Change is a normal part of life and can provide opportunities for children and young people to develop their resilience.
Whether a child or young person is starting primary school, secondary school, further education, changing schools, or leaving school for university or work, this transition period needs to be carefully managed. If a child struggles with a transition it can have a negative impact on their wellbeing and academic achievement.
During any transition period, it’s important that children and young people are able to talk about their concerns and are supported to cope with any readjustments.
Who is more likely to struggle with transitions?
It’s important to prepare pupils who are more likely to struggle with moving to a new school or phase of education. This includes children and young people with:
- additional learning needs (also known as SEND, ASN or ALN)
- mental health problems
- behavioural problems
- limited parental support
- experience of transient living, such as being in care
- experience of being bullied.
Identifying the signs
Here are a few things to look out for which may suggest a child or young person is struggling with their transition to a new phase of education:
- struggles to make friends
- doesn’t feel that they belong
- has ongoing difficulties coping with daily routines
- increased number of unauthorised school absences
- challenging or disruptive behaviour
- lower than expected progress or a disinterest in school.
Children who change schools often
Children who change schools regularly may struggle with the transition process and find it hard to settle in.
Moving between schools can be more common for Travellers, Gypsy and Roma children, for those whose parents or carers are in the Armed Forces, for children and young people with additional learning needs or those who are looked after.
Children who are new to the country may also struggle to settle in or feel that they belong in their new school environment.
Multiple moves can be particularly challenging for children and young people, and can affect their sense of belonging to a school. It can also disrupt friendships as well as relationships with school staff and the wider community.
This could impact their confidence, self-esteem and attainment.
A few things that schools can do to help include:
- meeting new parents and carers, showing them around the school and discussing any worries
- making sure school records are forwarded from the previous school to pick up on immediate learning or wellbeing needs that a child or young person may have
- developing a support system that may include training pupils to be buddies or to provide peer support to new arrivals.
What schools and further education settings can do
If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.
There are lots of things that education settings can do to help pupils prepare for, and cope with, change - and also build resilience, self-confidence and self-esteem.
Engage with parents and carers
Parents and carers are often key to making sure that a child or young person has a good transition to a new school or college. A few things that parents, carers and teachers can do include:
- checking in with the child or young person to find out how well they are coping academically, but also in terms of their wellbeing
- keeping an eye on how they are socialising, if they are making friends and hanging around in positive peer groups
- providing opportunities for parents and carers and staff to link up.
Connect with local education settings
- Work with your local schools and further education providers to identify children and young people who may require additional support when they arrive or leave your school or college - and develop strategies (such as mentoring) to support them.
- Create social events between transitional settings, including talks, taster days, and Q&A sessions with children and young people, parents and carers who have already been through the transition process.
- Think about developing a peer support or buddy system. This is where pupils who have been at the school/college longer support newer pupils with their move to a new school or further education setting (see this toolkitfor how to get started).
Use health & wellbeing lessons to prepare pupils
Children and young people who recognise change as stressful, and who seek support and problem-solve, often cope better with change than those who deny or avoid the emotional impact of a transition.
Schools can use health and wellbeing education (RSHE, PD&MU, Health & Wellbeing) to help pupils develop good emotional and social skills from the start of their education. These skills will help pupils prepare and cope with change by focusing on how to recognise and manage thoughts and feelings, build resilience, and also learn how to problem-solve.
Helping pupils with mental health needs and additional needs transition smoothly
Schools and further education settings need to make sure plans are in place to support pupils with mental health needs and additional needs to negotiate any changes – for example, transitioning to an alternative provision education setting.
Schools need to plan well in advance of the transition to address any potential barriers to learning or thriving. These plans should involve:
- sharing information with the new setting about the child or young person’s needs well in advance, with the agreement of parents and carers. This could involve formal liaison, review and handover meetings, and in some instances transitional joint working between additional learning needs staff at each setting. School counsellors could also organise a formal handover to the new school involving the child and their family
- putting in place a plan to address barriers before the transition starts (e.g. equipment, resources, training exchanges and support)
- identifying a keyworker in the new setting who will monitor the effectiveness of strategies and work closely with the pupil and their parents or carers to gauge how well they are settling in.
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