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International Journal of

Educational Research 33 (2000) 401}423


Chapter 6
The transition from primary to secondary level
in smaller and larger rural schools in Norway:
comparing di!erences in context
and social meaning
Rune Kvalsund
Volda University College, PO Box. 500, 6101 Volda, Norway
Abstract
Research on the transfer of pupils from primary to secondary schools in Norway hardly
exists. In this chapter the transfer from the primary to the secondary level is analyzed within the
life course perspective. The focus is on informal social learning mediated through the social
relations between and among pupils. Pupils are active participants and the meaning of
transitions is based on their experiences in very di!erent school contexts. Transfer and its social
meaning is discussed as a `transition froma (primary) as well as a `transition toa (secondary).
The chapter also compares the situation in smaller and larger rural schools in Norway using
both quantitative data (`the transition observeda) and qualitative interview data (`the
transition reporteda). Two very di!erent patterns of transition with di!erences in social
competence as consequence are analyzed and discussed. 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All
rights reserved.
The conventional way of conceiving the nature and function of schools and
schooling is consistent with developmental theory. Within this approach all schools
are considered to be fairly similar in size, all pupils belong to single age groups, and all
teachers follow the same national curriculum guidelines all over the country.
Transitions from primary to secondary schools are determined by central factors
described in developmental psychology *changes in certain psychological character-
istics associated with the pupil's age or stage of development. Within such a paradigm
di!erent perspectives may be applied (see Lerner, 1986, for example). Transition has
an important psychological aspect * the pupil's awareness of the transitions and his
or her construction of the social meaning they represent. The process of constructing
the social meaning of the transition has important collective dimensions as well.
0883-0355/00/$- see front matter 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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For a more thorough discussion of the central aspects of life course research and transitions see
Hagestad (1991).
This study makes use of an alternative perspective to the developmental one. This
approach, generally called the `life course perspectivea, conducts the analysis at the
macro-level, rather than the micro-level. Pupils are seen as agents moving through
changing social contexts of the life course * speci"cally in this chapter the parts that
pertain to primary and secondary schooling. The life course perspective is marked by
the focus on socially created, socially recognized and shared turning points in
a cultural system of age grading * a system that gives order and predictability to the
course followed by individuals. The general point is that what happens at a given
point in time is better understood as part of a longer context of time * as parts of the
life course.
Becoming one year older, moving up one form * especially becoming an `8th
formera * is socially important among pupils in the Norwegian schools. The pupils
encounter di!erent modes of access to valued resources and new social rights and
obligations. Most Norwegian lower secondary schools are separate schools that, since
1997, have covered the 8th to the 10th form (ages 13#to 15#). Before 1997,
Norwegian children started in the "rst form of primary school when they were seven
years of age. Since then the pupils have begun primary school at the age of six. The
data in this study were gathered up to and including 1997, both before and after the
system changed.
The cultural meaning of the school transition is constructed through the relations
pupils build during school time. This is especially so because children in school (at
least so it seems) control, to only a small degree, the design and conditions of their
transitions in this part of the life course. During these transitions pupils begin to
experience the expectation of growing older. In this way the age grading of the school
is central in the social construction of age * what becoming `one year oldera means
to the pupils. In this way, age grading within society becomes a central part of the
hidden curriculum of the school.
Within this life course perspective, the comparison of transfer from smaller rural
primary schools with transfer from larger rural primary schools is of special interest
* possibly representing categories of transition with di!erent social and cultural
meanings. Outside the large cities most Norwegian schools have fewer than 300
pupils. Schools with 300 to 350 pupils are the largest in Norway and are located in the
cities.
Primary schools with pupils numbering between 90 and 300 are typically commun-
ity schools, serving a municipality, and they are full leveled (i.e., each form consists of
pupils from one age level). Smaller schools, in most cases with pupils numbering
between 12 and 55 are, with few exceptions, to be found in local communities at the
coastal islands, in the fjords, or in the valleys. These small schools are called
two-leveled schools because pupils are organized into two mixed age groups for all
teaching and learning activities. The "rst group consists of the "rst form (7#)
through to third form (9#). The second group consists of the fourth form (10#)
through to the sixth form (12#). The other dominant category of small schools is
402 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
` The theoretical perspectives and how they complement each other is discussed in detail in Kvalsund
(1995).
three leveled. These have three teaching groups, each consisting of pupils fromtwo age
levels ("rst and second grade in the "rst group, third and fourth in the next group, and
"fth and sixth in the last group).
This was the situation until 1998, although many small schools were closed down in
the period from 1990 through 1997. It has been estimated that in less than ten years
the number of small schools has been reduced by approximately 30%. Even so, there
is a su$cient number left to allow an interesting comparative analysis.
1. Pupil transitions: a methodological position
Three major questions guided this study. First, how do di!erences and changes in
school context and corresponding pupil relationships a!ect the transition from
primary to lower secondary school? Second, what is the cultural meaning of the
transition as seen by the pupils? Third, how are these meanings in#uenced by the fact
that children grow up in di!erent local communities that provide varied childhood
experiences?
When viewed as part of the life course perspective combined with the other
theoretical perspectives, the study of school transitions involves detailed analysis of
the local context. Three theoretical perspectives are used here to understand the
transition process `:. network theory, structural theory, and frame factor theory.
The use of network theory is deemed essential in trying, conceptually, to capture the
quality of social interaction between persons that is central in the development of the
pupil's awareness of the transition. Network theory focuses on qualities that cannot be
reduced to individual attributes and dispositions, as they are the result of a person's
social interactions. Network theory focuses on qualities of both the relations and the
situations. Central proponents like Scott (1991), Berkowitz (1982), and Burt (1991)
claim that in network analysis causal force originates in the structure of relations that
de"ne a situation.
In contrast, Giddens (1984) includes action concepts in his structural theory that
can be used to complement network theory. One of Giddens' main points is that social
units of society are not totally determined by structure, but also by agents developing
`structuring rules.a Thus, a pupil's awareness of a transition and the way they
construct relational rules can make the transition from primary to lower secondary
quite a di!erent experience for di!erent individuals. Because transitions involve
rational human beings these structuring rules may be changed. The rules express
important aspects of the content of social interaction and include rules for the use of
language in social situations, including strategic rules of children's versions of play
activities. Structuring rules not only incorporate the meaning of the activities, but they
also tell the participants how to act in relevant ways. In important ways the focus is on
children's cultural content during the analysis, which is the key to the social construc-
tion of the transition * that is its social and cultural meaning.
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 403
` For a brief presentation in English see Kvalsund and Myklebust (1996a,b).
" The data reported are from the research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council
(NAVF/NFR) and the Association of Norwegian Municipalities (KS) in 1989-93 and Volda University
College and Moere Research (1994}present).
According to Giddens, agents also use `structuring resourcesa. These are material
constructions and arrangements that have di!erent capacities for organizing social
space, thereby keeping intact their pattern of domination and power of what can take
place. School buildings, classrooms, and the playground can be said to act as
structuring resources in this sense. They re#ect di!erent interests between groups of
pupils and between teachers and pupils.
The two aforementioned theoretical perspectives * network theory and structural
theory } can be combined with frame factor theory (Dahll+f, 1967, 1971; Kvalsund,
1994a).` Frame factor theory enables us to understand the bridging processes between
conditions and results when analyzing the transition from primary to lower secondary
schools.
The starting point of the analysis is that the classes together with the play breaks or
recesses between the classes and spare time when the school day ends represent
di!erent arenas of social interaction and must therefore be treated separately. What is
the relational pattern expressed through child cultural activities in the three arenas?
Can we identify di!erences or similarities between boys and girls in relational
patterns? Do di!erences of age matter? What are the main social relational elements
at schools of di!erent size and how are these a!ected by the principle of age group
composition? The answers to these questions are important in the attempt to under-
stand the pupils' situation before the transition to lower secondary level of schooling.
(Table 1).
The analysis began with an examination of the situation in selected primary schools
during the sixth form year and attempted to capture the manner in which 80 pupils
experienced, conceived, and reported on what happened during the formation of
social relations throughout the transitional year." Data from the same pupils also
were analyzed after they had attended 7th form in lower secondary school for some
time. In addition to interviews the analysis was based on almost complete sets of
network data from the pupils at 19 elementary schools and 4 lower secondary schools
in four di!erent municipalities in eastern Norway as well as in the coastal north and
the west of Norway. The analysis using quantitative data (i.e., the di!erent sets of
network data) represent `the transition observeda. The qualitative data (i.e., the
interviews of pupils in di!erent school contexts) represent `the reported transition
experiencea.
The di!erences in qualitative results are based on the analysis of thousands of
reported pupil relationships. That these identi"ed patterns are accidental is hardly
probable. The pupils were asked about relatively long-lasting social relationships (i.e.,
whomthey usually worked or played with at school rather than the pupils they would
have wished to interact with if they had the choice). The variables of the resulting
typology *age and gender *are concrete, observable, and existentially important to
404 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
Table 1
Data overview
Complete network data
from the pupils (Extensive)
Interview data (Intensive)
Primary
schools
13 two and
three levelled
6 fully levelled Two and three
levelled:
48 interviews
with 5th-and 6th-
formers for 1}1.5 h each
Six levelled:
32 interviews
with 6th-formers
for 1}1.5 h each
Transition Transition
Lower secondary
schools
4 fully levelled
About one year later
Interviews with the same pupils
as 7th formers for 1}1.5 h each
About one year later
` This is one of many available techniques in the data program UCINET 1.4. The discussion of the
reasons for using just this technique is discussed in depth in Kvalsund (1995, Chapter 7).
' This could of course have been automatically generated by a spread sheet programbut in my experience
it is an important principle to know your data at "rst hand.
` Di!erent kinds of groups are possible depending on the strength of the relationships (whether one-way
relationships are enough, or two-way are necessary and whether direct contact is necessary or indirect
contact is enough). This is discussed more thoroughly in Kvalsund (1995).
the persons interviewed * the children themselves. Data on these variables were
indirectly registered, using only a pupil's "rst name and form. So any conclusions
could not be said to be strategically or tactically motivated.
Participant observation alone o!ered an inadequate response to the questions
raised by the research. Hence the choice of a combinations of methods * "eld
observations, network data, and in-depth-interviews. The analysis of network data
was done using the technique known as `clique-analysisa. All groups that a pupil
mentioned in their answers were identi"ed.` These identi"ed groups were then
classi"ed manually' according to a typology created by the researcher, using di!erent
combinations of age and gender of the members of each identi"ed group:` The
typology consisted of (Table 2):
1. segregated groups (age separate and gender separate),
2. integrated groups (age combined and gender combined),
3. age combined and gender separate groups and
4. age separate and gender combined groups.
In this way it was possible to construct a pro"le of dominating group categories
that could be used to describe the routine relational pattern between the pupils as
reported by them.
The typology also makes it possible to compare di!erences and similarities in
relational patterns by school context and determine whether such patterns are similar
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 405
Table 2
Typology of pupil group by age and gender
Single age stage Multiple age stages
One gender Segregated group Gender separate
Age combined group
Both gender Age separate
Gender combined group
Integrated group
` In research on socialization age and gender has turned out to be important factors in the development
of children's personal identity. I asked the pupils with whomthey usually work or play. In a methodological
article describing the state of the art by P.V. Marsden in Annual Review of Sociology from 1990 network
data gathered by questionnaire were the subject of serious criticism. Marsden (1990) refers to Bernard who
concludes his comparison of observed versus reported network data with the argument `people do not
know, with any acceptable accuracy, to whom they talk over any given period of timea (Marsden, 1990, p.
446). But this has proven to not be the case of routine interaction: `The implication for network
measurement is that people are incapable of reporting accurately on transactions that take place within
highly speci"c time frames, but are able to recall and report their typical social relationsa (Marsden, 1990, p.
447). Data is also more reliable when the respondents are free to mention as many relationships as they
want.
and reinforcing or complementary. In addition, the interviews of sixth grade pupils
provided children's historical accounts concerning the formation, development, and
maintenance of the pupil relationships and groups in elementary school. Understand-
ing the content of the social relationships was accomplished by means of the inter-
views, having "rst analyzed the network data.`
The number of selected schools * nineteen * was rather low, raising questions as
to whether similar results could be expected in di!erent schools. This would suggest,
for example, that the possible variation between smaller and larger rural schools was
random. There are good reasons to reject such a conclusion. For example, the
rationale used to select schools did not employ the usual sampling logic. This issue is
discussed in detail in Kvalsund (1994). A choice was made to conduct a `close-upa
analysis of `typical schoolsa (these being ones which were the focus of the discussion
on school centralization in rural Norway). `Typical schoolsa in this context are the
`fully leveleda receiving schools with spare capacity and schools that are less centrally
located. That is, these are the small schools at risk of being closed down. The selection
of case schools is therefore theoretical in the sense that it is based upon a tentative
hypothesis that the contextual di!erences and similarities of these schools have
potential power to produce di!erent patterns of informal learning, while remaining
similar enough to be meaningfully compared. This requires analytical generalization,
grounded in the conditions and processes that characterize the schools, based on
systematic comparisons. This constitutes the framework for the relational analysis,
the results of which will now be presented.
406 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
2. Observed and reported transitions
Two aspects will be considered brie#y: the relational patterns between pupils and
the content of these relations. The distribution of groups over di!erent categories of
the typology express important qualities regarding the social forms between the pupils
in schools of di!erent size and in the di!erent principles used to determine the
composition of groups in terms of age.
In fully leveled schools pupils of all ages and both genders are available as potential
schoolmates. Pupils in the sample were free to choose with whom they would engage
in relations during the school day. `Segregated groupsa was the dominating category,
accounting for 60% of pupil relationships in the fully leveled schools. When pupils
were given the choice in these schools they chose pupils who were most like themsel-
ves in age and gender. All groups had at least three or more members. `Age combined,
gender separate groupsa was the second largest category with 30%. These groups had
either all male or all female members. The least frequently observed groups were the
`gender combined, age separate groupsa and the `integrated groupsa, which com-
bined for less than 10%. There is therefore a slight trend towards mixed age combina-
tions within gender-separated groups of pupils. But in fully leveled schools the
dominant social or relational quality was segregation by age and gender, in situations
at school where the pupil had many opportunities of choosing di!erently.
The pattern that characterizes pupil relations in the two-leveled schools can be
illustrated by the situation in the Fjord municipality. The overall pattern was very
similar in all three schools, so the data for the schools have been combined. Only 24
groups were identi"ed across the three schools. This is a consequence of the fact that
each group has more members compared to the groups identi"ed in the fully leveled
schools in the municipality. The analysis documented a completely di!erent main
pattern compared to the fully leveled schools. Segregated groups did not exist in these
schools; neither did age separate, gender combined groups. One out of "ve groups was
gender separate, age combined and four out of "ve groups were integrated. This
distribution of operative groups of pupils in the breaks between classes tells us that
these schools have a complete di!erent pattern of relations among the pupils * an
integrated pattern of relations across the dividing lines of age and gender. Again, this is
the case in a situation where the pupils could have chosen di!erently. It is the presence
of integrated groups and the simultaneous absence of segregated groups that deter-
mine the strong social integration of the small rural schools. In a similar way it is the
presence of segregated groups and the simultaneous absence of integrated groups that
mark the distinct social disintegration the larger rural schools.
There are good reasons to claim that this is a di!erence of quality rather than
a di!erence of degree. The relationship of the qualitative di!erences between
integrated and segregated groups of schoolmates is presented in Fig. 1. The heavy
social integration among pupils in smaller rural schools and substantial social disinteg-
ration in the larger rural schools is clearly documented. The methodological
arguments presented earlier on which these results are based appear to be robust. In
Fig. 1 the three-leveled schools are in a mixed position between the two others. These
quite interesting di!erences in relational patterns have also been identi"ed in two
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 407
Fig. 1. Percent of segregated and integrated groups in various schools.
" This choice was made at a time when data programs for qualitative analysis like Nudist still was
unavailable.
independent follow up studies (Kvalsund, 1995, Kvalsund & Myklebust, 1995,
1996a,b).
A comprehensive analysis of interviews of the 80 pupils was also carried out. A set
of criteria on child cultural content was developed and instances of these located by
using the `"nd functiona key" of the word processor. The criteria focused on aspects
such as an inventory of games and play activities, team composition, handling of
constitutive and strategic rules of the game, age and gender aspects, locality in the
school playground, power and control, dependent}independent orientation, and
individual}collective orientation. The details of this comprehensive analysis with
relevant quotations from the pupil interviews can to be found in Kvalsund (1995, pp.
245}307). Here, only a brief summary of the results will be presented before focusing
on selected main aspects.
In two leveled schools collective play, especially di!erent variants of football (i.e.,
soccer), was the dominating play activity, whether it was in autumn, winter, or spring.
Boys were familiar with the traditional play activities for girls, including intricate
details of the rules governing play. This was also the case for girls with respect to boys'
traditional play activities. The joint play repertory was very broad. The di!erent play
activities existed as di!erent variants depending on the available number of players.
For example, when too few were available to make a full team `turn takinga variants
408 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
of the game would be tried. The playground of the school was big enough to allow
every pupil to engage in his or her chosen activity. When they chose to, many groups
could play football at the same time. The children, themselves, decided what, who, and
where to play.
Di!erences in competence between the children were so indisputable that choosing
teams created no problems. When choosing members of the football team, for
example, nobody was upset at being either the "rst or the last choice. Three small girls
from the "rst form were considered equivalent in potential to a boy in the "fth form
* a kind of `Gulliver's rulea. That is, numbers were used to balance out higher levels
of strength and competence. The fairness of the selection process was driven by
a common interest in producing fairly even teams so that the play activity could be
sustained competitively. In football, pupils, accordingly, organized the games as
a league or played for the cup of the day or the week.
The pupils also handled any con#icts during play themselves. They would discuss,
construct, and reconstruct rules if necessary to allow play to continue. It was not
unusual for the older girls to act as judges and decide what were the `rightsa and
`wrongsa when rules were violated. The interviews disclosed that the content of the
activities assumed that interaction occurred across the dividing lines of age and
gender. So the relational pattern that was found when analyzing the quantitative
network data was con"rmed through the pupil interviews and observations during the
"eld study. The core of social meaning was, therefore, integration and community
across di!erences of age, gender, attitudes, and interests. In order to develop this
quality the pupils had to practice many of the processes involved in cooperation
despite the obvious di!erences between the pupils. This was central in their experien-
ces and conception of their school situation.
In the fully leveled schools the play repertoire was rather more restricted. Only
a few boys and a few girls knew the rules of each other's games. Very few boys knew
the rules of hopscotch or stretch jumping. Few of the girls knew the detailed rules of
football. The playground of the school was quite small so pupils were unable to play
at what and where they wished. They had to wait for their turn to use special areas of
the playing "eld (e.g. the football ground or the handball ground) according to a pre-
arranged schedule drawn up by the teachers and the pupils' representatives. The
pupils of the form in possession of the particular area decided who could play. Very
often the games were between competing forms or competing groups of pupils within
the same form.
Interviewing the pupils about how players were chosen for teams revealed that the
few boys and girls who played football at school also played for the local football
age-divided team. Di!erences in competence between players were again rather small.
But these small di!erences were su$cient to initiate di$cult evaluations of who was
the better player, since it was clearly important to play with the best. So, in compari-
son to the small schools, children in fully leveled schools are not `playing football,a
they are `practicing the sport of footballa. To be chosen as the last player on a team is
a cause of anxiety in fully leveled schools (in contrast with the two leveled schools).
The dominating activity during the breaks between classes in these larger schools,
however, turned out to be the segregated `walking around groupsa of boys usually
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 409
from the same form and girls usually from the same form. These groups walked
around talking about `everythinga as the pupils put it (e.g. what to do in the evening,
stupidity of teachers, what happened to their favorite player at `Man Uniteda, clothes,
horses, and so on). And these groups consist of boys of the same age or girls of the
same age.
Analyzing the child cultural content of the relations in the fully leveled schools also
con"rmed the relational patterns identi"ed by network analysis. The segregated
groups were closely interwoven with the age-separate forms in the larger fully leveled
rural schools. This age- separate system of forms mediates the validity of the various
structuring rules. No longer being in a "rst form is no social tri#e. The succession
through the system of age-separated forms gives the pupil increased yearly growth in
social importance. This status is put to test at the pupil's own age level, but also
collectively in competitive processes between the di!erent forms of older and younger
pupils. In the football matches between `First form Man Uniteda and `Fifth form
Spursa the point is not to enjoy the collective play, but to win the game.
The school also signals this social logic in the way it structures resources. Each form
has its own homeroom and its own homeroom teacher. Classes are divided into equal
periods of time with breaks in between. In many instances pupils, when they reach
a certain age, are put in charge of speci"c areas of the school playground. At the
school level, therefore, social and material conditions are interconnected and both
contribute to development. The structural conditions bring into operation `a mecha-
nism of similaritya * resulting in segregated `walking around groupsa in the fully
leveled rural schools. So the situation is paradoxically characterized by what might be
termed `intimacya, where, nevertheless, segregation exists within groups based on
similarities of age, gender, attitudes, and interests. The processes point in the direction
of a rather self-centered, contest oriented conception of the school situation.
Based on research literature referred to in Bell and Sigsworth (1987), Epstein (1988),
Schneider (1993), Corsaro (1997) and Kvalsund (1994, 1997), educational as well as
psychological and sociological researchers usually analyze the schools as if they all
were rather large, fully leveled, age-segregated schools. These studies often refer to
factors of developmental psychology as explanatory mechanism of the segregated
relational patterns documented. In schools where the relational pattern is integrated
(e.g., the smaller rural schools studied), the dividing line between genders is, basically,
ruptured in advance. Here cooperation in spite of di!erences of age and gender is the
point of departure of the children's social di!erentiation processes, in opposition to
established practice.
These are important "ndings leading to a conclusion, on the basis of the work
carried out so far, that the school, as an institution in Norway, gives the pupils
systematically di!erent experiences as a consequence of its size. This is because size is
the principle determinant of the composition of the age groups that make up classes
(or forms). These di!erences are rather invisible and so di$cult to document and spell
out. The important point is that to understand the social and cultural meaning of the
transition from primary school level to secondary school level we have to recognize
the special perspective of the preceding analysis, namely, the transition to is as
determined at least in part by what it is a transition from.
410 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
In a way this experience is similar to making a journey. Our sense of undertaking
a journey is constructed, in part, by travelling to some place but also, in part, by the
fact that, at the same time, we are travelling from some other place. The transition is
not necessarily always a transition `away froma since it could well be a continuation
* either extending or deepening our journey from its point of departure. It may also
be a repeat of a previous experience in its form and content dependent on the pupil's
awareness. This is so because the transition process is a construction essentially
representing social and cultural meaning pointing in quite di!erent directions to
segregation and integration as documented above.
Pupils from both smaller and larger rural schools were asked in advance how they
imagined the transition would be. Later in 8th form they were asked about the
transition as they actually experienced it. In the earlier analyses there were distinct
di!erences in the situation at the primary stage, dependent on whether the school was
six leveled or two leveled. We shall now consider how this "nding in#uences the
transition to the comprehensive school.
3. Myths and images in advance of transfer
Some of the advance images concerning transfer are common to all the pupils,
whether they come from larger or smaller rural schools. Others are speci"c, depending
on the school situation the pupils experienced prior to the move to secondary school.
Arepeated feature of the advance images is that pupils imagine secondary school to be
more demanding, `hardera, with regard to the amount of homework, the subject
requirements, and gaining marks. Thus, all share the doubt as to whether they will
master the new situation. However, the interview material reveals a far greater anxiety
with respect to another issue: the transition from being the oldest in primary school to
becoming the youngest in secondary school.
Without a doubt the situation makes great demands on the powers of adaptability
for a 6th former. There is no end to questions requiring an answer. Which class will
they be put in and who will be their classmates? Who will be my new friends? Will
I make a fool of myself? How will the older pupils treat me? All this may generate
a general feeling of anxiety * what will it be like? What reality will face them in the
new school? But these uncertainties force a process of social learning upon these
youngsters. As an informal learning project this transition between primary and
secondary school initiates a period of social preparation before the actual transition
phase when the realities of their newlife make themselves felt. Furthermore, this whole
process becomes a part of a social competence that these pupils need to develop as
time goes by. Seen through the eyes of the pupils, it is not just a great transition, but
also a great fall * in the feeling of social mastery, status, power, and security * that
occurs almost overnight. At least this is the way the pupils experience the transfer
situation in advance, whether they come from larger or smaller rural schools. Just as
the pupils are reaching the peak of one stage of scaling the social ladder at the end of
the 6th form, they have to take a step up into an apparently much steeper and more
demanding "nal stage in their social climb up through the maze of compulsory
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 411
schooling. But at this point in time transition is perceived more as a social descent.
A girl from a 6-level school put it this way: `Think of it, here we are in the 6th form,
used to being the oldest * and after the summer holidays, hey presto we're the
youngest!a Age then is a social phenomenon, with its meaning clearly dependent on
the social context.
Prior to the transition, pupils think about their immediate future, at a time when
they still have a "rm footing on the social mainland on which they stand * the
primary school. But the new island they are about to embark towards also has its own
features: `Yeah, I was a bit afraid about starting at a big school*.a
Whether they come from larger or smaller rural schools, pupils believe they will
have to face a more di$cult environment at the larger receiving schools (i.e., schools
with two or three parallel classes in each form). They hold expectations of trouble and
unrest among the pupils, during the breaks. They anticipate peer pressure to start
smoking and express the belief that they must subordinate themselves to the rule of
the older pupils in the 8th and 9th forms. They also expect a situation in which they
are given nicknames and are teased and ridiculed by others. The core of the prior
image is, however, determined to a large extent by what they see to be an undisputed
fact: that there will be many people at the comprehensive school in the municipal
center.
The majority of the pupils who attend the school will be strangers to them. This
represents a considerable degree of uncertainty about what these children as new-
comers will experience *a fear of starting to attend a big school and a certain anxiety
about what the &tough guys' among the older pupils will do. Rumors have spread
about the special reception accorded to the freshmen * at one of the schools it is
referred to as `baptisma *without the 6th formers being able to "nd out exactly what
that means in concrete terms. The process of determining the power structure and the
status among pupils in the comprehensive schools starts, therefore, while they still in
the 6th form of primary school.
This stands in stark contrast to the situation where pupils from tiny multi-level
rural schools confront the prospect of starting to attend a small combined primary
and secondary school in the population center of the rural community. Based on
interviews with these pupils (boys and girls from six two-level schools), most had
already had swimming lessons or classes in domestic science or other subjects that
required special facilities at the school to which they would transfer. They already
knew most people there. As a result, their `realitya had already exploded the myths
associated with transfer. There were, however, other essential aspects of the prior
image of the transition to comprehensive school in the municipal center that were
special and di!erent for pupils from smaller and larger rural schools. As one student
stated: `Oh no, I was so glad that I didn't have to change to a di!erent form. To be in
the same class as those yokels and the like*.a
Pupils from the municipal center school, therefore, ask themselves at the end of the
6th form questions such as, `Which class will I be in next term?a and `Will I still be in
the same form as my friends?a The second round of interviews on the same subject
later in the winter recorded the enormous relief of these pupils who attended primary
school in the municipal center. They expressed delight at not having to share the same
412 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
classroom as the `yokels and the likea * in other words with `the localsa from up the
valleys in the more remote districts in the neighborhood. But this fear can also be very
real in the case of other alternatives * the classes from the primary school in the
municipal center may be mixed either by chance or because a decision is made to split
theminto two and join them together with two other half classes to create new groups.
In both cases this is seen, prior to transfer, as a social catastrophe. Alternatively,
pupils expressed great joy at moving to the new school once they established in
advance that there was to be no changes. `Yes, I was pretty happy when I heard that
everyone from our class was to continue in the same form here.a
If we look back at the full pattern of relationships in the six-level primary
school, the transition to the comprehensive school represents the threat of
breaking up both the platform (the class) and of destroying the close-knit,
intimate groups of friends. And the reactions are very clear. Whether it is the
boys or the girls from the larger rural schools, they dread the thought of losing the
intimacy and security such continuity represents. The advance image is therefore also
more one of closing ranks, more defensive and oriented towards facing problems in an
e!ort to maintain the segregated pattern of relationships and the accompanying
intimacy. `Yeah, but I'm looking forward to meeting new pupils, maybe even making
some new friends
2
.a
The pupils from the smaller rural schools are secure in the knowledge that they are
guaranteed to be kept in the same class as the classmates from the 6th form in the
combined class of the smaller rural school. They are so few in number that there is no
question of splitting them up or amalgamating them with others without exceeding
the "gure for the maximum number of pupils in a class. In that respect coming from
the smaller rural schools to a comprehensive school in the municipal center can also
seem quite attractive * in spite of being the youngest again and becoming part of
a complex and socially insecure school situation. The pupils are thus clearly prepared
to extend still further the integrated social experiences from the smaller rural school.
The question remains unanswered at this stage as to what direction the relationship
forming will take. Will it spread across their own age group or extend upwards into
several other age groups? The advance image of the pupils from the smaller rural
schools is, in this respect, more open and oriented towards the possibilities than was
the case among the pupils from the larger rural schools. One feature that makes it
easier for the pupils from the smaller rural schools to handle this situation is that they
have established a system of `scoutsa in advance of their move. In the primary school
they will often have been in the same class as pupils who now attend 8th and 9th form.
In reply to the question about what they expect to experience in the comprehensive
school, several pupils mentioned just this mechanism for obtaining advance informa-
tion.
The above "ndings suggest that at the transition to the comprehensive school, the
mythical and indistinct images of what they will face are a form of `anticipatory
socializinga. Such images provide a basis on which to de"ne and interpret the new
situation. Pupils from larger and smaller rural schools have quite di!erent points of
departure for making this interpretation when they meet the real situation to which
they must adapt.
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 413
4. Transitions to lower secondary: reported realities
How do pupils view the transfer situation during the last half of the "rst year at the
lower secondary * after they have got to know `the unknowna for more than six
months? This is a phase of the transition where pupils are able to look back on
something that, in a way, is over. By the time of the interview they had become part of
the new environment.
Pupil: At the beginning then it was just like this. It was summer when we started
school, or late summer, so there were lots of people sitting here on the wall. There
usually were
2
it was almost as if when we went past
2
we hardly dared to go past
because we were new here and that. But now
2
nobody makes any comments. You
just go round and
2
there's nobody who says anything to you.
2
But when you
were new, then
2
everyone sort of like stared at you, you know.
Interviewer: How long did it take, that sort of thing then, do you think?
Pupil: Oh, a few months. Now it's quite OK, now I'm a lower secondary pupil now,
you see (Boy, 7th form from smaller rural school).
With a few minor variations, all the interviewed pupils reported that their present
situation was a little harder, with more homework. In general, there were tougher
requirements to schoolwork than at the primary level. The dominating teaching
method of the various subject teachers was to go through the material, then o!er
explanations that were followed up by working individually on exercises. During the
latter period there were opportunities to ask questions or ask for help. This, then, was
the situation in the subject groups that dominated the timetable. As one of the pupils
from a larger rural school put it, lessons were `just like beforea.
For pupils from the smaller rural schools, however, this represented a considerable
change in the learning situation, with teacher-directed learning and greater emphasis
on individualization. But at the same time there are teacher initiatives that indicate
greater con"dence in the pupils' ability to show responsibility. This applies "rst to the
fact that pupils at two of the comprehensive schools `were alloweda to go down to the
town center in the dinner break. At two other comprehensive schools they were not
allowed to go * even though many of them went anyway.
At the school level we can thus say that the comprehensive schools are di!erent.
They may be freer or more restrictive. The restrictive schools are characterized by
a distinctly higher degree of control routines, as seen through the eyes of the pupils.
Pupils had to go outside during all the breaks because teachers, it would seem, were
afraid of vandalism if they allowed them to stay inside. The other two schools had
previously adhered to a similar control regime, but were now trying to adopt solutions
based on a greater degree of trust. And this approach was also spreading into the
classroom at these schools. Pupils were taken more seriously and included in a learning
fellowship. A 7th form boy from a larger rural school commented on this as follows:
`Yeah, you know, the teachers talked about themselves, and then they talked about us
as a group who were subordinate to them. Here, for example, the teachers say we,
including all of us, he includes himself too when he talks about the class and so ona.
414 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
The pupils also gave responses that reveal that hierarchical patterns developed on
the basis of academic performance. But, it is di$cult to "nd evidence of the fact that
the pupils competed for the best possible academic results and marks. Academic
performances appeared more important to the pupils as an information base in order
to distinguish between being `clever, intelligenta, while at the same time being `one of
us pupilsa, on the one hand, and `little angels, teacher's petsa, on the other. This is an
aspect of the comprehensive school as a formal system based on asymmetric relation-
ships between pupils and teachers. And this creates a special challenge in the active
adaptation that the pupils are involved in * the distinction between a conforming
and a deviating direction for this adaptation.
Far more important than marks and position in the formal system, therefore, is the
relationship to the other pupils and groups of pupils. This is the key theme of several
open questions regarding the transition to the comprehensive school in the municipal
center. In this relationship there exists a distinct source of pressure in the direction of
academic under-achievement between the pupils. But this is related to a more
widespread phenomenon.
5. An informal cultural heritage?
The pupils from the smaller rural schools have in most cases several `social
supportsa in the ranks of the older pupils that they were classmates with in the
previous two years. The pupils from the larger rural schools refer to the lucky ones
who know somebody in the 8th and 9th forms. In one case, for example, there was
a 7th former who was so good at sport that he was accepted by other pupils in the 8th
and 9th forms as a conversation partner during the breaks. In other words it helped to
have `a distant relativea * one that gives you a sort of pass on which is written
`accepted as a lower secondary pupila. But before the situation develops to this point,
the newcomers have a great deal to learn, and they have to prove that they have
learned it. It is the pupils in the 8th and 9th forms who are in control and take the lead
in deciding whom to and whom not to accept. These older pupils do not always
express themselves with very obvious signs. In reply to a question about how they
notice that they are not accepted as lower secondary pupils, a girl in the 7th form from
a smaller rural school said: `Well, you know, funny looks. Yes, it is di$cult to explain,
but you can feel it.a
This, then, is a demanding symbolic interaction; a teenage variety of `the art of
suggestiona. Hints about what they have to learn begin at the end of the 6th form
when they are being shown round the comprehensive school.
It was some girls who were waiting to meet us when we visited the school
2
two
girls
2
and then they told us a little about the routines and what we had to do and
what not to do.
2
They told us what the teachers were like and how we had to
behave towards the teachers and
2
all that sort of thing You mustn't say that to
him, but it's OK to say it to him and so on. And you must be careful about what you
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 415
say to her.
2
But we have gradually discovered most of that ourselves (Girl in 7th
form from a larger rural school).
2
This excerpt illustrates that the transition to the comprehensive school also in-
volves additional minor `lapsa or extra penalty rounds * it all depends * in which it
is explained how to act towards teachers with di!erent pedagogical approaches. This
informal side of school activity also involves the other pupils. At the start of the day
during the "rst few weeks the 8th and 9th formers were all present as a reception
committee in order to demonstrate the di!erence between themselves and the fresh-
men with questions like `Have you got lost?a or comments such as, `The kindergar-
ten's over therea. Thus, in the "rst few weeks the newcomers are usually referred to
and greeted as if they were `little kidsa. Both boys and girls reported that they always
stayed together, at least in pairs, in order to face this situation, or else they spent much
of the time in their own classroom. It seems perfectly clear, however, that as new
pupils in the comprehensive school they feel the pressure on how to behave. This point
will not be expanded upon here, except merely to a$rm that the pupils meet a general
demand that they act more `grown upa.
The aforementioned example clearly illustrates the informal cultural hegemony at
the comprehensive school in action. Put brie#y, there are rules of behavior to which
pupils refer in the interviews all the time in various ways. Examples include: `Get
dressed, we can see youa, `You can smoke if you likea, and `Behave, we are watching
and keeping an eye on youa.
The interview material also revealed that some individuals behave di!erently from
everyone else both towards fellow pupils and teachers. In this respect they are
important in con"rming what is normal, both as regards the informal teacher regime
and the informal pupil regime. The comprehensive school is clearly a cultural institu-
tion in the informal sense * the older pupils who `owna it and the newcomers who
clearly have to inherit it. We shall now, therefore, look more closely at two areas of the
informal culture and analyze the collective rules of behavior * "rst, the pupils'
experiences of playing together and, second, the e!ects of age and gender on the
interactions which take place.
6. `That would have been a total catastrophea
At the comprehensive school just as at the 6-level primary school, pupils made the
same observations and re#ections as to why they were not allowed to play. This also
has to do with socio-material frame factors.
You feel that can get more out of it, because
2
yes, how shall I explain
2
you've
sort of grown out of it. At the primary school it was kind of the older ones who
started to play tag, and then all the others joined in, didn't they. But here you can't
just sort of
2
hm. And then there are so many who
2
can't just sort of start just
two or three either.
2
There have to be so many
2
and when there are people
everywhere.
2
It's such a huge area, so
2
so it's di$cult to make something like
that work. (Girl 7th form from larger rural school).
416 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
But the expectations of the older pupils appear to be manifestly clear. Playing is
something that belongs to the past. It is something you did before, but not now and
certainly not on the playground during break. As one student stated: `The idea is sort
of that you're supposed to be grown up and behave properlya.
Playing is not something a lower secondary pupil would think of doing. Playing is
not serious enough any more. In the course of the summer it has become too childish.
There is an unwritten rule that it is forbidden. If the desire to play becomes too great
to bear and you cannot help yourself, then it has to be done in secret and in a way that
merges with the social landscape. Play must be camou#aged, so that the `hawksa in
the #ock do not discover it: `Last year they had to go over to the primary school side
to skip, because they didn't dare do it at the comprehensive school, were afraid of
being teased, talked about behind their backs and so on.a
Others said they sneaked away to play at home in their spare time. A girl from
a larger rural school now at the end of 7 form saw being `caughta playing as a social
catastrophe.
Interviewer: Yes. What is the biggest di!erence, would you say, between what
activities you did in the breaks at the primary school
2
what's the same, what's
di!erent?
Pupil: There was more playing in the 6th form * there was more skipping and
so on
2
We haven't anything to play with now, we just talk and wander around.
Interviewer: Why?
Pupil: No, you're afraid of making a fool of yourself, because among the 8th and 9th
formers, of course there's nobody who brings a skipping rope with them and starts
skipping in the playground
2
that would have been a total catastrophe.
Interviewer: How come?
Pupil: No, it's just not possible to do that sort of thing.
There were numerous stories handed down by word of mouth about how those who
attempted to play have been teased. In addition, those who do try were told o! most
of all by their own classmates. For fear of being stamped as childish the new pupils
implement internal sanctions and become in many ways even stricter than the 8th and
9th formers. Although the pupils from the smaller rural schools reported that there
was little to do during the breaks at the lower secondary school, the feelings and
opinions expressed about play were common to pupils both from smaller and larger
rural schools. Even lower secondary pupils with a burning desire to play football said
that running about after a ball during the break, cheering for a goal, and arguing
about the rules was `just for kids!a At the post-transition stage football becomes
a serious business * something you do in your spare time at proper training sessions
just like the professionals.
Play has become sport. For the pupils from the six-level school this is a continuation
and extension of a pattern of interaction from the primary school since playing
together informally was a secondary activity at primary school. At lower secondary
the distancing is completed. Collective play has almost become a `non-activitya. This
also becomes the case for the pupils from the two-level school. The e!ect of transition
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 417
" The interviews with pupils from two-level schools who attend smaller combined primary and
secondary schools in a nearby rural centre reveal completely di!erent patterns of interaction quite similar
to how they acted at the two-level primary schools from which they had come.
is greatest for them and also most di!erent. It is possible to discern this from pupils'
"rst reactions to the transition * amazement that there is so little to do in the breaks
and expressions of concern about all the new things that they still don't understand."
A girl from the three-level school district near to the municipal center made just
such an observation:
It was really rather strange to see the di!erence there then. They are sort of much
more used to the secondary school life or what shall I call it. Almost as if we came
from the country and they were from the town.
2
There's been a disco and so on,
so they were much cleverer at
2
lots of things
2
not school subjects and that sort
of thing, that's the same, but sort of they are more sort of bolder or what shall I say
2
`we know the ropes.
7. A pupil fellowship or a system of cliques?
The main activity in the six-level primary schools was the intimate conversation in
segregated groups of friends. In the two-level schools integrated groups were part of
the play collective. Because play is a `non-activity,a the conversations in the small
tight-knit groups of friends formed the social core units during the breaks. All the
pupils who were interviewed said that they wandered around or stood and chatted
inside or outside. The same hard core of people usually belonged to the same cliques
in their spare time, if the distance between their homes was not too great. As at
primary school, `everything under the suna formed the subject and content of these
conversations. The range of themes was broad * from the best brand of basketball
shoes and the stupidity of teachers to the atrocities in Kosovo.
During the breaks each form had its own area for socializing * without this being
a permanent arrangement. Each form strolled around the school grounds in a `coor-
dinateda manner every day. This can best be explained by the di!erences in position
and role of the di!erent age groups. The 7th formers were viewed as far too childish.
The 8th formers were those who performed their functions e$ciently. The 9th formers
were the self-con"dent pupils on their way out of the systemin a move towards greater
independence and freedom. Within each form there would be cliques of between two
and "ve persons (more in exceptional cases) all of the same gender. These cliques were
thus divided according to gender and age. Segregated groups in this sense dominate.
These "ndings have been replicated through analyses of network data from another
municipality in a further study. The interview material con"rms the picture drawn
here concerning the transition to the lower secondary level. At the two purely
comprehensive schools in the study there was a marked pattern of relationships in
both cases. The segregated groups (both age-divided and gender-divided) dominated
completely and made up 80% of all the identi"ed groups at these schools. The next
418 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
Fig. 2. Percent of students in each type of group for all schools.
largest category was the mixed-age, sex-divided groups (14%). Mixed-sex, age-divided
groups represent just 4% and integrated groups merely 2%. Mixed-sex interaction
was almost totally absent. If we combine the "rst two categories, we see that as many
as 94% of the groups were single sex. If we combine the "rst and third categories we
see that 84 % of all groups are single age (see Fig. 2).
Although age-divided and gender-divided cliques dominate the network. These
cliques are not totally closed. Although there is a hard core, on any given day, a clique
will often make contact with other individual pupils during one or more breaks. On
subsequent days these contacts are likely to be with one or more di!erent individuals.
In this way the cliques develop a sort of `visiting hoursa arrangements for those pupils
who wander across the social surface of the school. These exchanges take place
between the nodes (the cliques) in the network and those who have yet to establish
a solid social anchorage point. These `wanderersa may be older or younger than the
core of the clique and some may belong to the opposite gender. But in most cases they
will be the same age and sex.
The formation of these relationships among the newcomers takes place on the basis
of core groups that have been established in advance. In the majority of cases these
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 419
cliques are part of the `social inheritancea from the primary stage of the six-level rural
schools. With respect to the formation of these cliques, the pupils from the six-level
schools therefore enjoy a state of preparedness for adapting after transfer that is
di!erent from that of the pupils from the smaller rural schools. The former clearly
enjoys the cultural hegemony - `we know the ropes.a And this is emphasized by the
segregated patterns of the relation-forming process represented by both the 8 and
9th forms * they are mirrors for the 7th formers and illustrate an almost perfect
concurrence of form and content.
For pupils from the larger rural schools we can therefore speak of an intensifying
diwerentiation of relationships and informal interaction. By comparison, the pupils
from the smaller rural schools more often form new core groups that expand the
relationships. If we look at the primary and secondary levels as a whole, we can talk of
a postponed diwerentiation of relationships and informal interaction. But at the compre-
hensive level, it consists of, unlike the case at the primary level, a system of cliques
rather than a broad community or fellowship of pupils.
8. Transition observed and reported: school context and social meaning
This chapter began by questioning whether we can understand the transition from
the primary to the secondary school solely in terms of the bene"ts (or disadvantages)
of the individual choices that pupils must make. In this limited perspective pupils are
o!ered a cultural `free handa divorced from their close relationships to others and
they make calculations about their personal gains and independent individual choices
regardless of tradition and collective patterns in the institution. An alternative
approach begins by asking how and to what degree schools with di!erent contexts
a!ect the formation of social relation between the pupils in di!erent arenas of the
school and local community. This leads to further questions to do with how identi"ed
changes in patterns of relationships can be explained and understood. Speci"cally,
these questions concern the e!ect on these relational patterns of transition to lower
secondary school and the consequences for pupils' behavior as a result of the
experience of di!erent school contexts. The "ndings from this comparative case study
can be summarized as follows:
E The transition to the comprehensive lower secondary level is to a small degree
a transition to a more demanding learning situation. The pupil evaluations of the
teaching and methods are `everything as beforea or `no changea. A part of the
minor stages of the transition is the pupils' active adaptation to each individual
teacher's pedagogical regime. The transition to the secondary level takes time. The
interviewed pupils talked about it taking until the middle of the second term before
things begin to fall into place. Certain individual pupils struggle to handle both
these aspects of the transition. They are en route to careers as non-conformists. The
transition represents a lengthy period of uncertainty and risky experimentation.
This takes place in the form of complicated symbolic interactions between various
groups of pupils. Some of the pupils adopt a passive attitude to the changes taking
420 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
place as a result of observing other pupils more or less doing as they are told. The
comprehensive schools therefore operate the same form of control as the fully
leveled primary schools * control of behavior rather than control of the environ-
ment.
E The main pattern of relationships among the pupils is a strong and comprehensive
division according to age and gender. Even though the secondary school pupils are
aware of alternative patterns of interaction and could choose them, they do not do
so. When we analyze the composition and construct a typology of the socially
operative groups (the cliques), the segregated pattern of interaction is the result. The
core social processes involve establishing intimacy with some and excluding others
is similar to the situation in the fully leveled primary schools. That the cliques show
a composition based on divisions according to age and gender can be explained by
the fact that the mechanism of equality, which to a very small degree is based on
self-distancing, is the dominating relation-forming mechanism at the comprehens-
ive or lower secondary level.
E The fact that this mechanism is dominant can only be understood as a result of
certain contextual factors such as the size of the school, the organization of the
pupils, and the socio-material arrangement of the physical environment both
indoors and outdoors at the comprehensive school. These framing factors set limits
for what it is realistic to achieve when seeking to establish other patterns of
relationships at the secondary level. This is a continuation of the factors that the
pupils from the fully leveled primary schools have experienced previously through-
out their careers at the primary level. At the secondary level these framing factors
also operate in the case of the pupils from the smaller rural schools. But they bring
with them a di!erent set of experiences from their background at the primary
school level. What were referred to as paradoxical features at the primary stage are
repeated at the full-level comprehensive school. Intimacy that is created through
the equality mechanism is to be found in the large, full-level school units * also at
the lower secondary stage.
E These contextual circumstances and related processes reveal themselves as a collec-
tive, informal cultural heritage. This informal dimension of the transition is clearly
the most important one for the pupils. We thus see a collective main pattern of
di!erences in status, power and hegemony relationships between the various
groups of pupils in which age group plays a decisive role. Within each form and age
level a marked gender distinction is established. The cultural heritage has several
collective features * expressed most strongly by the fact that playing is taken as an
indicator of `not having grown up enough.a The comprehensive level therefore
represents a de"nite farewell to children's games. But the range of pupils in any
group is broad here, as elsewhere. This means that a number of children must
suppress the desire to play in order to belong to the clique system that exists among
the pupils. Who enjoys the hegemony and the power of making the rules is also
clearly in#uenced by the fact that all the age groups are at various stages of a major
transition in their goal of adapting to an adult lifestyle. The oldest are `the ruling
class.a and their word is law. We see this clearly in the distinct division between the
newcomers (the 7th formers), the quiet and established (8th formers) and those who
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 421
are on their way out into `the big wide worlda (9th formers). In this sense we can
speak of the transition between primary and comprehensive school as embedded
transitions in a more long-term transition from being a child to becoming an adult.
E Seen as social aggregates the pupils from the fully leveled primary school pass
through school in age-divided and sex-divided (i.e., segregated) cohorts. Pupils from
the two-leveled schools, on the other hand, must also "nd their place in the
age-divided and gender-divided cohorts on their way towards adapting to adult-
hood. This represents a deep and comprehensive basis for socialization in which
later choices of education or careers are most likely anchored. The social pattern of
experiences from the primary school clearly results in two completely di!erent
realities for the two categories of pupils.
E The reality of the situation for the pupils is therefore not simply a question of the
individual * it has essential collective aspects. For the pupils from the fully leveled
schools the transition is a further con"rmation and extension of the segregated and
intimate forms of adaptation in their interaction with others; the transition is
a continuation of the segregated, intimate conversations from the primary school
level. And this becomes particularly important because the pupils during the
transition are in a situation in which they risk losing their former friends. For the
pupils from the two-leveled schools the transition is a complementary expansion of
their adaptation repertoire * from integrated and collective oriented play to
segregated forms of interaction that promote intimacy and individualization. The
transition from the smaller rural schools represents a shift of the center of gravity
for the forming of relationships. Having previously been based on a mechanism of
di!erence they are now based on a mechanism of similarity.
9. Closing re6ections
The transition between primary and secondary school is best understood as
a transition with decisive cultural limitations. These cultural limitations operate
through collective mechanisms at the school, form, and group level. As a result, we
cannot escape the ongoing construction of social and cultural meaning of the schools
as collective units. What pupils interact about and how they engage in interactions
has a deep-rooted and comprehensive local anchoring in the schools as socializing
institutions. The number of pupils is a social reality that has dramatic consequences
for the forming of relationships. But this also means that the context or the local frame
factors and processes are clearly decisive for the relationships that are formed as well
as the socially constructed meaning of the transition from primary to comprehensive
school. What the transition is a transition from appears to be very important for
constructing the social and cultural meaning of the transition. It is di$cult to talk of
processes of separation and becoming independent as social actions based on indi-
vidual, rational choices in which the social change and bene"t are evaluated at the
individual level. The theory of change based upon individual choice and assuming
a `cultural free handa would seem to be ill suited to explaining the pattern of
interaction during the transition. These perspectives at best register what is the
422 R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423
appearance of action on the part of the pupils during the transitions in the school
system * individual actions in isolated situations here and now.
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Rune Kvalsund is Associate Professor of Education, Volda University College, having
gained his doctorate in Education from University of Trondheim in 1995. He has
directed a number of national research projects including `Schools and their localisa-
tiona (1989}1993), funded by the Norwegian Research Council (NAVF) and the
Association of Norwegian Muncipalities (KS), `Reform of upper secondary school:
Inclusion of pupils with special needsa (1996}2000), funded by the Ministry of Church
A!airs, Education and Science, Norway and `Adult life on special terms? The way
into society for pupils with special needs in upper secondary schoolsa (2000}2002),
funded by the Norweigian Research Council.
R. Kvalsund / Int. J. Educ. Res. 33 (2000) 401}423 423