We all know that feeling of starting something new: a bit excited, probably quite anxious about where everything is and what is expected of us, worried about not knowing people, the nervous butterflies in the stomach that can range from a flutter to a full flip! Some of us will take this in our stride, lots of us will try to, and for others it is a really unpleasant experience.
We ask children to do this every year as they move from Reception to Year 1. They might not be moving very far geographically – just up the corridor – but without careful thought being put into this transition it might end up seeming to them like being parachuted into another, rather worrying, world.
You may be thinking ‘haven’t we been here before?’ The answer is, yes, we have. Back in 2004, Ofsted conducted a report called Transition from the Reception Year to Year 1: an Evaluation, which in part looked at ‘the management of transition, including planning for curricular continuity, assessment and recording, communication with parents and the induction of pupils.‘ During the intervening years, we have had the introduction of the EYFS in 2008 and revised versions of both the early years curriculum and the changes to the National Curriculum in 2014. Most recently, we have had Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings in 2017, examining the learning in a sample of Reception classes and how prepared children are for Year 1. It isn’t any wonder, then, that transition from Reception to Year 1 is still a hot topic.
What do we already know?
Our knowledge of child development and of the curriculums should inform our practice as we prepare for transition.
Child development research tells us that the step up the corridor from Reception to Year 1 does not mean a change in how children learn. There are very few differences in learning characteristics between a 5, 6 or 7-year-old (Fisher) – although if you are a 5, 6, or 7-year-old you will be very clear that another year makes you infinitely more worldly-wise! We also know that a developmental change does happen at around 7 years of age:
‘All of the child development literature that concerns children of this age says that the key changes in children’s development come around the end of Year 2 when they approach the age of 7’ (Fisher).
So the child that leaves Reception at the end of the Summer term is developmentally ready to learn in the same way as the child that arrives in Year 1 at the start of the Autumn term. The curriculum, however, is not the same. The change in the educational road map that takes place for children at age 5 was highlighted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) in 2006 in Making a Successful Transition to Year 1:
It was referred to again in Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings in 2017:
‘Reception and Year 1 teachers agreed that the vital smooth transition from the Foundation Stage to Year 1 was difficult because the early learning goals were not aligned with the now increased expectations of the National Curriculum.’
Linking together how children learn with the shift in what they are learning needs to be part of ‘good transition’.
What is ‘good transition’?
We can only cover this big question in bite-sized, food-for-thought mouthfuls here! The main ingredients for good transition are ‘start early’ and ‘communicate’. Bryce-Clegg writes ‘Effective transition takes time and is a process rather than an event’.
This process starts in the Autumn term when children arrive in Reception and is built on through the year. Everyone has a hand in it – Senior Leadership, teachers, support staff, parents and children: ‘Transition is a whole school issue’ (Oxfordshire Transition Pack for Schools). This is where communication comes in: Reception and Year 1 staff need to understand what happens in each other’s classrooms; parents need information, so they know what experiences their children are having; and children need to be heard so their needs can be met.
With so much for staff members to do through the year, focusing on transition can slip down the list of priorities. This is where planning comes in – it is much easier to make something happen if it is already in the diary!
Good transition is not just about what the children are doing. Staff need to plan their own transition route too. Evenly spread through the year this should include Year 1 adults visiting Reception to see how they learn and what this cohort is up to; some Key Stage staff meetings dedicated to training for Year 1 teachers in the Early Years curriculum, so they understand and can carry the how children learn into their own classroom; and time to look at the Reception assessment together, evaluating where the gaps are and shaping the Year 1 classroom around these in September (Bryce-Clegg).
Year 1 teachers need to have time to share what the Key Stage 1 expectations are and to ask what they want and need to know about the children. Bold Beginnings stated, ‘Most Year 1 teachers spoken to said that the EYFSP provided only shallow and unnecessary information about a child’s achievements.’ This highlights the need for Reception and Year 1 teachers to be given time to share and talk about data so that it can be used positively to shape an engaging and tailored learning space for young children as they transition from Early Years to Key Stage 1.
Parents and Carers
Imagine being a parent who goes from a learning experience for their child that includes their thoughts and invites their observations to one where they no longer make contributions or are not invited to share their experiences regularly. This can be quite a shock! Getting parents involved in transition is key to reassuring them and their children.
Once again, we come back to communication and starting early. The parents who took part in the NFER research said that communication was the key to positive transition for them and their children. Start the transition conversation with parents in the Autumn term of Reception. If you are re-evaluating your transition planning this may begin with a consultation with parents (Fisher), or it may be a leaflet that sets out what transition is going to look like this year (Bryce-Clegg). There should then be regular points of contact each term, such as a section in the Reception class newsletter about what transition preparation the children and staff will be up to.
As the end of the year approaches, invite parents into school to visit a Year 1 classroom and meet the staff. Bryce-Clegg suggests ‘set it up as it will be on point of entry to Year One. Have lots of examples of Year One children’s work to share to celebrate progress and attainment.’ You may also wish to have a separate information meeting for parents and carers to ask questions. Parents will now be armed with lots of things to chat with their children about over the summer holidays. Happy parents will help to bring happy children to Year 1 in September!
Children have their own ideas about moving on: ‘When asked what they thought it would be like in Year 1, children said that Year 1 would be quite different from Reception. Phrases such as ‘work’ and ‘hard work’ were common’ (NFER). I wonder how positive those children felt about this prospect! We want our children to be challenged as they move up into Key Stage 1, but we also want them to be inspired and look forward to this challenge. ‘The brain freezes at times of stress. It is alert to the tension and the fear and cannot apply itself to anything beyond those primal emotions ‘(Fisher). A brain that is frozen is not one that can learn!
Children who don’t know the adults around them and who have visited their new classroom, which seems to them to be all tables and chairs, only once before the summer holidays (a lifetime ago if you are 5), are much less likely to arrive at school in September with a skip in their step. They need adults they know in a space that looks very familiar. ‘For children entering Year One, the more the environment, resources and routines are as they were in Reception, the easier the transition will be’ (Bryce-Clegg).
If Year 1 staff have been making regular visits to Reception, and if some time has been given to training and assessment analysis then children will already be comfortable about the adults and their new classroom will be set up to reflect how they learn.
Part of the planning for good transition should include child-centred activities, starting in that all important Autumn term in Reception. Regular story swaps, a joint Reception-Year 1 project, a ‘sneak peek’ at the Year 1 classroom when they’re not there (e.g. when they are in the hall doing PE) all help build familiarity and confidence through the year. Plus, they are great fun!
Some children are particularly vulnerable to transition, whether it is because of family circumstances or special educational or behavioural needs, and they will need extra support to help them feel secure about change (Fisher).
Transition is so important to get right, for the wellbeing of young children and for their learning to thrive. It will be different for different schools and for different children. Like everything in education, there is no one size fits all approach. Be realistic about what you can achieve (Featherstone). Have a long-term plan and work towards this in manageable stages but remember to start early and communicate positively with everyone involved.
National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), Making a Successful Transition to Year 1 (2006) https://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/PRE_PDF_Files/06_35_04.pdf
Moving On to Key Stage 1, Julie Fisher, Open University Press, McGraw-Hill Education, 2010
Effective Transition into Year One, Alistair Bryce-Clegg, 2017, Featherstone Education
Smooth Transitions: Ensuring continuity from the Foundation Stage, Ros Bayley and Sally Featherstone, 2003, 2014, Featherstone Education
Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools, Ofsted, 2017 www.gov.uk/ofsted
Action Plan for Transition from Foundation Stage to Key Stage 1: Transition Pack for Schools, Oxfordshire County Council
Developing successful transitions Year R to Year One, Gloucestershire Children and Young People’s Services, 2007