It is important that children and young people experiencing a key transition such as from home to Early Years, primary to high school, Year 11 to Further Education, or Year 13 to Higher Education/ the world of work, have an opportunity to engage in activities that enable them to process the endings involved with transitions, such as their relationship with their school, teachers, and classmates.

The following resource aims to provide schools and families with information on transitions, and how they can aid the process.  

Catalyst offer our schools a 10-week Smart Moves transition program that can be booked for the summer term of year 6. This program is based on the Resiliency Framework (adapted from Hart & Blincow with Thomas 2007), which highlights five core areas needed to increase resilience:

  • Basics 
  • Belonging 
  • Learning 
  • Coping 
  • Core self 


Early Years transitions

The following information has been collected and synthesized based on guidance from the Anna Freud centre for families, and the SEN toolkit for transitions from the Council for Disabled children 

Sharing information 

Effectively communicating with parents and carers about how a child is doing can help parents feel involved in their child's day, but can also be a useful tool for staff in the early years. It can help staff understand how the child was feeling prior to arriving in the setting. In some nursery and reception classrooms, one option is to write notes and observations in a book that can travel between nursery/school and home, with space for notes from both family and school. Another option is to have a verbal catch up with parents at the beginning and end of the day. Having an agreed system in place can give parents a clear communication channel if they have concerns or information to share about their child. 

Establishing relationships 

Recognizing that parents have a vital role in supporting their children through their key transitions is crucial. Parents may also need support at this time. Education Scotland suggest the following reflective questions for professionals to ask themselves in regards to involving parents in transitions:  

  • How do you currently communicate and involve parents in transition arrangements?
  • What makes a positive or negative transition experience?
  • What are the challenges to communicating and involving parents in transition arrangements?
  • What are the benefits of improving parental involvement in transitions?
  • How are parental views and knowledge taken into consideration to support children and young people through transitions?
  • What steps are taken to gather feedback from parents to inform future transitions?
  • How are parents helped to understand how their involvement and support can best continue after the transition?


Creating continuity 

One method of creating continuity in the early years environment is to link with providers and use the same songs for transitioning between activities, such as the same tidy up song 

What can parents do?  

  • Draw pictures and tell stories about what might happen to make it fun and more familiar. You could include their new setting on a walk, and take pictures for them to have a visual record for them to look at. The BBC have a game you can play with your child, that explores a first day at school 
  • Chat about situations you have experienced together where you have experienced changes in the past, like moving house, or a change of plans.  
  • Practice ways to regulate emotions with your child. This could include practicing taking slow, deep breaths together. An example is milkshake breathing. LINK 
  • Talk about different feelings, and what happens in your body when you are feeling them, including worry. 
  • Bedtime routines 


Source: Place2be   

Primary to high school transitions  

The STARS study showed that children’s main worries before transition were:  

  • Getting lost   
  • Being bullied  
  • Discipline and detentions  
  • Homework  
  • Losing old friends 

The Department for Children, Schools and Families identified the key factors that contributed to a successful transition could be categorised under social adjustment, institutional adjustment and curriculum continuity:  

Social adjustment 

Social adjustment can be understood as the attempts made by a pupil to cope with the demands or challenges of a new environment. In the process of social adjustment, pupils may try to behave in accordance with what they perceive to be the social expectations of the environment. Pupils will have different social adjustment abilities. Key factors that impacted social adjustment in the DCSF study included:  

  • Developing new friendships led to increased self-esteem and self-reported confidence. 
  • Perceiving older children to be friendly supported good transitions.  


Instistutional adjustment  

Pupils entering high school will need support to get used to new routines.  

Suggestions for how to support institutional adjustment: 

  • Simple maps with photographs of key areas attached. 
  • Breaking down secondary vocabulary e.g. ‘tutor’.  
  • Videos showing a typical Year 7 timetable and how to use it.  
  • Welcome booklets online  
  • A ‘treasure hunt’ involving activities to encourage pupils to explore the school  


Curriculum continuity  

Close links between the primary and secondary schools were a key factor in successful transition. Close links should help bridge transitions and support pupils' growing sense of responsibility for themselves. It is also important that schools share relevant learner data in both directions. Continuity is important for pupils beyond the Early years, with their next provision aiming to build on their ongoing development.  

Source: Department for children, schools and families 


High school to further education

Unlike the transition to primary school, then from primary school to high school, those transitioning from year 11 to year 12 often have more choice regarding what and how they will by studying. In addition to this, their experience sometimes differs from their peers. It is important that children in Year 6 and other key transitions such as Year 11 and Year 13 have an opportunity to engage in activities that enable them to process the endings in their relationship with their school and teachers as well as classmates. The Anna Freud Centre produced a useful resource during the Coronavirus pandemic to support pupils to manage change during periods of disruption which can be downloaded here. 


Welcoming new students  

We have a separate resource page for welcoming refugees and asylum seekers.


Racial identity and transition 

Research indicates that going to a new school is a time when children of colour may particularly experience racism and bullying. It is a time when it is especially important to develop a sense of belonging and to be able to make friends and become part of new groups securely. The Back to School Assembly produced by Into Film is a brilliant set of short film clips with discussion points to support transitions, most suitable for children in Year 6 and Year 7 but which could be adapted for many transitions across a broader age range (7 - 14). It features positive characters from a range of backgrounds and covers topics such as Making New Friends, Believing in Yourself and Working Together. All the film clips include children of colour in significant roles. This is a very rich set of ideas and discussion points that would be well used across a number of sessions. 


Transition and Autism  

For children and young people (CYP) who are Autistic, transition can be very challenging. These transition can include moving schools, changing year groups, or changing classes throughout the day. As they move through the education system further transitions to consider are the transition from college to university, and the wider world or workplace.  

Changes in classroom, teacher, peer group or year group 

Arrange meetings with new teachers and plan times for them to visit their new classrooms when there are no other pupils there, so they can familiarize themselves with their new environment without the additional requirement of meeting new peers.  

Make sure staff have a shared understanding of each child's individual needs, and strategies that can be used to support them across each new environment. In primary school this might be from their classroom to the canteen, to the hall for assemblies and PE, and in high school this might be a shared understanding across subjects and teachers.  

Changes in Education setting  

Make a plan well in advance that includes the involvement of the autistic child and their parents/carers. Arrange visits to the new setting so the CYP can become familiar with their environment, and the new staff they will be working with. Encourage them to take pictures of the new setting, and of their new teachers, so they have a visual reminder they can refer back to. Staff could also organise some peer support. This could be a peer support group, or a buddy system.  

Source: The National Autistic Society  


Additional Resources  

- Young minds have a teacher training webinar that covers how change can affect children, the links between risk and protective factors, and why resilience is important.

- They also have transition activities for pupils:  

Year 6 pack  

Year 7 pack   

- Video for pupils to watch: 

- Mentally Healthy Schools have a transition toolkit for Primary and Secondary schools