School Transitions

There are three main school transition areas;

  1. Into school
  2. During each day
  3. Out of school.

This article outlines key considerations of the three main school transition areas. These areas are set out as stages 1-3. The word student is used throughout to include children of any age and transition stage.

Stage 1 – Transition into school

This in one of the most significant areas of transition; helping a student gain comfort and confidence in a new environment is of vital importance, especially if it is to be an effective learning environment. Below are some key considerations for parents/carers, students, teachers and other professionals:

Meetings and school visits –

  • Schedule school visits and/or meetings to discuss the needs of the student
  • Meeting’s could begin a year prior to the student starting school, and continue afterwards
  • The number and frequency of meetings and/or school visits will differ student to student based on their individual needs
  • During meetings, parents/carers, and students can share their perspectives, e.g. discuss what success looks like for the student
  • Collect together relevant information from all supporting agencies/people

Visits can be arranged, e.g. for the student to become familiar with walking to and from school, to meet the class teacher perhaps prior to the start date, and orientate to the new environment.

  • Visits can help develop relationships with the different people involved, e.g. classroom teacher
  • Form a support team and get to know each other, e.g. Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO), class teacher, parents and student
    To set the scene for success

Developing relationships –

Meetings and visits can provide an opportunity for the development of positive relationships, forming a team with common aims centered on the best outcomes for the students and their family/carers.

  • Parents/carers – can share their perspective, e.g. goals and dreams for their child; and what works and doesn’t work with their child.
  • Students can share their perspective, e.g. goals, dreams, what works and doesn’t work; and what could be tried with consideration for what they like/dislike.
  • Teachers and other professionals can also share their perspectives, e.g. thoughts, ideas, previous experience and knowledge which can also be considered at this stage and along with any future planning
  • It can be helpful to arrange at least one meeting at a location that suits the parents and child
  • It can be useful to discuss what happens with the collected information from these planning meetings.

Remember these key transition team ingredients; relationship, knowledge and collaboration.

Begin building a student profile –

  • Include information documented from transition meeting/s
  • Each profile differs from student to student as it is based on each individual and their needs.

Stage 2 – Transitioning daily at school

There are many transitions throughout a school day; e.g. different teachers, peers, locations, environments. Each of these can be stressful and heighten anxiety for some students. Transitions could occur between break times, home and school, special events and/or outings. With each differing location throughout the day, the environment also changes which can lead to further considerations, such as, sensory needs, reliance on structure. Daily transition issues can be identified and the development of plans to support these prioritised.

Below are some key considerations for parents/carers, students, teachers and other professionals:

  • Develop inclusive relationships by working in consultation and collaboration with each other, especially the different staff members the student is likely to meet each day
  • Gather together both valuable lived-experience and academic information (e.g. from the year prior) and review.
  • Identify the students priorities, and focus on the top two or three, e.g. support could be required for breaks/unstructured times – where are the break areas, retreat area; are there communication needs/visual support requirements; is there a buddy/peer support system.
  • Important/useful information and knowledge – gather both anecdotal and academic information (e.g. from the prior year) and review.
  • Student’s could benefit from time visiting the school before they start, e.g. to meet teachers and other support staff, to orientate to the environment, learn the location of classes, toilets, options for break times and lunch times, etc. It could be helpful to schedule visits not only at quiet times, but also while the school is busy providing and opportunity for the student to pre- experience a transition that may be most difficult at this time, e.g. locker area.
  • At this stage of support planning it can be useful to review the information from other professionals, e.g. assessments, reports.
  • As a team, regularly review how the student is coping; which support is effective/non-effective, e.g. what’s working/not working. Identify the next steps, e.g. transition support plans can be adapted on a needs basis.
  • Brief catch-up meetings and/or communications (e.g. emails) could be scheduled for team members to review and support plan together. These meetings or communications could be every few weeks and/or on a needs basis, e.g. school trip, change of seasons.
  • Throughout the school terms, continue meetings/communications as necessary, this may include for some students specific Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings.
  • Discussions can continue concerning any changes to the student’s routine, and/or their behaviour; and what could be done to help, e.g. staff, environment, social life, and behaviour. Again, prioritise two or three issues to address first and work with these (choose one if necessary), then go for it, set goals! (At the end of this article is a list of transition strategies that could be helpful.)

Stage 3 – Transition out of school

This stage concerns planning for the future; and preparing students for a change of year group, class, and/or school either for the next year; or any move that may occur throughout the year. Preparation may include day trips out of school to attend appointments and/or community programmes, particularly if this transition involves leaving school life altogether.

Below are some key considerations for parents/carers, students, teachers and other professionals:

  • Work alongside the school the student will be transitioning to
  • Again, it would be beneficial to develop inclusive relationships that are consultative and collaborative
  • Encourage positive involvement; it can be helpful to remember that everyone is on the same team with common aims, e.g. the best outcomes for the student and their family/carers.
  • People that could support the transition process and work as a team are the Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO), other staff or professionals, teachers; the student’s family/carers, this may include siblings that attend the school.Students could be helped by particular people that are familiar to the student for appointments outside of school, e.g. new school, hospital or other community specialist,
  • programme.
  • Support strategies could be used before and during appointments, e.g. create social stories and visuals such as photos/map book about the new school, staff/teacher, community advisor, medical centre and specialist.
  • If possible talk with and plan any visits out of school with the SENCO
  • Whenever possible, inform the person being visited (e.g. doctor) of the individuals needs and collaborate – plan transition strategies and use of resources that could help the visit go smoothly, e.g. Just Breathe and Release videos by Julie Bayer and Josh Salzman
  • Visiting the school/venue prior and organising role plays to practice could help, e.g. car rides with the people most likely to be involved with taking the student to appointments
  • It can also be helpful to provide the student with an explanation along the way, and take transitional supports with you in case they are necessary, such as the social story book, self-calming or sensory tools, e.g. headphones.
  • During any car ride it could be calming for the student if the parent/carer sits in the back seat of the vehicle with them during the first practise or so. . If possible, this could be practised with school staff the parent/carer and student know.
  • You could enquire if the SENCO role at the new school is full-time, or if it is their only role, e.g. not an addition to the Deputy Principal role, because then the ability of the SENCO to be able to respond to transition and on-going support needs of the student is far greater.
  • It could be helpful for parents/carers to have an initial visit with school staff to ask questions, these questions could be jotted down prior, as they come to mind, ready for a visit with school staff. It could be useful at this first school visit to establish who will be responsible, at this early stage, to remain in contact with family/carers of students for any further questions that may arise.

Any stage – Examples of further transition support strategies

Considerations for parents/carers, students, teachers and other professionals are:

  • Pre warn students to prepare them for change, offer them a script to explain changes in advance.
  • Tour the school, not only when no one is there, but allow them to pre-experience when it is busy and there are new sensory experiences, such as, sounds, movements, uniforms, etc.
  • Introduce and allow time for the student to learn about the people, who will be there teacher, assistant, are there students they already know, office and maintenance staff, who to go to for help, etc.
  • Provide visuals, such as, map of the school, play and retreat areas, toilets, classroom, bags, office, library, pool, bus stops, crossings, etc.
  • Create a video/film on phone or iPad of the new school environment, and teachers, again consider filming how it really looks, e.g. when areas/busy areas. This can then be played repeatedly as often as necessary.
  • Create and use social stories, scripts, photo books – these can be used to share information and especially to explain the reasons why daily events occur, such as changing teachers, classrooms, friends. These can be referred back to as necessary.
  • Take photos, e.g. class teacher, key staff, toilets, water fountains, etc.
  • Use a calendar to display and help initiate talk about when their school visits and other appointments will be, and when they start class.
  • Transport – practice the getting to school routine, discuss what to do if late or on rainy days. Consider the best drop off time, e.g. at bell time or earlier if they enjoy morning playground activities.
  • Introduce and practice calming strategies, e.g. where the student goes to calm down or access sensory tools.
  • Useful practical skills for students to accomplish if possible before school starts: how to manage their lunchbox, including coping with glad wrap; screw and unscrew drink bottle tops; how to open food in packets and don’t send food they cannot open; master zips on school bags and jackets, wearing a sunhat and sunblock, put on shoes and take them off (if necessary use pull on shoes or shoes with Velcro fastenings if easier); put on and take off a jersey, polar-fleece, coat.

Recommended websites for further reading and/or resources:

For further information, including transition support services that may be available in your region:


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