Findings - part two

What is transition?

The notion of transition varied from school to school. For some they identified this as simply being the time until a parent was able to leave a child alone in the class. Most schools recognised that settling into school was a process, rather than an event. Some identified that this process can take anything from a year on either side of the child enrolling in the school, depending on the child.

The school values highly the transition to school process. The deputy principal takes a lead role in the transition process. She quotes: "The sparkle in the five-year- old eyes when they start school must be sustained” as her guiding philosophy for transitioning children to school.

Large, urban, contributing primary

ERO found that 70 of the 100 schools visited were ‘generally responsive’ in the way they supported children as they settled into school. The remaining 30 of the schools had a ‘less responsive’ approach to transition.

ERO found that 70 of the 100 schools visited were ‘generally responsive’ in the way they supported children as they settled into school. The remaining 30 of the schools had a ‘less responsive’ approach to transition

Of the ‘generally responsive’ schools, ERO identified 29 as being ‘very responsive’ to the needs of children transitioning to their school and 41 as ‘mostly responsive’.

Of the ‘generally responsive’ schools, ERO identified 29 as being ‘very responsive’ to the needs of children transitioning to their school and 41 as ‘mostly responsive’

Very responsive schools

These schools could demonstrate that they had real knowledge about their newly enrolled children. They took care to translate that knowledge into providing the best possible environment and education for each and every child. This enabled smooth transitions to the school. Leaders in the ‘very responsive’ schools ensured that transition was flexible and tailored to the individual child.

Mostly responsive schools

ERO identified the remaining 41 of the 70 ‘generally responsive’ schools as ‘mostly responsive’. Their leaders knew that transition was important and had a range of good features in place, but they had not yet developed the coherence of practice evident in the 29 ‘very responsive’ schools.

Less responsive schools

Thirty schools had a ‘less responsive’ approach to transition. They understood that transition was important and had some of the foundations necessary for success but did not necessarily take concrete steps to ensure that it happened well. They tended more toward a ‘one size fits most’ approach. These schools had few strategies in place to recognise or respond to children as individuals with their own interests, strengths and capabilities. They rarely took into account the children’s prior knowledge or learning.

In the worst cases the new entrant had to fit into a rigid system where no part of that system catered for them as an individual.

The child had to be ready for the school.

In the ‘very responsive’ schools ERO found the following:

 

Strong leadership.

Leaders emphasised the importance of successful transitions. They provided appropriate resources, support and care for the specialised new entrant teacher.

Relationships between school/ early childhood service/parents and whanau were positive and mutually respectful.

Teachers gathered good information that they used well. Parents felt welcome and able to talk with teachers about their child’s progress through transition. Parents’ input was both respected and valued. Two-way partnerships between parents and schools supported the child’s learning. The child’s wellbeing was at the centre of school processes.

Teachers had a good understanding of Te Whariki and The New Zealand Curriculum and their similarities and differences.

The school’s curriculum helped to bridge differences by using similarities, and built on the children’s prior learning. It was flexible and met the diverse needs of the children.

The school had robust systems in place to determine the effectiveness of transitions.

Teachers regularly monitored how transitions worked and continuous improvement was a feature. Expectations were clearly stated for leaders, teachers and parents. Teachers promptly addressed any difficulties the children experienced.

School leaders and teachers took care of priority learners.

They identified and addressed specific learning needs quickly. Leaders and teachers responded well to the diverse needs of Maori and Pacific learners, and learners of English as a second language.

Figure 5: Smooth transitions depend on strong leadership

 Figure 5 is a diagram called Pacific children over-represented in least supportive services. It is headed 17 services had 40% or more Pacific children enrolled, and has two columns, in which a house symbol represents each of the 17 services. The diagram has four rows labelled from top to bottom as Highly Supportive (for which there are 2 services); Supportive (3 services); Partially Supportive (5 services); and Not Supportive (7 services). A note to the side of the lower two rows reads: 12 of the 17 services are in the partially or not supportive groups. 329 Pacific children were enrolled in these 12 services.

The leaders in schools where the children experienced smooth transitions laid the foundation for success but also they took care that critical elements to succeed were in place:

  • They built strong relationships around the children.They developed a curriculum that placed the children at the centre, focusing on them as individuals and providing them with relevant learning, targeted to their needs.
  • They constantly reviewed transition processes and outcomes for children - which led to refinements in transition policies and practices.

Together these elements meant that the school was well prepared to receive each and every child and that they settled into school quickly.

The school was ready for the child.

Foundations for transition

Most school leaders recognised that transition is important and all schools had an enrolment interview with parents/whanau, most commonly with the principal or a senior teacher.

Leaders arranged school visits for the children approaching enrolment. The arrangements varied from only one visit to nine or more visits to familiarise the child with the school environment and classroom culture. Some schools were flexible in the number of visits offered, some formalised the visits into a transition programme and others had both a formal programme and flexible visits. The success of each strategy depended on the individual circumstances of the school and the children. For example, some schools were small and knew their communities well, while some children had older siblings at the school, were already familiar with the environment and felt less need for familiarisation visits. There did not appear to be any particular advantages to any one arrangement of visits, but anecdotally, teachers reported that children who had visited or participated in a transition programme settled more quickly than those who had not. Many schools arranged a ‘buddy’ who also helped the new entrant to settle in.

Figure 6 shows these foundation elements present in most schools:

  • transition seen as important
  • school-organised visits prior to enrolment
  • teachers arranged a buddy to help the new entrant settle.

School leaders identified other features that they viewed as important contributors to successful transitions in their schools. These are shown in the following graphic. ERO found several things that the very responsive schools were more likely to have or be doing than the other schools. There is not any one thing, but rather a collection of features together that resulted in smooth transitions that were responsive to the child.

Figure 6: Foundation elements

Figure 6 is a diagram headed Smooth transitions depend on strong leadership. It has five rows labelled from top to bottom as ROBUST SELF REVIEW is improvement focused; LEADERSHIP; FOUNDATION; RELATIONSHIPS with ECE, parents and child; and CURRICULUM responds to child’s strengths, needs and culture.

‘Very responsive’ schools differed from the ‘less responsive’ in the following ways (which are discussed in the next sections):

  • Their focus on improvement through formal self review.
  • Their understanding of the early childhood curriculum.
  • Their use of familiar features from the child’s experience of early childhood education.

Leadership

Leaders of the ‘very responsive’ schools made sure that transition into school was valued in tangible ways. The new entrant 1 teachers were supported to make the transitions as smooth as possible.

School leaders demonstrated the importance they placed on transition by:

 

The care taken in appointing the most appropriate teacher to the new entrant class.

In some cases this was a teacher new to the role as teacher in a new entrant class. If this was the case, they tended to be well supported by senior leaders in the school.

The support provided through leadership and professional learning and development (PLD), including the resources allocated to that person and to the transition process.

Resources included a teacher aide, class size restrictions, an environment tailored to the age/needs of children, time to visit early childhood services and establish relationships with parents and whanau, and management units.

Having a clear understanding of the education experiences of children in early childhood services and how that can inform the school experience.

Almost half of ‘very responsive’ schools reported having someone with early childhood qualifications or experience connected with the new entrant class - such as a senior leader, the class teacher or a teacher aide in the classroom. Just over half of the very responsive schools demonstrated a clear understanding of Te Whāriki. Typically, teachers in these schools made links between the dispositions in Te Whāriki and the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum.

Reviewing the effectiveness of the programme as a whole in light of current research, with a view to making improvements.

This was the largest point of difference between the ‘very responsive’ schools and the rest. It demonstrated that school leaders were truly committed to having the best possible transition practices.

Curriculum

Curriculum that supports children's transition

The teachers in the ‘very responsive’ schools knew Te Whāriki and had worked with early childhood teachers to bridge the learning experiences from ECE to school.

New entrant teachers found out about each child’s interests, strengths, culture and capabilities before they started school, through:

  • observations in the early childhood service and on school visits
  • talking with the service’s teachers and child’s parents and whanau
  • referring to the children’s portfolio or learning story journal.

After starting school, the new entrant teachers learnt about the child through:

  • ongoing observations and discussions with parents and whanau
  • formal and informal testing.

ERO found that the ‘very responsive’ schools used all these strategies wherever possible and tailored aspects of the curriculum to engage, challenge and motivate the children.

By contrast the ‘less responsive’ schools typically used few, if any, of these strategies.

Formal testing for new entrant children varied from school to school. 2 Many schools designed their own tests, some drawing from elements of the Standard Entry Assessment (SEA). The type of assessment used was not linked to how responsive the school was. What mattered was how teachers and leaders used the information they gathered.

New entrant teachers in very responsive schools used the information to:

  • provide new entrant children with familiar settings and ways of learning
  • make links between Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum
  • design a curriculum that valued and built on the child’s prior knowledge and experiences.

The new entrant teacher encourages all new entrant children to bring their early childhood portfolio (if they have one) to share with her and their new classmates. The teacher uses the information to identify children’s skills, interests, strengths and needs. She uses it in her initial discussion with parents alongside the ‘school readiness checklist’ questions to find out as much as she can about each child.

The teacher said: “Children are very proud of their portfolios. They share them confidently, introducing friends and teachers from their early childhood service.

They talk about things they did and their learning. Some children make their own links between learning at the service and at school.”

When children have been at school for a week or two, the new entrant teacher phones all new entrants’ parents to talk about how the transition is going for their child. Sometimes she is able to talk with parents at school, but most children come to school by bus and so this is not always possible. The teacher says that the phone calls are invaluable as they help her to better understand children. In one situation she thought a new girl was struggling to settle and was unhappy because she didn’t talk and didn’t like to play outside with other children. But the girl’s mum said her daughter came home very talkative and loved her new school. Her mum was able to encourage her daughter to open up a little and let her teacher know she could speak!

Small, urban full primary

The relationship with parents was very important and an essential, informal way for teachers to build a complete picture of each child. This picture helped teachers to manage transitions.

The following example shows how a large urban contributing primary school used its strong parent partnerships to develop a picture of each child that recognised and celebrated their culture. This enabled teachers to smooth transitions by tailoring the curriculum, building on their knowledge and understanding of each child.

 

Review and development

The school has a transition policy and practices which are strongly founded on research. School leaders review the effectiveness of the policy every year and report findings to the board. They recognise the importance of a good transition to school and that new entrants benefit from the best possible start and accelerated learning in their early years at school. As a consequence the board has a charter goal to enhance successful transitions. They noted that positive and affirming relationships were the foundation for learning and necessary to establish effective partnerships between the school and families. Transition processes recognise parents as first teachers and empower parents within the school environment.

The school operates a playgroup and encourages parents to bring their preschool children along. School staff use this opportunity to talk to parents and to observe the children at play. An enrolment pack, familiarisation visits and meetings with key staff all provide good information for parents and help to establish partnership relationships with them.

Children’s strengths and successes throughout transition are celebrated formally and informally through the use of certificates, reports to parents and a ‘partnership book’. Children take pride in their ‘partnership book’ which highlights their successes and is a valued tool for communication and ongoing learning. New entrant teachers make a point of talking with parents after school, noting if there are any concerns or parental anxiety and following up with longer meetings as necessary.

Partnership with parents

Regular partnership meetings between parents and teachers and teacher aides are a particular strength of the school. There are specific meeting groups for each of the major ethnic groups in the school: Pacific, Maori and Indian.

Before a new topic for learning is introduced to students, the partnership group discusses what the children already know and relate it to any similar experiences they may have had. Teachers gain valuable cultural insights that help to close the cultural gap between school and home, and provide important information for staff when designing the curriculum. The meetings provide powerful professional learning for teachers. For example, the Maori partnership group also supports teachers in developing Tataiako competencies. 3 Teachers are confident to include tikanga Maori, Pacific and Indian perspectives and to be culturally responsive in their teaching.

The partnership meetings also take parents through the ‘partnership books’, encouraging them or their wider family to work through the activities with their child. Teachers model reading at home, describe progress towards the National Standards and give parents practical ideas and hands-on activities to support their child’s learning. Parents and whanau have the opportunity to ask questions or raise any matters that concern them. All these strategies support the school’s philosophy that ‘efficacy and motivation is heightened as the learning is embedded in the class, the wider community and the home’.

These mixed school and parent groups also evaluate how successfully the programmes provide for children and help develop a strong sense of common purpose throughout the school.

 

Learners at risk of poor educational outcomes

Teachers’ knowing the child was critical for all learners but it was particularly important to tailor the curriculum for learners at risk of poor outcomes. 4 In the ‘very responsive’ schools ‘each transition responds to each child’ so that their needs are met.

Most schools worked well with children with special education needs. School leaders and teachers took time to find out about the children before they reached the school. They set up meetings with appropriate people and external agencies to develop individual education plans (IEPs) and ensured that applications for appropriate funding were made well in advance of the children starting school. Often, for children with special needs, transition started a year to six months before they enrolled in the school. Typically ERO found schools prepared very well for these transitions, and that the partnerships with external agencies eased transitions and provided ‘wrap-around’ support for the children.

This high quality provision for children with special education needs was evident even in the schools ERO judged to be ‘less responsive’ overall. Following is one such example:

The mother of a child with special education needs who has recently started school spoke with ERO. She said: “It’s been a dream start, no horror stories as we might have expected. In this school they don’t see a condition, they just see him.

They’ve made sure that he has what he needs to be included and successful.”

ERO noted difficulties experienced by a few schools that could compromise transition for children with special education needs:

  • In some regions the early intervention support (Ministry of Education support and funding for children with special education needs that is available from the time they are born until they are settled into school) did not transfer with the child and the school had to reapply. This meant that the child often started school before the funding was approved.
  • Some early childhood teachers and/or leaders were reluctant to share information about individual children, citing the Privacy Act, leading to delays in determining the nature of support required.

When relationships between the school and early childhood service had broken down, the teachers from both places were unable to work together to develop an IEP for the child.

ERO found several examples of excellent support for children with special education needs. One school provided a teacher aide to the early childhood service in the lead up to transition, ensuring continuity of support for the child. Another school supported the parent as well as the child.

When a child with sight and hearing impairment was to arrive at school, the new entrant teacher changed the physical layout of the room to make it as easy as possible for him to navigate. The board funded the teacher to attend a course that provided specific training on how to deal with the child’s needs. The boy’s parent attended the course with the teacher, meaning a learning partnership was developed.

The following case study illustrates the importance of individualised care in planning transition for all children. In this school, new entrants visited several times before starting school. They were enrolled by the office administration person rather than the principal or teacher so new parents did not make these important connections at the start of their association with the school.

 

James*, who has special education needs, has had an IEP developed with his family. At his previous school, he was incorrectly told he was only allowed to attend half days, but at this school he attends full days and is very well supported by his teacher aide, the principal and teachers, and older students. The school has worked closely with James’ mother to develop his programme and support his learning and engagement in the school.

His mother reports that his capabilities are being appreciated and developed.

Amanda* is a capable child who can count to 20 in four languages and speak German fluently. At Playcentre she took ownership of her own portfolio, deciding what to put in it and writing in it herself. She also wrote in her friends’ portfolios before she left. The school did not consider asking about her portfolio, and didn’t ask her mother about her abilities.

The Year 0 to 4 teachers did not know about Amanda’s literacy and linguistic capabilities before she enrolled.

On the first day at school she was taught the letter T. However, on her third day, she was given a certificate and her capability and settling were celebrated.

*Not their real names, small, rural full primary school.

The school was aware that it had to understand James as a learner and then respond positively to his particular needs. They did so admirably, but the same process for transition was lacking for Amanda. The good practice seen for James, identifying and extending his capabilities, should be happening for each and every child at transition.

Almost half of the ‘generally responsive’ schools made good provision for Maori children. 5 Many of these school leaders recognised the importance of taking time to build relationships with Maori parents and whanau. They provided professional development for staff focused on Ka Hikitia 6 and Tataiako, which led to culturally responsive teaching and opportunities for Maori to succeed as Maori.

Maori children are well supported and feel a sense of belonging in the school through integration of te reo and tikanga Maori into programmes. The school values included in programmes are based on tikanga values and are supported by the community. A strong kapa haka group is popular and a new tutor has started who intends to include the junior syndicate in the group.

The teachers deliberately engage children’s families in the life of the school and are well aware of families who may need extra encouragement to gain a sense of trust.

However, ERO found that many school leaders had not engaged with Ka Hikitia or Tataiako and considered how these would affect their practices. ‘Less responsive’ schools were also least likely to have any consistent practice that supported the language, identity and culture of Maori.

Many schools had very good transition practices that clearly benefited Maori and Pacific children but several did not have specific strategies that recognised, valued or used children’s home languages, or cultural backgrounds and strengths. These cultural aspects of identity were used in responsive schools to support planning and to make the environments more inclusive and welcoming for children and their parents and whanau.

ERO found only a few cases where school leaders had engaged with the Ministry of Education’s Pacific Education Plan (PEP). Engaging with the PEP would help them to better understand the needs this group of children, many of whom have English as their second language. Teachers in a few schools planned their literacy curriculum using the children’s first languages as their basis.

In schools with high numbers of Pacific children, leaders had often appointed people who could speak one or more Pacific languages. ERO found repeated examples where the use of language was a critical factor in establishing relationships with the children, their parents and family.

The home-school coordinator supports the non-Pacific new entrant teachers to understand the particular importance of being Niuean, Samoan, Tongan or Fijian. For her, and for the families she represents, culture, language and identity is everything. Now these young teachers greet parents and the child with the appropriate cultural greeting.

One school exemplified their cultural understanding for a Samoan boy in a school with few other Pacific students:

A Samoan child had come from his early childhood service with labels and descriptions suggesting he was disengaged. The school organised oral language support for him, with a focus on his culture. The school also found him a senior student to be his buddy. She was unknown to the new entrant but was Samoan and when she arrived in his classroom he ran to her, embraced her and said "She’s Samoan!” ERO observed him to be very engaged and apparently loving school.

Collaborative relationships

Who do they involve?

To make sure children’s transitions to school were smooth, teachers and leaders needed to develop several two-way relationships focused on the child and their learning. The ‘very responsive’ schools took considerable time to build relationships with the parents and whanau, with the children’s early childhood teachers, with the children themselves and, where necessary, with external support agencies.

Parents and whanau

School leaders met parents and whanau when they enrolled their child. Usually they also interviewed the parents and whanau, although in one or two cases that responsibility was delegated to another person. These interviews gave parents and whanau the opportunity to meet with key people in the school and to find out important and useful information.

We enrol a family not just a child.

Leaders in the ‘very responsive schools’ all recognised that parents and whanau were transitioning too. Their collaborative relationships involved mutual respect and a balance of power by acknowledging and respecting parents and whanau as the child’s first teachers.

These relationships were more than just the school providing opportunities for the children to visit or evenings to tell parents and whanau what was expected of them and their children. Communication was two-way. Teachers and leaders in responsive schools learned about the children being enrolled, their dispositions, their strengths and their cultures. They learned about the family and their aspirations for their children.

Parents felt that their input was valued and appreciated the interest taken in them as a family. The ‘very responsive’ school leaders made sure that this information was passed onto the new entrant teacher.

The following example describes the positive impact of developing a genuine collaborative partnership with parents in a small, rural, full primary school.

Focus on transition

Two years ago the school leaders reviewed their transition policy and practices to improve the way they worked with parents to support the children’s learning and wellbeing. They saw this as important to ensure smooth transitions and to keep parents involved throughout the child’s journey through school. The school developed a parental partnership policy specifically focused on achievement and teaching.

School leaders are aware that, with many immigrant families (many with English as a second language) it is important to provide as much information as possible so parents can understand the New Zealand education system and the teaching approaches used. They need to make the families feel welcome and develop a sense of belonging to their school community. School leaders use a range of effective strategies to achieve this.

The school’s special character, including culture and values important to families, is reinforced through a coherent induction programme for all staff. Other strategies included:

  • opportunities for the children to visit the school with their families
  • opportunities for families to socialise with other families
  • a formal welcome ceremony for parents
  • information evenings.

A staff member who can speak several of the languages of the families at school accompanies children on the bus to and from school and talks with parents as they meet their children.

The new entrant teacher displays photographs of children before they start school so that other children know they are coming and can welcome them. The teacher also contacts parents after the first week of school to develop the whole picture of the child’s experience and check the parents’ and family’s experience of transition.

Relationships with parents

Building parental understanding and involvement starts with the new entrant pack.

It includes information about why it was important to bring children for visits and some of the feelings children might have as they approach school. The information helps parents to understand that starting school is a different experience for each child and provides reassurance.

The pack also contains a set of prompts for parents to consider about reading and writing, mathematics, oral language skills, physical development, and social and emotional competency. These prompts are used, with the early childhood education portfolio, as the basis for a conversation with parents about their child as they transition to school. Teachers use every opportunity to learn as much as they can about the child’s family, their hopes and aspirations for the child and the child’s strengths and interests. They use this information to tailor the curriculum, to smooth the transition and engage the child in learning.

Parents are encouraged to attend information evenings which cover a range of topics. School leaders take parents through the teaching approaches used, including restorative practices, 7 and model strategies that parents can use at home. They explain writing, reading and maths development, National Standards, and especially the support provided for children with English as a second language.

Self review

School leaders actively seek parents’ feedback in every forum and use it to refine their processes. For example, families with English as a second language fed back that they prefer face-to-face meetings to written communication. This led school leaders to set up parent conferences as the primary mechanism for reporting progress. Parents were involved in meetings to set the school vision, led by the principal, to decide the qualities they wanted for staff, children, teachers and the environment. These meetings informed the allocation of resources and strategic planning in the school. The work on the shared vision brought the community closer together and parents knew that their opinions were valued.

By contrast, in the ‘less responsive’ schools, the information gathered at the enrolment interview was limited to formal data about the child, such as date of birth, ethnicity, early childhood service attended and siblings at the school. The school tended to provide information through one-way communication, determined by what the leaders thought parents should know. This approach to the enrolment meetings meant the opportunity to develop a learning partnership with the parents and whanau was lost. Indeed the interview set the balance of power with the school. 8

 

Working with early childhood teachers

Teachers strengthened the transition processes when they built effective relationships with the teachers from early childhood services where most new entrants come from. Benefits included:

 

Observing the children approaching transition in their familiar early childhood education environment.

Teachers noted children’s socialisation and ‘dispositions to learn’, 9 which enriched the information provided by the early childhood teachers.

Arranging two-way visits between the children at the school and early childhood service.

Children got used to the school environment and made connections with older children already at school.

Arranging two-way visits between the teachers so they understood what the teaching and learning looked like for each other. They shared strategies that helped ‘bridge’ the learning experiences of the service and the school.

One relationship resulted in a ‘learning story’ in the child’s journal. The story specifically talked about the visits to school, the new entrant teacher and who the new classmates were, and included a map showing where the new entrant would keep their belongings.

Three times as many of the ‘very responsive’ schools had truly reciprocal arrangements than the other schools had. The example below shows how one very responsive school made connections with key people.

The new entrant teacher, who is syndicate leader and part of the senior management team, makes effective links with the parents, whanau and early childhood service staff to focus the transition process on the wellbeing and success of children in their first year at school.

She plans on knowing each child as an individual, building relationships and raising their familiarity with the school environment and school expectations. On their visits before they start school the new children are welcomed and issued with book bags and books to take home and share with their families.

Parents and whanau are invited to be part of the child’s transition to school - with the child and to meet the teachers separately. Parents also have opportunities to talk about their child’s learning journey portfolio from early childhood and to write ‘about my child in a million words or less’.

Other students

Tuakana teina 10 and buddies

ERO found that more than half of schools visited had a formal buddy system to support new entrants. Buddies were either classmates or senior students in the school.

The teacher appoints a class buddy to support children as they learn how to participate in class tasks and experiences. The school promotes a tuakana teina culture, and parents, trustees and teachers are proud that children take responsibility for each other’s wellbeing and give help and companionship in classrooms and the playground.

This proved particularly valuable for children whose buddies were older students who could also support the children’s own culture and identity.

Support agencies

Establishing effective relationships with support agencies for children with special education needs was critical to the success of their transition. Schools that established good relationships with parents and whanau, early childhood teachers and early intervention providers developed strong individual education plans (IEPs). The careful planning involved in these IEPs meant that children had continuity of support that ensured smooth transitions to school.

Strong relationships with other external support agencies enabled schools to seek advice and assistance when teachers identified children with special concerns.

Self review - identifying the impact of practices and processes

Most of the responsive schools reviewed their transition practices, either formally or informally. In contrast, very few of the ‘less responsive’ schools carried out any form of review.

ERO found in schools with only informal review processes, teachers were reactive.

They monitored children’s progress and made adjustments to their programme to suit the child or group of children in the new entrants’ class. Teachers and senior leaders’ discussions about transition practices were based on anecdotal evidence, including feedback from parents, rather than analysis of sound data. Senior leaders rarely reported to the board about the effectiveness of transition practices.

Most of the ‘very responsive’ schools had robust, formal self review practices, and their responses were proactive. They analysed data and looked for how they could improve the whole process of transition. Senior leaders considered children’s wellbeing as well as assessment data and sought parents’ and children’s views. Their focus was on providing a smooth transition to ensure minimal disruption to each child’s learning.

The following example is an urban, contributing school’s response to a need for improvement in transition. A key feature of the response is the two-way partnership, involving parents in the process:

 

What triggered the review?

The principal decided to review and improve transition to school after recognising that they did not have processes in place that would mean every child was likely to successfully transition into their school. Relationships with the early childhood centre near the school were unproductive and some parents had unintentionally made children anxious by telling them how they would have to behave when they got to school.

Initially the school leaders decided to show how important they thought transition to school was by having both the principal and the assistant principal visit the local early childhood centre to talk with parents and centre teachers. First they organised an afternoon and evening at the school for parents to find out about the school.

The meetings were well attended but school leaders noticed they were only a one-way process for providing information to the parents and gave parents little opportunity to share information about their child or develop any trust relationships with school leaders.

The new process

School leaders decided to trial a new process and involve parents in the review of the process. The principal followed two groups of children who were transitioning to school. The trial involved children who were going to start school soon. They and their parents visited the school for one afternoon a week for six weeks and met in the school library. The assistant principal played literacy games with the children and read to them while the principal met with the parents. During this time, the parents heard about the activities in and out of the class their child could be involved in. The assistant principal observed how well the children joined in, shared and persisted during the games. She used the information to help the child’s new teacher understand what type of activities the child enjoyed.

After this, the children worked with their parents on an art or construction activity. During this time parents could talk more informally with the school’s leaders and ask questions. These visits meant that the parents and children met all the significant adults they would engage with at school.

The child and a parent also spent a morning in the new entrant class before starting school. They met with the assistant principal soon after starting school to check whether there were any issues and to gain feedback.

Before each child started school a buddy was selected from the new entrant class and another buddy from a more senior class in the school. The child was introduced to the new entrant buddy on the morning they came for a class visit. The older buddy watched out for the child at lunch and playtimes to check that they had someone to play with. The senior buddy also talked with the teacher about any issues that had occurred and how they helped resolve them.

Review and improvement

The principal met with some of the parents in the first two intake groups twice throughout the process to hear how it was working for them. With permission, she recorded their discussion so she and other staff could listen and discuss the views later. Parents liked the time in the activities where they could ask questions they did not want to ask in front of others. They also used that time to talk about what their child liked to do or was really interested in. They appreciated knowing the person they could talk to if they were worried after their child started school. They especially liked socialising with the other parents.

Parents and leaders identified what worked and what needed to change. Parents suggested that six weeks was not the best time frame as some children had to wait three or four weeks after the transition cycle before they started school. Each cycle now lasts five weeks, so two cycles run in one term. School leaders could not predict how successfully a child would transition to school but found that the positive relationships formed with the parents meant that any concerns were raised more quickly and problems could be resolved promptly.

The principal identified that the transition process was just as important for younger siblings as for older siblings. She used the parents with children already at school to share examples of things their other children had done and how they had worked with the school to resolve any concerns.

A parent's perspective

A parent told ERO how quickly and easily her son settled into school despite their fears that he might find it hard. The child was the eldest in the family and had been to an early childhood centre across town. He did not know any children at the school. The parents felt their six visits to the school meant they worried less about him starting school and knew who they could talk to about anything that worried their child. “He really wanted to come to school in the end”. When their son started school he talked a lot about his buddy, made friends quickly and his learning ‘took off’.

Future improvements

Many children have successfully transitioned to school and the relationships between the school and the neighbouring early childhood centre are now good. However, the principal has identified some further areas for improvement.

The first change relates to better access to and use of assessment information about the child from the early childhood service. The previous poor relationship between the service and the school meant that the children’s profile books have not been offered, asked for or used. The school leaders think the situation can improve to enable sharing of rich information about each child’s interests and learning. Teachers can then use this to better tailor the curriculum.

Secondly, teaching in the junior class is now more collaborative, meaning that new entrant children are taught by more than one teacher. Teachers in the junior school are now discussing how this changed practice might influence the transition-to- school programme.

 

Similarly, many school leaders focused on particular aspects of transition they had identified for improvement. For instance, enhancing the way they built relationships, how well they shared information with parents or the structure of classes - and, in particular, whether or not to have a reception class to stage transition.

ERO found that some schools had reception classes especially to help children who arrived during the year with no early childhood education experience or limited prior learning. They provided targeted teaching in small classes to support children to transition into the new entrant classes. Some schools also had sound reasons for moving away from having a reception class. These individual schools were responding to their own contexts and findings.

 

The structure of the classes was reviewed with children’s needs in mind. The school now has five new entrant rooms starting at the beginning of the year. In the past, two classes received all new enrolments and these children later moved into new rooms. Feedback from families indicated that children found it difficult to reconnect and teachers found that this caused delays in learning as the children established new relationships and class connections. The outcome of this review has been that children now stay in one class instead of moving to another class when numbers increase. Parents are very pleased with this organisation.

Transition and the first few weeks at school are reviewed continually to help school leaders and teachers make sure that children have the best start socially and academically.

An example of the review process is the recent decision to make it a ‘formal deliberate act’ that students of the same ethnic background are grouped together in classes. This resulted from feedback from the students themselves and after difficulties with some children settling.

 

ERO found excellent practice where new entrant teachers networked with local early childhood services to reflect on and review ways that services and schools could work together to improve transition practices and processes.

Some schools that did not review their transition practices risked being complacent about how effective these practices were. Some said they ‘knew their community well’ based on their special character status or the fact that they were small. They relied on that knowledge to inform transitions. They may be right and their practices could be excellent, but until they complete a formal review of effectiveness, they will not know for sure and will not be able to identify possible improvements.

ERO found no significant difference in terms of responsiveness related to the decile of the schools. 11 What made the difference was how responsive the school was. The following example showcases two very different transition processes and contrasting self-review practices in two high decile schools.

 

School A was a large school with over 300 students. They received children from six different early childhood services and had two transition classes.

School B was very large with more than 500 students. They received children from three early childhood services and had three transition classes.

Foundation

• The school leaders regarded transition as an important time. Transition was variable, dependent on each child and their family. It could take up to a year.

• The school leaders viewed eight weeks’ transition as the important time needed for a child to master skills before they moved on to formal learning.

• Parents, families and children visited the school prior to enrolment.

• Parents and children visited the school prior to enrolment.

Curriculum

• Teachers were familiar with Te Whariki.

• The principal and teachers were not familiar with Te Whariki.

• Teachers used the insights gained from their visits to early childhood services to inform their curriculum planning.

• Teachers visited the ECEs and gathered information about any special needs children to set up support they required.

• Teachers made good use of an inquiry based programme 12 to provide experiences that were familiar and of interest to children.

• Teachers did not link learning to areas of interest to children in the class.

• Teachers gave feedback to children, reinforcing them as capable learners.

 

• Learning was targeted for individual children and culturally responsive.

  • All children experienced the same teacher-led, skills programme for eight weeks.
  • Teachers did not cater for children who found tasks difficult or too easy.

• Children experienced a curriculum founded in Te Whariki and The New Zealand Curriculum.

• Children experienced a curriculum that was not founded in Te Whariki or The New Zealand Curriculum.

Relationships

  • Senior leaders and new entrant teachers visited early childhood services and talked with children about their learning stories.
  • Services visited the school with children.
  • School leaders held morning teas for parents each term to build relationships.

• Senior leaders and new entrant teachers visited early childhood services and talked about the school.

• Teachers gathered information including children’s strengths, interests and aspirations from parents and early childhood teachers.

• Teachers gathered basic information from parents such as gender, place in family and ethnicity.

  • Teachers’ information to parents included how to support their child’s learning.
  • Teachers ran information evenings for parents with question and answer sessions.

• Teachers gave parents information about the school and expectations.

• Teachers informed parents about how well their child was transitioning.

• Teachers told parents about their children’s progress in the transition programme.

Self review

• Leaders used research about transition to inform their review of practice and to improve their ways of working.

• The principal was convinced the programme worked well. Success was anecdotal as school leaders had not formally reviewed it.

Outcomes

  • Children were engaged in their learning.
  • Teachers developed children’s sense of being capable learners by tailoring the curriculum to their needs and interests.
  • Children were very quiet and compliant.
  • Many who started school as capable, confident learners were not sufficiently challenged by the transition programme.
 

The school fits the child.

School A was a very responsive school.

The child fits the school.

School B was a less responsive school.

Every child is vulnerable at transition. Every child deserves a school that responds to them as an individual so that they can continue to engage confidently and enthusiastically in their learning.