What help and support we can provide for early years children about to move into key stage 1? Helen MR Hann explores this issue

Imagine that you are driving to a well-loved holiday destination that you have not been to for some time; somewhere where you and your close family have been happy; somewhere where you have made friends; somewhere where you know the checking-in process, where all the amenities are located, what the rules are and you know how it all works.

As you approach your destination, you notice signs that  say ‘Under New Management’. Immediately you start to ask yourself, probably somewhat anxiously:

‘Will it be the same?’ ‘Will I enjoy it as much as I usually do?’ ‘Will I know what to do?’ ‘Will everything have changed?’ ‘Will anything be the same?’

‘Do I want to turn back?’

We have all been in this type of situation at some time and can relate to the emotions that this situation can create. We can probably rationalise our emotions into the questions above and by so doing find our way through those feelings. For young children, we now know that transitions of any sort can be bewildering and overwhelming.

Therefore, part of our role in supporting them in the transition between Reception and Year 1 is to help them pose these questions and others and to guide them in finding the answers. Children who are supported in a positive way learn to deal with transition whenever it may occur in their lives, and will become more confident adults as a result of our interventions at these early stages.

Why do we need to change anything?
You probably have some sort of arrangement in place already. Perhaps you have a system that you have followed for many years and which seems to be working. Or is it? As with all aspects of our professional actions, it is good to stop and evaluate what we do, to think about and find out about the impact of our systems and approaches.

It could be helpful for you and your team to return to the scenario above at different points as you develop your arrangements for transition into Year 1. The reason for this is that it helps us put the children at the centre of our decisions.

As we know, as the end of the summer term or beginning of the autumn term approaches, we are often at full stretch in managing our workload and it would be easier to carry on with familiar routines. I suggest that we need to review our arrangements for transition into Year 1 annually, in the same way as we do planning and following the plan-do-review model.

Do not be afraid to come up with some creative and innovative approaches to this transition period. To put it bluntly, many of us know that one ‘going-up’ afternoon for many children is not sufficient or effective and yet in many schools, this is all we offer them. This may not be because we underestimate the importance of this process. It may be due to a variety of factors such as fitting in all the traditional summer term events like sports day; when plans for staff deployment are finalised; writing reports and organising a multitude of matters that can crowd our thinking.

However, if we don’t resolve to manage the transition into Year 1 effectively and don’t consciously plan a programme for this change, the leap both on an emotional and academic level into Year 1 can fundamentally affect some children’s (and their families’) view of school and of learning.

What could we do?
Your starting point when overhauling your established systems for transition is to begin the process now and to keep the children at the heart of it. The more lead time you have, the more dynamic and powerful your changes can be.

  • Training – Many local authorities recognise that this issue is of great importance to the development of young children and are investing in training, which could be very helpful to your setting.
  • Leadership – To give greater impact to your developments, your leadership team will need to be fully ‘on board’. This is crucial especially if you are planning to make quite bold changes. It is also of particular significance in the timing of final decisions about staff deployment, including when these are shared with parents/carers.
  • Witnesses/stakeholders – It could be extremely beneficial to engineer situations in which this year’s Year 1 children and families can give you frank and honest feedback about their experience of transition. This could be via informal conversations or questionnaires with the adults and through circle time with the children. Discussions with relevant support staff and governors can also be very illuminating.
  • United mindset – In order to be as successful as possible, the key players in creating any changes need to have shared aims. The FS and KS1 team leaders and their teams will need to work very closely together throughout transition. A simple shift in mindset from viewing the preparation of children for the move to Year 1 as mainly the responsibility of the FS staff, to seeing it as the responsibility of both FS and Year 1 staff, can instigate
    an immediate change in dynamics.

Practical suggestions Whilst not a comprehensive list, the following ideas may help you and your team to clarify the steps you take:

  • Physical layout – Retaining some of the physical aspects/arrangements of FS in Year 1 can help with transition, eg is it possible to have an outdoor learning environment?
  • Routines – Overlapping routines, particularly for the beginning of the day, across the end of FS and into Year 1 can be very significant. For example, if parents/carers come into FS and settle their child into an independent activity before registration, keeping this routine going into Year 1 can be important in helping children to settle in quickly. Even using some of the same language over this period, eg for gaining the attention of the children, can be important. It should be said that many children look forward to the newness of the next year group, so ensure that there are some new routines in Year 1 but be very sensitive about how and when they are introduced (reflect back upon the scenario at the beginning of this article).
  • Learning styles – Consider retaining some of the child-initiated and independently tackled aspects/arrangements of FS in Year 1. In other words, building into your Year 1 planning, even for core subjects, opportunities for children to undertake learning tasks that do not have a pre-determined ceiling. This does not mean abandoning academic rigour, as significant challenge can be built into child-initiated and independent tasks. Likewise, building in aspects of numeracy/literacy hours into FS planning and extending the periods of time for which focused adult-initiated learning is expected, can help to ease the transition.
  • Curriculum – There will be children in FS who by the end the year are already accessing aspects of Year 1 curriculum. Conversely, there will inevitably be children who will need to continue with aspects of the early years curriculum into Year 1. This is sometimes of particular significance for the summer-born FS children, who may turn five right at the end of the FS year. It can help to remember that one year represents a fifth of their life –  how much have you learned in a fifth of your lifespan to date?
  • Assessment and record keeping – Close liaison between staff regarding the academic and personal aspects of each child’s development is absolutely vital. For this to be carried out effectively, substantial directed time should be devoted to this handover period. This is of particular significance for children with special educational needs  and should include support staff working together as partners for short periods with each child who receives additional support. The detailed knowledge that support staff have of the children as people and learners should be shared. Time and effort invested in this will help with differentiation, as well as children’s wellbeing, on entry into Year 1.
  • Visits – Consider developing a programme of visits for children, staff and parents/carers:
    • It can start informally by children taking a piece of work to show a Year 1 teacher.
    • This first step can be extended into a few children at a time spending short periods in Year 1 both with and without the other children, forming connections with different aspects of the Year 1 setting. Little and often seems to be the best approach.
    • Gradually as FS year goes on, encouraging the children to visit Year 1 by themselves will help them to harness their self-confidence.
    • Having a Year 1 buddy to ‘show them the ropes’ can also help. This can also work with parents/carers.
    • Similarly it is vital that Year 1 team members spend time in FS (and vice versa) familiarising themselves with FS teaching and learning approaches and interacting with the children. This can also be achieved by spending time in the classrooms observing colleagues, even team teaching.
    • Inviting FS parents/carers to spend time in Year 1 with and without their own children can smooth ruffled feathers, as can joint FS/Year 1 meetings with a few parents at a time.
    • Some innovative teams make home visits with Year 1 families in the summer term and have found them to have a positive effect upon the rapport between home and school.

In conclusion
Whilst by no means covering every aspect of this important phase in a child’s school life, hopefully you should find some points that are relevant to your setting and will inspire you to make it as positive, exciting and possible for every child in your care.

A Study of the transition

An NFER  study set out to provide an evidence base concerning the effectiveness of the transition from the foundation stage to Year 1. The issues that were found to present challenges were:

  • The change from a play-based to a more structured curriculum
  • The need for children to be independent and good listeners, in preparation for KS1
  • Children with specific needs such as immaturity, low ability, SEN or who spoke English as an additional language and needed greater support
  • Children missed the chance to play and worried about the work
  • Children liked feeling more grown up
  • Parents wanted more information about the transition
  • Continuity of practice, induction and communication were seen to be effective
  • Training for staff would be welcomed.

The study finds that the best adaptation takes place where conditions are similar, communication is encouraged, and the process of change takes place gradually over time.

Source: Dawn Sanders, Gabrielle White, Bethan Burge, Caroline Sharp, Anna Eames, Rhona McEune and Hilary Grayson, A Study of the Transition from the Foundation Stage to Key Stage One, DfES Research report SSU/2005/FR/013, London: DfES

This document can be accessed online at www.nfer.ac.uk/publications