Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity (CREID)


Studentship opportunity: Positive Secondary School Transitions | Application deadline 4 April 2021

Positive Secondary School Transitions: Improving multi-agency working with school pupils identified as being at risk of making a poor transition is a studentship funded by the ESRC through the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science.

Project details

In Scotland, much like the rest of the United Kingdom, young people move from primary to secondary school around the age 11-12. Transition experiences can have far reaching consequences throughout secondary school and beyond into adult life (Jindal-Snape et al., 2019). A negative transition experience has been shown to impact attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy, and this can result in a lowering of self-esteem (Jindal-Snape et al., 2019). Low self-esteem in combination with other challenges such as poor peer relations, depression and anxiety can lead to further struggles both academically and socially (West et al., 2010). Working with the social innovation charity People Know How’s Positive Transition Service, this participatory action research (PAR) (Chevalier and Buckles 2019) project will explore the transition needs of children and families deemed to be ‘at risk’ of making a poor transition to secondary school in Edinburgh and East Lothian.  This knowledge will be used to develop and test out innovations in practice and local policy to improve transition experiences and outcomes (including improved school attendance, enhanced social and emotional wellbeing, and educational attainment).  The project will also be comparative, exploring how interventions vary between two very different local authorities, one a large urban setting and the other a more rural setting.  This will allow the project to explore the way local context, organisational culture and interagency relationships shape transition support.  The findings of the project will inform the development of the Positive Transition Service and provide a model of practice for similar projects across the UK.  Findings will also enhance theories of secondary school transition, which has been under theorised (Tobbell 2003). Intersecting issues such as class, ethnicity, gender, culture and disability will also be explored in order to ensure the any practice model for transitions developed by the project meets the needs of a wide range of children and their families (Sutton et al., 2018).

About the University

One of the oldest departments in the UK, Social Work at the University of Edinburgh has been ranked the country’s number one for the third year in a row in the Complete University Guide 2021 league table.  The department is situated within the School of Social and Political Science (SPS), one of Europe’s leading centres of research in the social sciences. In the 2014 Research Assessment Exercise, well over 70% of the School’s research was rated as world leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*), and each of the four units we submitted came top of its field in Scotland. Our interdisciplinary structure fosters vibrant research that cut across traditional social scientific boundaries to bring together experts from across the School and the University. SPS has 1650 undergraduate students, over 500 postgraduate taught and around 250 research postgraduate students. The meeting place for cultures and experiences that the School provides is a valuable part of the educational experience that we offer.

Social Work at the University of Edinburgh works collaboratively with other stakeholders (universities, colleges, policy makers, practice agencies) across research, education, dissemination and policy work. Our teaching is supported by regular opportunities to be taught by users of social work services, and practitioners.  This PhD studentship is co-supervised and, as such, the student will also be able to link into opportunities within Moray House School of Education and Sport at the University of Edinburgh which was ranked first in Scotland for both educational research and sport and exercise research in the Research Excellence Framework 2014. The University of Edinburgh is fully committed to promoting and maintaining equality and diversity and welcomes applications from candidates belonging to groups that have been traditionally underrepresented.

The PhD student will also join the community of staff working at People Know How and will be invited to People Know How staff meetings, training opportunities, occasions and events. The student will have full access to People Know How’s offices and will be based there from time to time depending on their timetable of work.



Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria.


  • Achieve (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Undergraduate Honours degree in psychology or relevant social science discipline.
  • Experience of, or interest in, research or work in school and/ or social work settings.
  • Qualitative design, data collection and analysis skills.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • Enthusiasm and a conscientious approach to work.
  • Be able to organise own work and meet deadlines.
  • Be able to work within a team and show an interest in working across academic and non-academic settings.
  • Be able to initiate and take opportunities for collaborative working with People Know How and the team of staff, volunteers, interns and placement students.


  • Achieve (or expect to achieve) a Masters degree in psychology, education, or relevant social science discipline.
  • Experience of research/work with children or teenagers.
  • Experience of conducting action research.
  • Confident user of NVivo
  • Experience of presenting information in different formats and styles to reach different audiences.
  • An interest in the work of People Know How and a passion to promote its charitable aims.
  • Professional qualification in teaching, community education or social work.

Award details

The scholarship is available as a +3 (3 year PhD) or a 1+3 (Masters year and 3 year PhD) studentship depending on prior research training. This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process, however you can access guidance here to help you decide on which to apply for. The programme will commence in October 2021. The full ESRC studentship package includes, as advised by ESRC:

  • An annual maintenance grant (stipend)
  • Fees at the standard institutional home rate
  • Students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)

Further details and application