Background. Quality of life (QoL) is an important area for research during adolescence, due to its associations with (I) physical and mental health and (2) the emergence of health risk behaviours. A time that poses a particular threat to QoL is the transition from primary to secondary school. Aims. This study aimed to investigate changes in QoL immediately following the transition to secondary school. Using Self-Determination Theory (SDT) as a conceptual foundation, the relationship between QoL and satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs advanced by SDT (autonomy, competence and relatedness) was explored. Sample. The sample comprised 63 Year 7 students (age 11-12 years) attending a UK coeducational secondary school. Method. Data were collected using self-report questionnaires on three occasions over 10 weeks, starting on the second week of term. Change in need satisfaction was used to predict change in QoL, and the possible reciprocal relationship explored using regression analysis. Results. A meaningful improvement in QoL was recorded for 21% of students. Improvements in QoL were predicted by satisfaction of the needs for autonomy and relatedness, but not by competence, explaining 36% of the variance. QoL showed a weaker, but reciprocal effect on need satisfaction. Conclusions. The findings suggest that support for the needs for autonomy and relatedness would provide the most likely route to the enhancement of student QoL over the transition to senior school. © 2008 The British Psychological Society.