Latest Article: Conceptualising the Primary to Secondary School Transition within the Theoretical Framework of Ecosocial Theory


Donaldson, C., Moore, G., & Hawkins, J. (2023). Conceptualising the Primary to Secondary School Transition within the Theoretical Framework of Ecosocial Theory. International Journal of Educational and Life Transitions, 2(1): 19, pp. 1–17. DOI:



You can listen to Caitlyn Donaldson providing an overview of the paper here.


Transcript of the podcast

This paper looks at young people’s mental health across the primary to secondary school transition, from the perspective of ecosocial theory.

Ecosocial theory is a theory of epidemiology first posited in the 1990s by Nancy Krieger at Harvard University, and is focused on understanding how and why health inequalities develop within a population.

From the perspective of school transition, we argue in our paper that mental health inequalities may be exacerbated by the transition process, resulting in embodiment of poor mental health in some young people, and that this is due to unequal distribution of resources – we use the example of low socioeconomic status to illustrate this.

Young people with low resources, both psychosocial, such as self-esteem and social support, and flexible, such as money, power and cultural capital, are more likely to struggle to be resilient in the face of a school transition. This can lead to inequalities in mental health outcomes.

However, the paper also argues that schools act as an ecological level that determine the resource burden of the transition process on young people. Therefore, schools that can make transition less difficult, through the ways that they support young people during transition and more broadly, through providing a school environment that is supportive of mental health, can reduce the resources needed by students as they transition, and thus reduce mental health inequalities.

The paper finishes by discussing the epistemological and ontological perspectives from which school transition and mental health research is carried out. It argues that critical realism, which is ontologically realist – there is an objective reality for us to explore – but epistemologically relativist – we can only know it in part, obscured by our own lens on the world, offers an important perspective for mental health and transition research.

It argues that future research that provides space for the voices and understandings of those experiencing a school transition is important for uncovering layers of reality, reducing the power imbalance between researcher and researched, and also making a real world difference to young people’s mental health.

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