Starting school (or nursery) and moving from one school to another is a major event in children’s lives — for a child with special educational needs it can be particularly worrying. This ebulletin considers how SENCOs can help to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible for all concerned

Support for SENCOs

As a SENCO, your main concern will be gathering information about new pupils with SEN and doing everything possible to ensure that when they arrive, staff are prepared to welcome them and meet their needs. It sounds simple, but the reality is complex and requires careful planning. Information and support for colleagues, as well as for the children, is the key to successful transition. If you can organise opportunities for cross-phase training and observation of lessons in feeder/receiving schools, this will help develop colleagues’ confidence in identifying children’s difficulties, and employ effective ways of removing barriers to learning.

Another important issue to stress is that transition provides an opportunity for new beginnings. This is so important for children who have experienced the negative impact of ‘labelling’ in their previous setting, especially in terms of behaviour. Give them a chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. It can make all the difference.

Support for teachers

Starting school
This is one of the big milestones in a child’s life. The experience should provide a happy and exciting start to an enjoyable and successful education. For a child with SEN however, joining the Reception class will present totally new challenges; how he responds will depend to a large extent on the preparations made by the SENCO and teaching staff. These preparations will include:

  • liaising with pre-school, recognising and valuing the work that has been done with the child and collecting their records/observations
  • liaison with other agencies involved with the child (eg, social services)
  • meeting parents or carers and listening to them
  • meeting the child– in his or her own home where possible
  • making provision for any particular physical needs of the child (mobility aids, etc) as well as the social and emotional needs.

It is especially important to be aware when a child is starting school without knowing any other children. Visits with parents beforehand, where children can play together and start to build friendships are well-established in most settings, but you may need to actively encourage and support the family of a child with SEN, especially where special transport is an issue.

Foundation Stage to KS1
This requires children to fit into a more ‘regimented’ routine; to spend more time sitting still and listening; to conform to a greater extent in terms of outcomes (writing). The emphasis on developing literacy skills means that some children begin to struggle, when previously they have coped with everything very well. Children with summer birthdays may find this change particularly challenging, and teachers need to differentiate accordingly in terms of activities and expected outcomes.

  • Be alert to signs of difficulty such as poor attention span, under-developed vocabulary and social skills – and know how to respond.
  • Be aware that children of this age may exhibit dramatic fluctuations of maturity and educational development.
  • Consult with parents on their perceptions and observations of a child’s achievements. Give them practical support in how to help their children without inducing anxiety.

KS1 to KS2

  • Children with SEN may not be able to function as independent learners and may not thrive in the more formal learning environment of KS2. Effective deployment of TA support can make all the difference.
  • Be prepared for children still at the ‘concrete operational’ stage of development – with plenty of practical resources
  • Slow development of literacy skills (especially writing) may mask potential in other areas. Look for strengths as well as acknowledging weaknesses. This may include achievements outside school, such as dance class, gym club, brownies, etc.
  • Interventions of various kinds may be introduced in KS2. Take care to explain this type of support to a child at the outset and be aware of how lots of ‘withdrawal’ work can result in a very fragmented experience for the child.

KS2 to KS3
For most pupils, this signifies a move into a more grown-up environment, and they are certainly ‘swimming in a much bigger pool’. For those with SEN it can be a scary prospect and they are particularly at risk of being bullied, so it’s important that they (and their parents) have assurances about the school’s method of dealing with this. The sort of help that secondary teachers can provide includes:

  • reading information sent from primary school (perhaps via the SENCO)
  • planning ahead for particular pupils, eg meeting with the SENCO, reading published guidance and amending lesson plans
  • putting on induction and subject taster days – this is a way of introducing your subject to learners and a way for you to start to get to know them. By giving them a task to prepare over the summer holiday you can start to enthuse them. They can then ‘hit the ground running’ in September. This will also provide you with a baseline for each individual, and maybe spot the gifted and talented pupils as well as the strugglers.
  • helping pupils get to know their way around the school (perhaps allowing particular individuals to leave the lesson a few minutes early to avoid the crush in the corridors)
  • explaining school rules (and avoiding having too many teacher/subject-specific rules, eg about how to set out work)
  • offering lots of encouragement
  • providing support in lessons and differentiating homework
  • creating buddy systems

As students begin to prepare for their lives beyond school, those with SEN need particular guidance when considering their options and the implications of the choices they make. Many will not have a clear idea about what they want to do, so it’s important to ensure they are aware of what is on offer, and what each course or pathway entails. Being able to shadow older students can be really helpful in this respect. Explicit teaching of life skills and money management can also be valuable in preparing students for adult life.

Support for parents and their children

There is no substitute for meeting pupils and their parents face-to-face, and while this represents a big time commitment, it is definitely worth it. Many schools prepare a booklet for parents about the school’s SEN/AEN provision, and this is a good starting point, but parents value the personal approach, and knowing that there will be a ‘familiar face’ when they next visit the school is comforting to them. Make contact early, discussing transfer arrangements, and listen to and addressing any concerns. Where a child has significant additional needs, consider inviting a parent to accompany him or her for the early stages of the transfer period, perhaps for a few hours each day for the first week. Schools can be apprehensive about this, but for some children it eases the process considerably. From the parents’ point of view it can be very reassuring, and from the teacher’s point of view the parent is on hand to answer any queries and help address any unforeseen circumstances.

Many parents lack confidence in knowing how to help their children – especially as they move up into KS2 and KS3. Transfer presents a useful opportunity to invite parents into school and explore the curriculum and ways in which they can support their youngsters.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.