The linguistic challenges of the transition from primary to secondary school

Dr Robbie Love (Research Assistant)

Florence Oxley (Research Assistant)

Marcus Jones (Consultant, Huntington Research School, York)

Professor Constant Leung (Consultant, Kings College London)

We are an ESRC-funded research project based at the School of Education at the University of Leeds, working in partnership with Lancaster University’s Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science and affiliated with Cambridge University Press. Led by Professor Alice Deignan, we aim to use methods from corpus linguistics to address a pressing language problem in English schools.

There evidence that students sometimes struggle with the transition from primary to secondary school, and as a result their attainment can dip at the start of secondary school. We believe that one of the causes of this dip is language. At the start of secondary school, students may encounter vocabulary, expressions, grammar structures, or ways of explaining ideas which are very different to the academic language they were used to at primary school, and different from the language that they have encountered outside school in their families and communities.

To explore this problem, we will build and analyse corpora to produce the first comprehensive and systematic description of the range of academic language encountered by students in Years 7 and 8 in secondary school, in comparison and contrast with the language of Years 5 and 6 at primary school. We will be comparing the language used across different school subjects. We will produce also produce reference works to be used by teachers and other staff supporting students through the transition.

We are currently working with 9 primary schools and 3 secondary schools across the north of England and from different socio-economic communities, to collect materials and interview students.

Publications and outputs

Candarli, D, Love, R & Deignan, A (2019, forthcoming) Using corpora to explore the language challenges of the transition from primary to secondary school. International Corpus Linguistics Conference. University of Cardiff, July 2019.

Love, R., & Deignan, A. (2018). The linguistic challenges of the transition from primary to secondary school: Using the BNC2014 in applied linguistics research. British National Corpus/Thai National Corpus Symposium. Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. September 2018. Available here.

Project website