Whether pupils are moving between year groups, key stages, or primary to secondary school, the transition can be stressful and upsetting. No matter how old we are, change is unsettling, and support will be needed to try and mitigate the effects.
For vulnerable pupils such as those with SEN or those who have other needs, it can be even more challenging, and they will require extra support and planning to help them through the process.
STARS (The School Transition and Adjustment Research Study) gathered a wealth of information to provide practical strategies that help support children through school transitions.
Strategies for helping with School Transitions
Visits and Tours
It helps to demystify the changes if pupils can see where they will be going. Whether that’s a visit or a virtual tour, it can help them to feel less afraid. If possible, a series of visits will increase the familiarity and give them some visuals to get them through the school holidays.
Involve older pupils who have been through the experience themselves. Often they will talk about the things that mean the most to other children and be able to offer meaningful reassurance.
Teachers and Key Workers
Children and parents will benefit from having the names of form tutors, teachers and key adults.
Younger children (and vulnerable pupils) will also benefit from having a photo to put a face to the name. For older children, especially moving into secondary it will reassure parents if they have a contact name and number or email address.
The first question any child will ask is if they will know anyone and will they have friends in their class. It is essential to make time for pupils to get to know their new classmates on transition days to allow them to build new relationships.
The six-week break can be daunting, so if there are ways for pupils to keep in touch over this time, such as online forums, it can help to allay fears. Younger children can be encouraged to meet up with their parents over the summer.
Moving to secondary means getting to grips with timetables and moving between lessons. Having a timetable before the holidays gives them a chance to learn how to read them and understand where to go for each class.
Younger children can be introduced to the idea of new activities such as PE so they can be prepared for new things.
Homework can be a new thing for younger pupils, and they may be worried about its impact. Giving them information about the timing, frequency and length of homework can be very helpful.
Although they need to know the consequences of not completing homework, it is equally important to show them how they can get support.
Towards the end of term, allow children and parents to ask questions. You might want to set up a worry box for children to ask anonymously.
Practise New Journeys
A new school may involve more extended travel by car, foot, bike, or bus. Travel can cause a lot of anxiety for pupils, so letting them try it out will reassure them that they can cope.
If you expect a child to be more independent, they will need the opportunity to practise and take responsibility.
Developing a whole school policy and working with other schools will benefit everyone. Building a network that prioritises transitions can include pupils visiting secondary schools for sports events or theatre productions where they can become more familiar with their surroundings in advance.