Overview and next steps

Going to school is an exciting and challenging time for young children and their families. Moving from early childhood education to school can be a positive and rewarding experience that sets children on a successful pathway. It can also be a period of vulnerability for many children. 1 Effective transitions are critical to the development of children’s self-worth, confidence and resilience, and ongoing success at school. This is a time to build relationships, maintain excitement for learning and ensure children experience continuity in their learning.

Teachers and leaders in both services and schools must think about and respond to transition as a process, rather than a one-off. When starting school, it takes children different lengths of time to feel they belong and to settle into learning. Transition to school is more complex than just helping children become familiar with the school’s environment, staff and curriculum. Good relationships among children, teachers, parents and whanau are all essential to support children settling in to school. Helping children to make sense of what is happening and supporting them through the change helps them to confidently continue on their learning pathway.

In 2013, the Education Review Office (ERO) evaluated how well early childhood services and schools supported children through the transition to school. This publication reports the findings of both evaluations.

What did ERO find?

ERO found considerable variability in how well services and schools supported children to transition to school, particularly children at risk of poor educational outcomes.

What was happening for children just before and after starting school was crucial to their ongoing success and wellbeing.

Children’s transition to school was more likely to be successful when:

  • leaders and teachers in early childhood services and schools understood the links between Te Whāriki 2 and The New Zealand Curriculum3 and provided a curriculum that was relevant and meaningful for children
  • children’s previous interests, strengths, prior knowledge and dispositions for learning were known and used to develop relevant and responsive learning for children
  • culturally responsive teaching and assessment contributed to children’s sense of themselves as confident learners
  • strong learning partnerships with parents and whanau supported children as they approached and transitioned to school
  • schools’ practices helped children and their families develop a sense of belongingteachers from both sectors and external experts were seen as equal partners with an important role to play as children transitioned to school
  • leaders placed emphasis on the importance of transition to ensure continuity of learning for children.

Early Childhood Services

Just over half of the services were implementing a curriculum that supported children to develop the dispositions and strong sense of identity and belonging needed to support a successful transition. These services also had collaborative relationships with parents and whanau, schools and external agencies that focused on helping children experience a successful transition. Assessment information reflected children’s learning in relation to the strands of the early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki. This information provided a useful record of learning and progress over time for children, their parents and whanau, and schools.

In the least supportive services, the curriculum did not have a strong focus on developing dispositions and social competence and, in some, lacked strong connections to children’s language, culture and identity. The quality of assessment information was poor and mostly reflected children’s participation in activities rather than making their learning visible. Children in these services were not well supported to develop the strong learning foundations crucial to successful transitions. It is of concern that services with high numbers of Maori and Pacific children were disproportionately over-represented in the least supported group.

Schools

ERO found that 29 of the 100 schools reviewed were ‘very responsive’, and another 41 were ‘mostly responsive’ to the needs of children starting school. Most of the 29 ‘very responsive’ schools arranged a variety of opportunities for the child, parents and whanau to visit the school and become familiar with the surroundings, meet key people and share expectations and aspirations. These schools typically had strong partnerships with parents and whanau Leaders and teachers valued parents’ input and used it to improve curriculum and processes for settling in to school.

In just under a third of the schools, the curriculum had little relationship to early childhood learning. In these schools, communication of information tended to be one way (from the school). School leaders did not invite parents and whanau to talk about their aspirations for their child or their child’s culture, strengths and interests. School leaders missed the opportunity to develop true partnerships in learning with parents and whanau and the children. An inflexible curriculum meant that the child had to fit the school.

When transition worked best for children, early childhood and school leaders and teachers developed good relationships with each other, with parents and whanau, and with the children. As a result, school teachers gained a picture of the child as a learner, their interests, strengths, prior knowledge and dispositions for learning. They used this information to bridge from familiar experiences to ones that extended their learning. Teachers monitored progress and provided support as required. Children settled quickly, were engaged and confident in their learning.

Next steps

ERO recommends that early childhood services and schools:

  • review the extent to which their curriculum and associated assessment practices support all children to experience a successful transition to school
  • establish relationships with local schools and services to promote community-wide understanding and sharing of good practice.

ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  • consider, as part of their PLD review, ways of supporting school and early childhood teachers to work together so they better understand each other’s curriculum, promoting continuity of learning for children.