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10 tips for a successful school transition

We have learned so much through William's transition journey through his mainstream education into Early Years, Primary and Secondary school (and still have a lot to learn as he continues his transition into adulthood).  We want to share our tips to help you in your experience that are applicable and relevant to what ever stage your child is at in their transition through mainstream or special school.

1. Plan ahead

Like anything, there needs to be some preparation and planning involved from all parties. As parents and carers you are busy with your day to day routines, but try to set aside time for your background research and make a list of school options in your area and close by. Make a list of what you and your child are looking for. How would you describe your ideal school? Also list what you don't want as sometimes it’s easier to rule out options if they don’t match your wish list.  

In the UK we have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans. These are legal documents that describe a young person's special educational need and the daily support needed alongside desired outcomes and what they'd like to achieve. EHC's are only issued after an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment. If you haven't got an EHC then your child will be assessed first and then the process of creating their EHC will start. Being a legal document there is a process to input and agree the EHC plan with your local authority. It is important that they have all of the details of your child’s needs and intended outcomes.

Your child may need extra provision to support their specific needs (personal as well as educational), so planning ahead gives time to get these in place for their first day of term. There may be adaptations already in school that will meet their needs, but if not schools may need to be adapted, staff training scheduled for anything relating to medical procedures or retraining and up-skilling on educational resources. If there are costs associated with adaptions or equipment, there will be budgets; processes and procedures to approve and release funding, which all take time. Planning ahead gives time to get everything in place assisting with a smooth and successful transition.

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2. Make time to visit schools

Planning ahead allows you to schedule school visits. If possible arrange to look around during the school day when children are being taught as you will get a better understanding of what the setting will be like for your child if they were one of the pupils. Looking around a school outside the school day is a place without children and staff and the normal day in and day out hustle and bustles. It may give you a sense of the facilities, equipment and other pupil’s schoolwork on display but not what it would be like when your child is there.

What is a typical school day for this setting? Is it a calm place? Noisy? Busy? What do the teaching staff do? How many adults are in each room? Are children taught in class or outside in small groups? What is the behaviour of other children like? Is it a happy place? Schools vary so much as each have their own ethos and environment and community. A small rural school in a countryside setting is completely different to a busy inner city school where there is lots of activity and noise inside and out. Some children thrive in small quiet environments; others do better in busy bigger groups.

After your first visit you will know if this school is or is not a match for your child. The next step is to arrange your son or daughter to visit which is another opportunity to confirm your first impressions and also ask those questions you thought of after your first visit. Your child will spend up to 190 days each year at school that is 38 weeks of the year! Remember 73% of the year is term-time and they will spend a lot of their time in school. 

3. Record your and your child's wishes with professionals

If you have an EHC plan then there should be additional input prior to transition from both school staff and external professionals to support your child through the transition as well as settling after they start their new school.

There is one person who is central to all this, and that is your son or daughter. School staff, speech therapists, OT's, and yourself are parts of the jigsaw. Together you provide your child with the framework of support needed to get the most out of school life as well as a successful transition.

Children with complex needs may have many external professionals involved that need to actively input into the process, the earlier you start the longer they have to do what they need to do.  Professionals may arrange to talk to you as they arrange home or school visits to gather the information that they need to write their report. If you don't meet them, then arrange a phone call and ensure that they are aware of you and your child's wishes. Many children with complex needs rely on their carers to voice their wishes. 

4. Seek support from school staff

Talk to the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) at the school. Some schools have Parent Liaison Officers or a Pastoral Team. For children with SEND these staff members may be involved or the SENCO may be the point of contact. Ask questions so you know who is involved with your child's transition. School staff transition children every year so have experience in the area.  This whole process may be new to you so ask them what happens and when and what the options are. What steps are involved generally for all children? What are extras or will be different for SEND children and specifically your child? It's common that there may be additional sessions at the new school so that your child will have extra opportunities to become comfortable with their new environment, new routine and new faces.

Is there a summer school? Are there teacher home visits? It is always worth asking about these as schools may add or remove these from their transition schedule depending upon their budgets, staffing and previous success of such programs. If you know what happened with last year's cohort it may not necessary be a repeat this time around. At the end of the day everyone realises that transitions can be difficult and challenging times and all want to have a smooth and successful transition.

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5. Talk to other parents and carers

When you meet other parents ask them what was involved in their child’s transitions. Keep in the back of your mind that all kids are different but there are often things that others have done (or wished they had done in hindsight) that you can relate to your own child that would make it a better experience for them.

Talk to people in your group of friends or support network. Remember that your network includes your online friends, as well as local support groups who can offer advice and signpost information. If the school has a social media page you can always check that out and see what happens and what people say.  

6. Find and note key dates

There will be key dates that you need to know which may include:

  • Application deadlines for school admission 
  • Professional input deadlines (school visits may need to be arranged and reports written) 
  • Special dates to keep free (open days, leaving assemblies, school events and trips)
  • Dates that clash (hospital appointments)
  • Term dates (start and end), school events, and staff training days 
  • Uniform sale days, school fêtes, sports days
  • Availability of you and the professionals (factor in holidays and prior commitments on both sides that cannot be changed)

7. Have a long transitioning period

Transitions work best over a longer period as it allows more opportunities for children to try school at different times with different people. They may go with the rest of the class, they may go to lessons with a small group, or they may go alone. They may go more times than their peers, and that’s ok! 

If the same staff have supported your child in school for a number of years, then they have a lot of experience in supporting them. Everything that child has become used to for the longest time in their life is changing so ask staff if there is anything they think is needed to support their transition to make it a success. 

8. Transitioning never stops

Transitioning doesn't stop during the school holidays, or even after the first day of the new school year. It is something you can always work on and help support your children with. 

There is plenty of opportunity during the school vacation to talk about transition and support your child. Plan a special shopping trip to buy their new clothes, new shoes, rucksacks and pencil cases, lunch bags and water bottles plus any other equipment needed to prepare children for the coming change in their routine.

Teaching staff may have created social stories for you. These could be a tour of the new school, photos and names of staff,  example lessons, class mates. These are great to go though during the holiday. You may look at the stories over the whole vacation or condense it to when preparing to go back to school near the end.

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9. Don’t be afraid to speak up!

Saying things aren’t working or changing your mind is OK!  If you’ve started a transition and find problems don’t be afraid to say if things aren’t working. If others don’t know things aren’t right then they can’t help put it right.

Always try to remember, though, that you and the school staff are part of the same team and on the same side.  Teachers are hard-working and dedicated people, but may be tired, anxious or stressed just like you.  Tread carefully so you can build a great team, where everyone feels positive about their role in helping you child on their journey!

10. Take your child’s lead

Your child may pick up on the anxieties of other children as all of their peers are going through their own transition. Some will be excited; some not bothered at all, whilst for others it’s an anxious and unsettling period. Changes in children’s behaviour may surface, just take each day as it comes.

Transitioning may not be as straightforward as you imagined, and there may be teething problems. Even with all the planning and preparation in place there is a scale of good to bad and your child’s experience of their transition will be somewhere in between.

More often than not, your child will surprise you with how well they transition and how quickly they settle into their new routine.

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 Discover our range of apps

We find Special Stories to be particularly benefical in supporting children with their school transtion, and is something which we have used to aid William's transitions over the years. Social stories can be created about new enviroment, new teachers and new routines. Once at school, we find Special Words is helping children worldwide to develop their speech, language and communication skills, and adapt school work into a tool adapatable to their needs.

Discover more about all of our apps to help your children on their learning journey.