Are you an early childhood intervention (ECI) professional supporting a child with a disability and their family to make the transition to school?
You might be:
- an early childhood special education teacher
- occupational therapist
- speech pathologist
- social worker
- other professional
- Best practice and the transition to school
- Useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school
- ECI professional’s role in transition to school
- Working with families
- Working with schools
All children arrive at primary school with knowledge and experiences from growing up within the context of family, neighbourhood, service and community environments. Traditional concepts of school readiness have placed emphasis on a child's skills; however, preschool skill-based assessments of children's functioning have been shown to be poor predictors of subsequent school adjustment and achievement (La Paro & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & La Paro, 2003). More recent thinking about the transition to school recognises that "school readiness does not reside solely on the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves" (Kagan & Rigby, 2003, p. 13).
Reference: (Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p45)
Research, as well as feedback from parents, carers and professionals across NSW, have identified some useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school.
- interagency collaboration
- timeliness of planning and activities
- training for all involved
- advocacy skills for parents
- active parent involvement
- effective communication
- ongoing evaluation and reflection
- support for the family
- orientation for child
- teaching children skills in preparation for school
- strategies for receiving teacher
- family concerns not being addressed
- shift in educational approach e.g. from family-centred to curriculum based practice
- challenges in relation to transition processes e.g. timing of placement offers
- training needs not being met
- communication challenges
“At the transition meetings, having our early intervention and other professionals behind me was the best thing. It felt like a mini-army behind me saying the same things and putting things in the right ways to put things. I felt the school would listen to these professionals. The early intervention teacher was able to explain my son’s sensory issues and how activities in the school would support him with this.”
Sonia, mother of Zac
What types of assistance do families find useful?
- Conversations about transition to school. These should begin by the child’s 3rd birthday if possible as part of the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). Some families may have initiated discussions about school options prior to this time
- Attending workshops where education systems provide information about their schools
- ECI professionals:
- offering to join them on visits to prospective schools
- discussing possible questions before and after visits to schools
- attending transition meetings with families
- supporting families to express their priorities
- sharing information with the new school about the child’s individual strengths and needs prior to the child starting school
- providing input once the child has started school
- Help to connect families to other parents who have experience with transitioning a child with a disability or who are going through the process at the same time
What types of information should I share with families?
Research and feedback from families indicate that it is helpful to have information about:
- all relevant school options and eligibility requirements (information about the 3 school sectors and support class and special school options)
- workshops in their local area that cover school options and strategies to prepare children for school
- training to increase their skills in advocating positively for their child. These include “Parents as Case Coordinators”, “Positive Partnerships” (autism) and workshops offered by Family Advocacy or Resourcing Families
- the value of, and the process for making contact with their local school
- what to consider before and after, visiting prospective schools
- preparation for transition planning meetings
- the reasons for a developmental assessment through a multi-disciplinary team prior to possible school entry
Some information about assessments can be found by clicking here
“One of the most helpful things for us was listening to a number of parents talk about their experiences of different school options: mainstream, Catholic, special schools and support classes through a panel workshop set up by our Early Intervention service. This really helped me to consider all options. Hearing from another parent was the most valuable thing in terms of hearing that I needed to really look at my own child’s needs. There were families there who had started with one school and then moved onto another, which also helped me realise any decision we made didn’t have to be forever.”
Dianne, mother of Michael
How can I support families to work in partnership with the school and advocate positively for their child?
- by assisting them to identify and express their goals and priorities
- by building on their understanding of classroom teacher’s roles
- by linking families with training opportunities around advocacy e.g. Family Advocacy, Resourcing Families, Positive Partnerships (autism)
- by linking families with mentor parents who have developed positive working relationships with schools and are able to share what has helped
“Meeting with the therapists prior, and once child starts, to know the needs in advance, that is really helpful. A combination of info. Medical reports aren’t that helpful. Talking to therapists and parents is the most helpful.”
What do teachers in receiving schools find helpful ?
- information about:
- the strategies that have worked (and not worked) for the child in ECI or ECEC settings. This is best presented in concise dot points
- any possible triggers of challenging behaviour
- what they may be able to do to prepare for potential challenges in advance
- what might be reasonable expectations for the child’s progress
- being consulted about the best time/s for ECI professionals to offer their support
- opportunities to speak with ECI professionals and ask questions before the child starts as well as once the school year has commenced
- ECI professionals accompanying the child at the school for additional orientation visits as needed
- training and support to use specific strategies in the classroom e.g. Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems, Key Word sign, assistive technology, or equipment to support mobility
- development of an individualised social story about the new school and other stories about school routines about the new school for the child
“The information is critical and the partnership is essential. The paperwork isn’t always the most important. Sometimes it’s more the social and emotional well-being of the child so it is important to be hearing directly from the practitioners. We don’t always know who has been involved until much later and this could have helped. The conversations are really helpful.”
How can I work in a consultative role with the teacher to build his or her capacity to include children with disabilities?
Tips for consulting with teachers in schools
- When undertaking observation visits, emphasise that you are there to observe the child and how they are adjusting to the new setting, rather than observing or examining their teaching
- Use active listening to show the teacher you have heard his or her concerns and acknowledge any challenges which have been experienced
- Respond to the issues the teacher identifies, before making suggestions to address any needs you perceive as relevant. Adults value learning that addresses their immediate needs
- Minimise the pressure placed on the teacher by limiting the number of recommendations given at any one time. Teachers, like all adult learners need time to incorporate new practices. They also find it easier to address change in small steps
- Comment on, and provide positive feedback to allow them to identify their existing positive practices
- Ask the teacher what has and hasn’t been working well to date. This shows that you value their observations and expertise
- With the teacher’s permission, trial and demonstrate strategies in the classroom environment in ways that are empowering for them. It is important to consider whether your strategies are realistic for them and the realities of their class
- Collaborate with the teacher about the best way for you to keep in touch with each other, so they can trouble-shoot any suggested strategies on an ongoing basis with you
For further information see Trouble-shooting guide
Click here to view a report about effective transition practices for children with additional needs from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.
Working with families
- Do I facilitate discussions around transition to school with families as early as possible (by 3 years if possible)?
- Do I ask families what their priorities are for their child’s education?
- Do I provide information to families, ECEC services and schools about how I might be able to assist with transition to school?
- Do I have a clear understanding of the school options, application and enrolment processes to enable me to support families in this area?
- Does our service provide (or link families to other services who offer) workshops and information about the range of school options?
Does our service provide (or link families to other services who offer) training and information about how to positively advocate for their child?
Working with schools
- Do I initiate positive connections with schools receiving children I have worked with prior to the child commencing?
- Do I provide concise, relevant information to the teacher about strategies which have worked?
- Do I listen to teachers and provide a few realistic strategies based on the teacher’s priorities?
- Do I ask how we can best keep in contact to support children’s transition and inclusion at school?