“Transition” or “Flow”

A thought popped into my head during the PT conference when one of the groups was talking about transition from primary to secondary school.  They were reinforcing that it needs to be much more than just making it a smooth transfer for children from one thing to another – but that primary and secondary education should be seen as one continuous process.

Then it struck me – the word we use actually reinforces the notion of change -of something different.

The definition of “transition” is:  

1. Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another.


a. Passage from one subject to another in discourse.

b. A word, phrase, sentence, or series of sentences connecting one part of a discourse to another.

3. Music

a. A modulation, especially a brief one.

b. A passage connecting two themes or sections.

4. Genetics A point mutation in which a pyrimidine is replaced by another pyrimidine, or a purine is replaced by another purine.

5. Sports The process of changing from defense to offense or offense to defense, as in basketball or hockey.

6. A period during childbirth that precedes the expulsive phase of labor, characterized by strong uterine contractions and nearly complete cervical dilation.

intr.v. tran·si·tioned, tran·si·tion·ing, tran·si·tions

1. To make a transition.

2. Sports To change from defense to offense or offense to defense.

Perhaps we need to find another word.  I suggested “flow”:

The definition of flow is: 


a. To move or run smoothly with unbroken continuity, as in the manner characteristic of a fluid.

b. To issue in a stream; pour forth: Sap flowed from the gash in the tree.

2. To circulate, as the blood in the body.

3. To move with a continual shifting of the component particles: wheat flowing into the bin; traffic flowing through the tunnel.

4. To proceed steadily and easily: The preparations flowed smoothly.

5. To exhibit a smooth or graceful continuity: The poem’s cadence flowed gracefully.

6. To hang loosely and gracefully: The cape flowed from his shoulders.

7. To rise. Used of the tide.

8. To arise; derive: Many conclusions flow from this hypothesis.


a. To abound or teem: coffers flowing with treasure.

b. To stream copiously; flood: Contributions flowed in from all parts of the country.

Does it make a differnce?  Is there better word?

9 thoughts on ““Transition” or “Flow”

  1. Pingback: Air Tran » Blog Archive » “Transition” or “Flow”

  2. I don’t think the word used makes any difference. It’s what you do with the programme that counts. Gone should be the days where a HT welcomes the P7 pupils with the expectation that now is where the real work starts! The pupils are normally moving from one building to another. Personally I don’t like ‘flow’ as a term.

  3. There’s no escaping that, despite the ideal of continuity, for many pupils the transition or flow feels more like change than anything else:

    schooling may take place in a different town
    the walk up the road may become a bus journey
    the number of teachers with whom they have contact multiplies overnight
    there are many more men involved in their education
    the dimension of everything changes – size of campus, amount of rooms, people, noise, stairs
    having changed pond, they are small fish again

    When I ask pupils I have taught since P5 how they are settling in, they seem to celebrate at least some of these differences. Equally, when I took some pupils back to perform in their primary, they seemed delighted to be there again and to see their former teachers.

  4. I’m not so old that I can’t remember moving from primary school to high school, and it is most certainly a “transition” from the point of view of the pupil.

    However, not for the first time, I think there is too much effort spent on worrying about language – this is the sort of thing that (often justifiably) gives local authorities a bad name. As Paul says, it’s the action that counts, not the words.

  5. Thanks all

    To be honest I don’t think the delegates at the course thought “flow” was a good idea – however, by exploring the language we use it’s sometimes possible to come up with a deeper understanding of our practice. Maybe this is not one of those occasions?


    I’m not sure that ‘all’ teachers think their work builds upon the pupils’ previous experience – and can still think of it as a “new start”. I’ll never forget an argument I had with a teacher who argued that pupils starting at secondary school should be seen as being a tabula rasa, (Latin). A clean slate; a blank or erased tablet. I’m sure she’s still teaching.


    I agree that Local Authorities can sometimes seem locked into political correctness for its own sake – I hope this is not one of these occasions.

  6. Call it what you will …..there was some good IT ideas for supporting and helping “transition” on Teachers TV on Sunday.You can watch / download from the internet.

  7. Transition from Primary to Secondary is such an interesting aspect of education. My wife is a primary teacher, and I’m secondary and we occassionaly discuss the many differences and similarities between the two systems and it’s hard to remember what it was like to personally move from one to the other.

    Although the language is largely irrelevant to what is actually happening and possible in today’s system, I feel that the word flow reflects what many educators would envisage for an ideal education system and that transition is more realistic.

    The middle school system which has been tried by a number of LEA’s in England probably just introduced two tranisitions instead of one, which is why so many LEA’s have moved away from this.

    I instintcively feel that the scale of the change faced by the 10-12 year olds in the UK is not ideal for their education and personal development – but I’m not convinced of this. Throughout life we have to cope with many significant changes to our lives so perhaps this is a quite a useful lesson?

  8. My brother-in-law has just been appointed head of one the new Acadamies in England and (I’m a non-teacher repeating hearsay so excuse me if I get this wrong) is contemplating operating a collegiate type of system within the school. A series of small schools functioning almost independently within the bigger system, which might help that transition from the primary pond to the secondary ocean. Sounds to me like it would either need an awful lot of teachers or that there is potential for a logistical nightmare when subject choice arrives. Perhaps he’ll read this and let you know what it is he’s really thinking.

  9. Just a thought….

    To enable an analogy, I would consider flow as appropriate, as with Reynold’s number for flow of fluids.

    The flow can be laminar or turbulent dependent upon route factors such as distance, boundaries and factors such as friction.

    The effect of these is affected by the properties of the fluid, such as viscosity.

    Translate these to be factors such as buses, noise and number of teachers for the pipe properties, and factors such as the pupils ability to adapt, what makes them apprehensive etc. for viscosity.

    From this you may be able to consider which are the most important factors that cause the flow to be laminar or turbulant. Or cause laminar flow to become turbulent during the ‘passage’ (something that is likely to be undesireable).

    There is ‘transition’, but it may be easier to consider ‘flow’ as put above, to enable a breakdown of what helps or hinders a smooth transition.

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