secondary education. The assessment arrangements are shown to create additional complexities in admissions practices, resulting in differential experiences of access to academically selective schools. This thesis, by offering insight into children’s experiences of admissions decisions across the full range of school types, demonstrates that the power of choice lies with schools. An analytical tool, developed as an outcome of this research, is proposed as a means to assess the extent to which transition arrangements are underpinned by respect for children’s rights.
Date of Award06 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJannette Elwood (Supervisor) & Laura Lundy (Supervisor)


  • Transition
  • Assessment
  • Children's Rights
  • Admissions
  • Aspirations
  • School Choice

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