Tobbell, Jane and O'Donnell, Victoria (2013) The formation of interpersonal and learning relationships in the transition from primary to secondary school: students, teachers and school context. International Journal of Educational Research, 59. pp. 11-23. ISSN 0883-0355

The importance of relationships in education has been well established in the literature. However, the nature of relationship is seldom defined and as a result interpersonal and learning relationships are conflated and so implicitly treated as synonymous. In this paper we argue that learning relationships are different from interpersonal relationships, but crucially that interpersonal relationships are a pre-requisite to learning relationships. We define learning relationships as those which allow for the emergence of, and passage through, the zone of proximal development. At present there is a paucity of research which examines relationship formation of any type in education and in this paper we seek to address this gap. At the point of transition from one school to another there is a normative imperative to form new relationships. This paper focuses on the experiences of students in their transition to secondary school and explores the formation of relationships with their new teachers. An ethnographic method was employed which followed children during their final year of primary school and into their first year of secondary school. Through student and staff voices and observational data, the opening and closing of opportunities for the formation of interpersonal relationships, and by extension, learning relationships, are explored. The paper presents data from three schools in the UK and identifies the themes of courtesy, rules and resistance, and school systems and pedagogical practice as key determinants in relationship formation. We acknowledge that these findings represent the focal schools, but argue that the data demonstrate that attention must be paid to the construction of enabling transition contexts to facilitate the formation of interpersonal relationships which may lead to learning relationships in the new school. We further call for more focussed research which explores the nature of learning relationships.

IJERFinal-relationshipstransition.pdf - Submitted Version

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