A study of nearly 600 children from the University of Surrey, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, found those who kept the same best friend in secondary school were more likely to get better results and have fewer behavioural issues.
Researchers asked kids about their friendships throughout primary school, then compared this to how they performed in their end of Year 7 assessments.
“We found that children who kept the same best friend over the transition [into secondary school] tend to do better,” said lead author Dr Terry Ng-Knight. “Children’s best friends change for all sorts of reasons but the transition is likely a big factor disrupting friendships.
“If we can find ways to support friendships during this time, this may help us to improve attainment and behaviour.”
The study found, in general, there was instability in children’s friendships as they moved from primary to secondary school, with only 27 per cent keeping the same best friend until the end of the first year of secondary school.
Children who did maintain the same friends tended to do better academically and showed lower levels of behavioural problems, even after taking into account the children’s earlier levels of academic attainment and behaviour problems at primary school.
The authors noted that keeping a best friend was not associated with better emotional mental health but that lower-quality friendships were linked to worsening emotional health.
Dr Ng-Knight said secondary schools varied in how they supported and nurtured pupils’ friendships as they made the transition into Year 7. In some schools, children were able to nominate friends to join the same class with, but other schools did not use this system.
“Allowing children to choose which friends they would like to be with appears to help children maintain their friendships, but little is known about the knock-on effects of such policies so it deserves more research attention,” Dr Ng-Knight added.