07 Working with parents during a child's transition to and within school

ERO's 2015 report Continuity of learning: transition from early childhood services to schools emphasised how effective transitions are critical to the development of children's self-worth, confidence, resilience and ongoing success at school. The schools that ERO found were most effective with transitions typically had strong partnerships with parents and whanau. Leaders and teachers valued parents' input, and used it to improve curriculum and processes for settling into school.

WOODEND SCHOOL, GLENITI SCHOOL and MILSON SCHOOL had processes and structures in place to involve parents in their child's transition to school, so they could start learning quickly and achieve greater success in the future. Two of the schools extended these transition processes across the year levels.

The first school had developed detailed guidelines to help teachers focus on quickly settling children into a new class or school to keep them engaged and achieving.

Woodend School

Leaders, teachers and support staff at Woodend School had a strong focus on children's wellbeing. They'd had considerable success with some children who had not settled well in a previous school or had been expected to have difficulty settling into learning. They had flexible responses for:

>   transition to school

>   transitions within the school for children with high learning and behavioural needs

>   transition for those children anxious about engaging in new settings.

They had comprehensive transition plans with guiding principles, enablers, strengths, successes and barriers fully explained. Plans outlined actions before, during and after transitions for all students and priority learners, and how they were to work with families and staff. Leaders saw transition as a process, not just an event. This is shown by their definition below:

Successful transition is when the child feels they belong and has been effectively involved, is positively connected, and when learning continues seamlessly from one setting to another.

Following are some of the many processes leaders developed, implemented and recorded in their plans for the general student population and their families before the student started at the school. Their documents also outlined processes for:

>   transitions to school

>   actions for priority learners and staff

>   what successful transition looked like for students, families, priority learners and teachers.

Transition into school

Practices for new entrant children varied depending on the needs of the child and the possible anxiety of the parent and/or child. Most children received a welcome letter or book before their first transition visit. The booklet shared photographs of the children and teachers already in their class and some the activities they would be involved in throughout the school day.

Teachers sent each child their preschool pack, which was personally addressed to the child. It included resources for the child and the parent:

>   a letter to the child and the Welcome to Woodend School book

>   information for parents such as Team Up booklets and national standards kits for parents from the Ministry of Education

>   information about the school

>   a number line with advice about how to use it

>   alphabet cards, scissors, coloured pencils and a page to draw a picture of themselves.

Two pages from the Welcome to Woodend School book are shown below.

Children with high learning or behavioural needs or anxieties had a book made especially for them, featuring photographs of them doing activities during their pre-visits. A parent told us this personalised book was reread many times at home before the child started school.

Teachers valued and used additional information to help with transition. The early learning services teacher in charge of transition attended meetings with teachers, parents and people from other agencies to make sure everyone knew the child's strengths and how to build on them. Teachers were attuned and responsive to new children's interests and any issues or concerns they had.

Starting school

When the parent and child came to the school, they met with the principal and/or deputy principal who talked to them about their interests, explained the school's principles and showed them around the school. Leaders believed this meeting was important to show that every child was important to them.

We invest really strongly in helping parents to understand our culture and for us to get to know them. We use the words "We welcome you to our school and we will help you to be successful at our school."

Leaders

Teachers sent emails home to parents about their child at the end of the first week or earlier, to share what the child had been involved in during their first few days. If the child had not settled well before the parent left, teachers sent an email home by lunchtime to reassure the parent. We spoke to parents who told us of the different transition approaches teachers used depending on how well their child settled into school. They appreciated the effort that went into helping their child settle, make friends and start learning quickly.

When children had been at school for six weeks, the teacher and parents met to share their perspectives of how the child was managing. Teachers shared the assessments they had completed with the child, and gave parents a small report to take home. The report identified wellbeing success and other achievements as shown in a report below.

Transition within the school, or when a child starts part way through the year

When a child started at the school during the year in the teaching spaces with three teachers, the child worked closely with only one teacher while they settled. The child was matched with the teacher that would support them best. For example if the child appeared anxious, they were put with the teacher who had strengths in engaging anxious children. Although assessments were done early to establish learning strengths and needs, sometimes the child was placed in the group with the one teacher, or with one friend until they were confident that the child was included and learning.

A mother ERO spoke with had recently enrolled her children after shifting from overseas during term four. She had thought it would be better to leave the children to start the next year. However, once she visited the school she realised they would miss out on too much if they waited that long. She was worried about the children moving to a new school on top of having just moved to a new country. She worried most about her child that was enrolling in a Year 4 class. School leaders decided that it would be better if the child went into the learning space she would be in next year in Year 5. That class was a modern learning space with three teachers, including one who came from the child's country, and another who was really good with anxious children. The class had predominantly Years 5 and 6 children with a very small number of Year 4 children. They placed the child in that class where she settled well and got to know friends and teachers that she would be with in Year 5. The school's actions reduced the number of transitions the child had to be anxious about.

ERO spoke with a father of a child with high behavioural needs who had previously been stood down from another school. Before the child started at the school, the parents met with the principal and deputy principal. The parents shared what had worked well and what triggered his behaviour episodes. Together they developed a plan to support the child. The parents had suggested they contact a specialist who could talk with the teacher about the child and how to best respond. The parent was impressed that the school had invited the specialist, who talked with the teacher, the team leader and the deputy principal. The parent reported that the child had reduced the number and intensity of behaviour episodes.

As ERO was in the school near the end of the school year, we were able to see some of the following transition activities in place to prepare children for the next year:

>   children with high learning or behaviour needs, or very anxious children, were having weekly or even daily visits to their next class to get to know their next teacher better

>   a child with very high needs was going to transition to their new classroom some time later in Term One as this was determined as more likely to benefit the child.

Leaders at the school recognised that poorly managed transitions could increase the time it took children to start learning. They actively reduced risks for children by involving parents so that time for learning was not wasted.

Gleniti School

Leaders believed that if children were able to read early, they could then access the full curriculum and have more opportunities to succeed in the future. They therefore sought to ensure children got a good start and learned to read quickly. They did this by fully involving parents in transition to school.

Settling to learning quickly

Leaders and teachers designed transition activities to help children settle and continue learning quickly when they started school. Leaders reduced the number of transitions children had while at the school by having composite classes across the school. Generally, children stayed with their teacher for two years to help the teacher know the child, parents, families and whanau well.

In the junior school, new entrant children went into a class with Years 1 and 2 children. The older children helped the younger children settle and learn through their buddy system. In each of the Years 1 and 2 classes, children starting school met their older buddies as soon as they started transition visits. Teachers designed many activities so buddies could work together and support each other. The parents ERO spoke with liked the buddy system. They saw how the older children supported the younger children to become familiar with class routines and activities. They felt that being a buddy taught the children self respect and respect for others.

A child was visiting as part of a transition visit. He had a six-year-old buddy who helped him read a pre-reader story. The buddy praised him each time he read a page and showed him what to do.

During a reading lesson, the children had to start by reading to their buddy. Two girls were reading a book together. The younger one stumbled so the older buddy stopped and went over the piece again before they went back to reading together.

Sharing information with parents

Teachers collected a considerable amount of achievement information about each new child and analysed this information monthly for many of the children. Some information came from formal assessments such as concepts about print, numeracy, oral language and basic word recognition assessments. Other information focused on reading and writing behaviours and next steps, and the child's personal and social development.

Parents had many opportunities to hear about and contribute to their children's learning at this early stage of their schooling. Teachers and parents met early on to look at and discuss results from assessments and work children had done in their books or around the wall. Teachers made sure every child's parents came to these valuable meetings. Parents also brought lots of information they had already recorded about the child's interests, and things they were pleased with or concerned about since the child started school. Teachers gave parents information from the Ministry of Education about National Standards and together they looked at the expectations for when a child turned six. They then planned what they would like the child to be achieving in a year and discussed how they could achieve this.

Further meetings with parents occurred six months after the child had started and again after one year. If a child needed additional help at home to reach the expected level, teachers gave parents a new entrant kit with flash cards and alphabet cards with some written guidelines for using them. These meetings were not timebound and took as long as they needed. If the child was participating in any type of intervention programme, the support teacher attended these meetings also. Teachers and the team leader knew which children weren't progressing as quickly as their peers. They also carefully monitored and responded to the children who might fall below expectation if they were overlooked.

Milson School

Teachers at Milson School worked closely with parents to support children as they came to school. Before recent changes, children used to visit on three occasions before starting school. After parent consultation, they changed to children having eight transition visits. These visits allowed children and parents to experience different learning areas and become familiar with some of the school's expectations. It also provided opportunities for teachers to develop a relationship with both children and parents before the children started at the school. Teachers gave parents a pack of resources to support their children's learning at home.

As part of the transition process, teachers visited children in their early learning service before they came to school. There was a close relationship with the nearby kindergarten, with reciprocal visits on alternate weeks.

The school's transition class was called 'Super Starters'. Children stayed in this class until it was agreed they were ready to move into the next learning space, named the 'Ignition Zone'. In that class, there was a focus on accelerating children's learning. Teachers and leaders demonstrated purposeful urgency by immediately giving additional support to children that needed it.

The transition programme includes:

>   eight week preschool programme

>   Super Starters - effective transition to school

>   Ignition zone - urgency in learning

>   Tautoko Time - school-funded adaptation of Motukaroa programme.

Teachers had adapted the Mutukaroa project and introduced regular meetings with parents that they call Tautoko Time. Children undertook a wide range of assessments, at six weeks, three months and six months. Each test was followed up with a whanau meeting. Teachers gave parents and whanau a simple resource pack of ideas and activities that supported learning towards agreed goals.

In Tautoko Time, parents saw the progress their child had made through looking at and discussing samples of their child's work and next goals. Teachers talked to parents about what their child was learning, how children learn and what they could do to help and support that learning at home. Parents shared what they were doing with their children to support their learning and foster their interests. Parents told us they felt listened to, and felt able to express their concerns knowing they would be responded to.

I can see the benefit for my son. We can use the pack at home and shared it with his grandparents.

School leaders set up these meetings to provide a strong foundation from which students could build their learning, skills and knowledge. Leaders had collected and analysed data that showed children in 2016 were able to reach higher reading levels after they had been at school six months than the group that started in 2015, before they introduced the partnership meetings. As a result, the school added another meeting after the child had been at school for 12 months.

Leaders introduced further actions to reduce and improve transitions within the school. Children now worked in composite classes so they could stay with the same teacher for two years. Children in Year 4 also formed learning relationships with children in Year 3 to help the Year 3 children transition into the senior school the next year.