Supporting Children As They Return to School

For some children and young people the transition back to school after the long summer holiday can be very challenging, for others they are ready to get back, meet friends and engage with learning. Transitions are interesting and can be defined as:

‘A period of change, moving from one significant development milestone, or experience, to another.’

I tend to think of transitions as a bridge. One end of the bridge is in one place let’s say home and the other end of the bridge is in a new place, let’s say a new secondary school. Both places have a responsibility to support children walk over the bridge. 

Transitions for children can be anything from starting nursery or school, moving up into a new class or new school, moving house, moving from Mum’s house to Dad’s house or from a parent’s house to stay at grandparents. As part of a child’s development, they will be experiencing all different kinds of transitions, some we may not even think about, for instance a child welcoming a new sibling is a great example. It is important for each place to support a young person with this change. For one parent to prepare them to stay with another or for families to support the new arrival of a sibling. For the old school or class to help them celebrate what they have achieved and the memories they have acquired and then to prepare them for the next destination/situation. For the next school/class to welcome them and help them to settle and develop a sense of belonging. Both preparing children for transitions as well as receiving them are important. 

It is important for those people working with children in schools to spend some time getting to know the children, things they like, pets they may have or football teams they support, what they like to do outside of school. These personal bits of information help children to feel safe and thought about.

Change is a normal part of life and can provide opportunities for children and young people to learn to manage and in so doing develop their resilience. Whether a child or young person is starting primary school, secondary school, further education, changing schools, or leaving school for university or work. Whatever the transition all children and young people need support. If a child struggles with a transition, it can have a negative impact on their wellbeing and academic achievement as well as how they will manage future changes in their lives. For some children these challenges have already been experienced and so transitions can cause increased anxiety and fear of what may happen. 

Who Is More Likely to Struggle With Transitions?

It’s important to prepare pupils who are more likely to struggle with moving to a new school or phase of education. This includes children and young people with:

  • Additional learning needs 
  • Mental health problems
  • Behavioural problems
  • Limited parental support
  • Experience of transient living, such as being in care, travellers or refugees
  • Children who struggle with anxiety
  • Children who have experience of being bullied

Identifying the Signs

The things below are a few things to look out for which may suggest a child or young person may be struggling with transition:

  • A child or young person who struggles to make friends
  • A child or young person doesn’t feel that they belong
  • A child or young person who has experienced trauma such as domestic violence, fleeing from another country or a child who has experienced abuse.
  • An individual who has ongoing difficulties coping with daily routines
  • A child or young person who has increased number of unauthorised school absences or is an EBSA child.
  • An individual who has challenging or disruptive behaviour
  • A child or young person who has lower than expected progress or a disinterest in school.
  • A child or young person who has changed schools often

Moving between schools can be more common for Travellers, Gypsy and Roma children, for those whose parents or carers are in the Armed Forces, for children and young people with additional learning needs, those who are looked after or those who are refugees. 

How Schools Can Help

Schools, teachers and support staff can help children and young people in a variety of ways by recognising the challenges of transition and prioritising support practices at specific times. These may include:

  • Meeting new parents and carers, showing them around the school and talking about their worries and concerns.
  • Making sure school records are forwarded from the previous school so that new staff can pick up on learning or wellbeing needs that a child or young person may have as soon as possible.
  • Developing a support system that may include training pupils to be buddies or to provide peer support for new children and young people.
  • During any transition period, it’s important that children and young people are able to talk about their concerns and are supported to cope with any readjustments.
  • Organise transition days where children can meet their new teacher or visit their new school.
  • Ensuring teachers are given time to prioritise getting to know children and young people and 
  • develop a sense of belonging.
  • Share how to build a sense of belonging resources and lesson plans with staff and prioritise this time in class.
  • Put additional support in place for more vulnerable children and young people such as key workers or support staff, ensure that vulnerable children know where to go and how to get help. It is also important to check in with them especially at lunchtime. For many of our ASD children using the toilet or dining hall can cause huge stress.
  • Ensure that all staff are aware of specific learning needs and strategies to support the child within the classroom. A great way to do this is to create a Pupil Passport with children or even ask feeder schools to create this as part of transition so children can share with staff as soon as they arrive. 

Supporting transitions is a powerful way of ensuring children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing is focused on. With over 1.5 million children being referred to NHS services for mental health difficulties it is important that schools continue to develop practices that support mental health and wellbeing.

Always remember small changes can make a big difference. 

Blog written by Alison Waterhouse, an Educational Psychotherapist supporting schools through her Circles for Learning Project. The project works with schools to give children the skills that underpin positive foundations for mental health and wellbeing before mental health becomes a problem. We help schools catch children before they fall and give them the skills to fly. 

Bullying is a factor that could affect how a young person transitions back into the school environment after a school holiday. If you have a child that is being bullied in your classroom, then read these tips on how you can help them. 

Comments are closed