Transition to primary school:What factors affect children’s transition to primary school, andare there factors which mean that some children manage betterthan others? What can help in managing transitions, and whatare the barriers for services and families?
This report was produced as part of the Evidence Request Bank Development Project (201314). The request for evidence concerns the factors which affect children’s transition toprimary school. This report outlines key points, gives comments on the range and type ofexisting evidence, and reports on findings. Spotlight boxes offering examples ofprogrammes, and talking points to stimulate discussion around the evidence, are includedthroughout. The appendices give search details, keywords used and references.March 2014http://evidencerequestbank.org/The Evidence Request Bank Development Project is seeking to develop an evidence requestservice model for the children and families sector in Scotland. It produces and sharesappraised summaries of evidence for the third and public sectors in direct response topractice needs, and supports practitioners to use evidence in practice.This project builds on piloting work carried out as part of a Big Lottery Funded knowledgeexchange project, About Families (2010-2013) http://aboutfamilies.org.uk/ which was acollaboration between the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, CapabilityScotland and Parenting across Scotland.The Evidence Request Bank Development Project is a partnership between the Centre forResearch on Families and Relationships, West Lothian Council, Parenting Across Scotland,Children in Scotland, and the Scottish Government. It is funded by the Economic and SocialResearch Council, with additional funding from the Scottish Government and ParentingAcross Scotland.
CONTENTS1.About this report . 12.Key terms and definitions . 33.Key points. 44.Comments on the research . 55.4.1.Summary . 54.2.Gaps in research . 54.3.Research in Scotland . 6Report on findings. 75.1.The transition to school . 75.2.How do specific factors affect children’s school transition? . 85.3.Effective transition programmes . 12a) Helping children become familiarized with their new situation . 12b) Informing parents about the school . 14c) Informing primary teachers about children’s development and prior experiences . 155.4 What works? “top tips” from experts in the field . 176.Conclusion . 187.Appendices. 197.1.About the Evidence Request Bank . 197.2.How the research was carried out . 197.3.Acknowledgements . 207.4.References . 21
1. ABOUT THIS REPORTWhy was this report requested?This Evidence Response was requested by West Lothian Council.West Lothian Council has been working as part of the national Early Years Collaborative touse improvement science to help provide better outcomes for children in Scotland.Specifically, the Early Years Collaborative seeks to decrease Scotland's rate of stillbirth/infant mortality and increase the number of children who meet their developmentalmilestones across a number of ages up to eight years. This evidence review will provide afirm knowledge base to inform improvement work developed by practitioners in WestLothian. Starting with a planning session facilitated by the Evidence Request Bank, theevidence will inform a series of improvement tests around the transition from nursery toprimary which make up one of the pioneer sites supported by the Scottish Government aspart of the Early Years Collaborative. It is anticipated that the Evidence Response willallow West Lothian Council to take an informed approach to nursery to primary schooltransitions and make positive changes to practice, based on peer-reviewed evidence.West Lothian Council will present the results of this improvement work and theaccompanying Evidence Response at the summer 2014 Early Years Collaborative LearningSession.This report brings together international, academic, peer-reviewed research aboutchildren’s transition to primary school. It has drawn on research from psychology, sociologyand education studies.The report seeks to address the question: “What factors affect children’s transition fromnursery to primary school, and are there factors which mean that some children managebetter than others? What can help in managing transitions, and what are the barriers forservices and families?”It focuses on the following themes: What helps in managing transitions The role of attachment during the transition period The impact of the following factors on a family’s ability to successfully manage thetransition period and what mitigating actions can professionals take:o parental mental healtho domestic and sexual abuseo povertyo problematic use of alcohol and other substances1
The report begins with an overview of the evidence available, including research in theScottish context. The first theme outlines children’s experience of transition to primaryschool. The second theme explores the specific factors listed above in relation to transition,and finally the report presents three strands of effective transition programmes. ‘Whatworks’ points are summarised at the end.2
2. KEY TERMS AND DEFINITIONSFormal schooling/ primary school/ preschool: This report was drawn together frominternational research which used a range of terms to describe children’s prior-to-schoolsettings (kindergarten, playschool, preschool) and school settings (elementary school,primary school). This report uses the terms “formal schooling” or “primary school” toindicate children’s first experiences of compulsory schooling, and “preschool” to indicatetheir prior-to-school settings.Guided participation: A process of adults involving children in cultural activities; built onVygotsky’s theory of scaffolding children’s learning. As children learn about a particularactivity, adults gradually withdraw support—in this way the child’s role expands as he or shegrows and develops.Priming events: Activities that children participate in to help prepare them for anticipatedor ongoing changes in their lives.3
3. KEY POINTSChildren’s transition to formal schooling is an ongoing process of change. During this time,children must adjust to changes in their physical environment, their social identity and socialnetworks, and in the teaching and learning style they experience.It is difficult to isolate the effect of specific factors on children’s adjustment to school.Children’s lives are complex and influenced by a range of factors. However, there isevidence that certain risk factors in children’s lives (low socioeconomic status, for example)do affect children’s school transition.Relationships are important. Positive relationships with teachers can act as a protectivefactor when risk factors are present in children’s lives.Effective transition programmes incorporate three strands involving children, parents andteachers: helping children become familiarized with their new situation, informing parentsabout the school, and teachers being informed about children’s development and pastexperiences.Teachers can use practical activities to help children become familiar with school. Thesemay be most effective when there are multiple opportunities for contact with the schoolbefore children start. Teachers can also support children by using simple strategies to fostersocial relationships in the class.Parents’ concerns about their children’s transition may not reflect children’s experience.However, improved communication between the school and parents can help alleviateanxiety.Collaborative working between preschool and primary school teachers may be difficult toachieve. Opportunities for communication are often limited by constraints on primaryteachers’ time.What works in transition? For children: Involving children in planning transition activities; offering a varietyof formal and informal activities; participating in activities with older childrenduring visits; teachers rather than heads meeting preschool children; providingresources to support collaborative play once school has begun. For parents: using a range of information formats; both formal and informalvisits; information on both the school and what to expect during the transitionperiod; providing class-lists to enable out-of-school contact.4
4. COMMENTS ON THE RESEARCH4.1. SUMMARYThere is a large body of research on children’s transition to formal schooling. This reporthas incorporated research from three different fields: psychology, sociology, and educationstudies. By drawing on a range of literature, the report has looked at the issue throughdifferent “lenses”.There are unavoidable variations in school systems and practices when looking atinternational research. In particular, the age at which children start formal schooling andthe provision of preschool varies between countries. This report incorporates research from12 countries. Research that was judged to be too culturally specific has been excluded.Some attachment research looks at school transition, mainly linking children’s attachmentpatterns with their social and emotional development. However, the usefulness ofattachment theory for practice is unclear, as most attachment theory deals specifically withmaternal attachment in infancy, which is not something that schools can necessarilymeasure or change. Attachment theory is an extensive body of literature, and beyond thescope of this report.There is extensive psychological research on the impact of parental mental health,children’s experiences of domestic and sexual abuse, poverty and problematic substanceuse on children’s lives, again mainly looking at how these conditions affect children’s socialand emotional development. However, there were few explicit connections to the schooltransition; inferences can be made between social-emotional development and adjustmentto school.4.2. GAPS IN RESEARCHThere are inconsistencies about how children’s adjustment to school is measured. Inparticular, it is rare for quantitative studies to ask children about their experiences. Instead,parents and teachers assess children’s adjustment to school using predefined, adult-createdmeasures. As this report has also drawn on sociological literature, children’s own accountsof their experience have been represented. However, it is important to note how rarelyresearchers ask children about their own experiences of starting school.There are few examples of collaborative working between preschools and primaryschools. Those studies that did describe good practice in this area were usually in the caseof a child with a disability or identified additional support needs, or when preschools andprimary school were participating in a specific short-term intervention programme.5
4.3. RESEARCH IN SCOTLANDThis report includes five Scottish studies, four of which directly relate to children’s schooltransition (the fifth is a study of inequality in Scotland). Three of these studies arequalitative (Cassidy, 2005; Ross-Watt, 2005; White et al, 2013) and one is quantitative(Bradshaw et al, 2012).The international research used in this report has been included because it addressedthemes that are broadly applicable. However there are specific circumstances in Scotlandthat are not addressed in the report, mainly regarding the impact of policy trends. Forexample:In Scotland, the Curriculum for Excellence aims to smooth the transition, in terms ofteaching and learning practices, as preschool and P1 are grouped together in the Earlylevel. However, the literature search did not reveal any Scottish studies dealing with CfEand continuity in the school transition.Similarly, GIRFEC (Getting it Right for Every Child) seeks to promote joint workingbetween agencies, potentially having an impact on how preschools and primary schoolswork together to support children during the school transition. Again, however, theliterature search did not find any research specifically addressing the role/impact ofGIRFEC.6
5. REPORT ON FINDINGS5.1. THE TRANSITION TO SCHOOLChildren’s transition to formal schooling is an ongoing process of change. Childrenrecognize that starting school will bring changes,