Transition is usually viewed as an event that involves change and that throws up a common problem – change is challenging. Most people would agree that change can be a difficult process if it’s not prepared for and handled well. Adults often struggle with change, even when its something they have planned for, look forward to and can see the benefits of. For example, imagine you have been working in a job you like, with people you get on with and you are clear about systems, processes and expectations. Now think about getting a new job, maybe you went to visit and had a look round, but by the time you got there to start you had forgotten a lot of what was explained to you. Everyone seems very nice, but you don’t know them, and they don’t know you and they do things very differently. There are different expectations, equipment, rules and lots of new people to meet and learn about and you are keen to make a good impression, but actually you are left feeling a bit overwhelmed and on occasions inadequate. It is not unreasonable to expect that your productivity would probably dip in the first few weeks, while you adjust to your new role. This would be bad enough, but in our current crisis due to Covid 19, you may have been away from work for 6 months and are completely out of routine, even things you were confident in doing before seem unfamiliar now, you may not have even met your new boss, nor visited your new premises and quite frankly it is all just too confusing and completely overwhelming.
Now imagine how this feels for a small child, dependent almost entirely on the adults around them to feel safe and secure and not yet having the skills or resilience to cope with major changes in their life. For a young child of four or five, 6 months is like a lifetime. Children who were just beginning to settle in school or nursery will most likely have forgotten all about it when they return. But let’s face it, most won’t return to their old class or teacher, they will have transitioned into a new class, key stage or even a new setting, without having had the benefit of the full year before, nor any of the planned transition activities that are part of regular practice. Given that it is not unusual for some children to struggle with moving from the EYFS into Y1 under normal circumstances, it is not hard to imagine how difficult this will be for them to adjust having been away from school for so long. If we add in the context of children who may have done very little in the way of ‘school type’ activities, experienced trauma at home or even loss of loved ones we have a hugely important task to make sure these children are nurtured and settled in before any really major changes in pedagogy or practice hit them.
Even schools that already have the best transition practices will need to rethink their approach this year and put in place new arrangements for children entering and those moving to new classes and Key Stages.
Considering what children will have missed, where their starting points may be and how to gently integrate them back into a system that puts their wellbeing at the heart of what it does should the highest priority for schools and settings. Taking the time to plan processes and activities with individual needs in mind and building confidence and resilience through introducing change gradually will be important steps to success.
School leaders may feel under pressure to try and make up for lost time by focusing quickly on the educational outcomes, in an effort to ‘catch up’ but in reality the more confident and reassured a child is the quicker and easier they will settle into school and the faster they will be able to fully access the learning opportunities. It is also worth noting that the more vulnerable and disadvantaged a child is the more difficulty they will have adapting to new relationships and surroundings, acting as a barrier to engagement and learning.
Successful transitions are bespoke to the needs of children and families and are linked to an alignment of practice, so that change is built on what has gone before. One of the key recommendations in the Hundred Review, (2017) concerned transition and promoted this view:
“In order to establish an effective transition into YR, it was strongly believed that this was best viewed as a process that emphasised continuity rather than a single event”
So much transition planning focuses on events, such as meet the teacher, or spend a day in your new class, events which sadly will not have happened this year. Less time is usually spent on aligning practice and that will certainly need to be considered this year if children are to feel safe and secure in their new environment.
If we keep the four key principles from the EYFS in mind it can help the planning process:
- A unique child – keep in mind every child is different and some will need more support than others to make successful transitions
- Positive relationships – all adults working together makes for smoother transitions – parents and carers and professionals understanding the impact transition will have on the child with a key focus needs on involving parents as an active partner in the process
- Enabling Environments – taking the time and trouble to align practice so that the environments are similar in terms of provision and expectations
- Children learn in different ways and at different rates – consider the child’s holistic needs around all aspects of care and learning
These four key principles may be part of the EYFS framework but are equally applicable to all ages and provide a good starting point for thinking on this subject.
Achievement for All is producing a bank of materials to support schools with preparation for children entering and returning to schools and settings, relevant for all ages and key stages. It will provide a framework for auditing your existing practice and support you with ideas of how to compensate for what children have missed and what you can do differently this year and going forward.
This resource will support you to put wellbeing at the heart of the process so that children are nurtured and ready to learn. If there ever was a time to take your foot off the pedal and focus on children’s wellbeing, it surely is now; making gentle bridges for children to cross and not hurdles for them to jump over.
Maureen Hunt – Head of Early Years Achievement for All www.afaeducation.org
 Early Excellence , 2017 – Teaching four and five year olds: The Hundred Review of the Reception Year in England