Children who are new to a school or changing school

Children change school for many different reasons and it can sometimes be a difficult transition, particularly if it is an in-year admission.

For some children this can disrupt learning and affect their mental health and wellbeing; for others it will provide an opportunity to develop their resilience skills. In-year moves appear to be more frequent among children already facing other risks in their lives (e.g. for children eligible for Pupil Premium, Forces’ children, Travellers’ children, children with SEND needs or who are looked after).

Multiple moves can be particularly damaging, but even single moves, especially when associated with other risk factors (such as family breakdown, parental mental health etc.), can affect a child’s sense of belonging to a school as well as their confidence, self-esteem and attainment.

Leaving a school midway through a term or year can also disrupt friendships as well as relationships with school staff and the wider community.

Protective factors: what schools can do

  • Meet new parents:
    • Showing them around the school, using this as an opportunity for parental engagement, explaining the school values and the support it offers. Ideally, this should be done by the headteachers as it is an important start to the home/school relationship.
    • Encouraging a partnership approach with parents to help children settle, to support their progress and make sure they flourish.
  • Make sure that school records are forwarded from previous schools (within the legal timescales and requirements) to pick up on any immediate learning, SEND needs, developmental or wellbeing needs that a child may have and to plan ‘bridging’ support. If a child has an ECHP, (education and health care plan) there should be an early review of needs.
  • Create a system of buddies or peer support for new children; these can promote friendship and support between older and younger pupils through regular collaboration between classes – encouraging a sense of whole-school community. Buddies can also help children with daunting situations such as integrating during school breaks and having someone to sit with at lunchtimes. Buddies need training and supervision as well as clear roles and tasks. See, for example:
  • Be proactive: support children’s resilience from an early age and continue to develop their social and emotional skills as they mature, through whole-school programmes and targeted, small group work
  • Use circle time to help newcomers and established pupils get to know each other. 
  • Create an environment and culture where pupils feel valued and supported. Use everyday interactions, contact and relationships to build a sense of connection and school belonging. It also involves the small things such as:
    • Welcoming children (and families) and addressing them by name each day. Talking to parents/carers at the school gate as children leave at the end of the school day.
    • Displaying children’s artwork/written work on the walls of the classroom and school, to show children that they (and their work) are valued.
    • Noticing when they are struggling and communicating support with small gestures (acknowledging a child with a nod, warmth in your voice, a note on his/her work etc.).
    • Giving a child responsibilities/chores for the classroom to boost their self-esteem by providing them with some involvement in and control over their environment.
  • Help children develop positive relationships with school staff who support and believe in them. Such relationships – built on trust, kindness, safety and security – will promote pupil wellbeing, help children talk about worries that might be affecting them and provide a firm base for the development of trust, autonomy and initiative.
  • Establish a formal ‘settling in’ review for all new pupils to help staff stop and reflect about children’s progress and whether they might need extra help (e.g. through counselling or other support services).

Children who might need extra help

Some children may move school more than others and may need extra help with transitions and settling in. This includes children in care, children of armed forces personnel and some Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children.

  • Transitions generally work best for children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities when they, their families and communities have been helped by dedicated GRT education support workers who have built relationships with families and communities.
  • This is a useful guide from the Ministry of Defence which helps staff consider the needs of pupils whose parents are in the armed forces.
  • A guide to supporting service children in schools in England produced by the Royal British Legion.

Looked after children

Changing teachers or schools can be yet another potentially significant event for looked after children, adding to earlier disruptions they’ve already had with important care-giver relationships and attachments.

The ‘virtual head’ and designated teacher for looked after children may play key roles in helping school staff provide any additional help to encourage pupils to settle in. Ideally, there should be advanced planning of changes so that children can be helped to prepare. There should also be good continuity between former and new school settings, close partnership working (with carers or key workers) to collaboratively support children, and an acknowledgement of the feelings that transitions can provoke.

The child’s Personal Education Plan will provide a foundation for continuity of learning and support. For more information on the particular support needs that looked after children may have in primary settings see our page on children in care.


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GRT provision guidance

Good practice guide for provision for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families in schools which has some...

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  • The Estyn (Inspectorate) in Wales

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In-year admissions (2013)

Report (2013) on in-year admissions.

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Peer mentoring toolkit

Peer mentoring toolkit

A peer mentoring toolkit.

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  • HeadStart Kent

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Moving schools: service families

Resource for service families whose children may move frequently, created by the Ministry of Defence...

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Water Mill school: settling children with different languages

A summary of the learning Water Mill primary school (Birmingham) have built up supporting children...

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  • Water Mill primary school

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Preparing children for new arrivals

Bitesize video (3 mins) on starting a new school, with tips about how to use the video in the...

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Helping a child settle at a new school

US website with tips for parents on helping a child settle into a new school.

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  • The Spruce

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Feelings about starting school

Books to help children and parents talk about and explore feelings and experiences about starting...

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