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Supporting transitions between school years within an education setting

Updated: Jan 30

Children and young people who have experienced adversity and loss in their lives can find change incredibly challenging. With this in mind, I'd argue we can never do too much to support them with managing significant transitions - the more consistently they can experience change positively, the better, and this supports expansion of their window of tolerance.

One significant transition that each child or young person navigates year on year at school is the end of one school year and the beginning of a new one.

While all children require some support with transitions, some children need more - more repetition, more reassurance, more familiarisation, more time exploring new environments and building relationships with new adults, more information about the 'what comes next' - they need a Transition Plus Plan.

I've designed a Transition Plus Plan template that I'm hoping will prove useful as a flexible reference document to support school with discussions with parent/carers and children and young people. It's not an exhaustive checklist, but hopefully there's enough scope to add to it or amend accordingly. Do access your FREE pdf copy here.

The plan considers potential support needs around:

  • Environment

  • Emotional regulation

  • Relationships

  • Communication

In the meantime, here is some supporting information for kicking off transition plus planning discussions that I share in my training with schools in case helpful (this complements the pdf plan too)...

  • Work closely with parents to ensure everyone is on the same page. Begin planning this out early (consider starting behind-the-scenes work after the Easter break at the latest). Agree when to start implementing the plan – this will depend on the child - the pace of the plan will need to be very child-centred. Some children respond well to a drip-drip of information over a long period of time, others find it anxiety-inducing to be thinking about things too soon and will need less of a lead-in time.

  • The smaller the number of changes where things are working well, the better.

  • Even if not a huge amount is changing in terms of class set-up, key staff, rooms, routines etc., go through the process anyway. Don't assume the child and/or parents will know what will be the same or different. There is likely to be potential for some anxiety around change for any child/young person who has experienced trauma, especially if they've experienced significant change between year groups previously.

  • For Looked After and Previously Looked After Children, these discussions may form part of regular PEP (Personal Education Plan), EPAC (Education Plan for Adopted Children) meetings or similar; they may happen as part of other support plan reviews.

  • Any plan should go back to basics with things like with things like knowing where the nearest toilet to their new classroom is, where they will put their bag, where they will put their water bottle, how safe the classroom is – things that can cause real anxiety for children who’ve experienced trauma can be around basic needs. Use this opportunity to highlight what routines will stay the same too.

  • Ensure there are regular opportunities for checking in with your pupil around any worries.

  • Check in with your pupil around important relationships with peers - are there specific friendships that are especially important to them that need to be factored into any new class or group mixes?

  • Set up a meeting for parents/carers and next class teacher or tutor (if different to the current one), so they can share their insights, concerns and hopes for the start of the new year (if possible, use this time to revisit any Pupil Passport or key support document in place to ensure it's up to date).

  • Agree the best mode of communication with parent/carers going forward – preferred modes can differ between teachers and parent/carers so it’s useful to have that discussion in advance of the next school year, when everything can be a bit frenetic. The more clarity upfront, the better.

  • Give the child a small booklet with photos of the next class and of the future key staff that parents/carers can look at with the child as appropriate over the summer – this helps with familiarisation. Even better, video walkthroughs are very helpful - can a member of staff walk the path from the school entrance to the classroom and video it?

  • Supporting ENDINGS is just as important as supporting new beginnings.

  • Check there is an opportunity for the child to say goodbye properly to key staff and their peers so there is a clear end point to the year where you communicate what will happen after the summer holiday once again.

  • With younger children, you might recommend the book The Invisible String (or sit down with them and enjoy this recording of it) and explore the concept of everyone being connected, even when not together. This might be one to use at home, and agree reiteration at school.

  • Pass on a finalised (visual?) timetable to the parent/carers and pupil in advance of starting the new year.

  • Consider sending an email (or postcard) to the child coming into your class around a week before the start of the next term to tell them a bit about your summer break, and to say how much you are looking forward to welcoming them to your class. Agree this (and timing) with parents beforehand.

  • Try to pop in at the beginning of the new school year to say hello to the child or young person who left your class before the summer. Children who’ve experienced loss can feel endings particularly keenly, but experiencing you checking in and letting them know you are still there can be very reassuring.

  • Manage your expectations with ends and starts of terms – know that it will be unsettling for a child who has experienced intense loss and change in their lives – this is completely normal. Look for ways to support them, and know that this will be helping them with increasing their window of tolerance year on year.

  • Ensure your wellbeing/support is factored into any plans too.

If you haven't already got hold of your latest copy of my FREE Pupil Premium Plus guide, do access your pdf here - Pupil Premium Plus funding can be used to support looked after and previously looked after children with managing transitions.


Transition support is built into our Session II training 'Planning & delivery of trauma informed support' - if you'd like to know more about what this practical training covers or enquire about booking for your setting, please do get in touch:

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