Impact of transitions in education
For some children and young people, change is stressful
Transitions in education require children and young people to adapt to new circumstances. The experience is different for everyone, and some children and school students need extra support.
Educators and families can help children in early learning services and students in schools by preparing them for the transition – and by identifying when additional support is required, and how to access and offer the support.
Types of transitions to a new learning environment
Children and young people will make many transitions
These are some common type of transitions in learning communities:
- The transition from home to early learning settings.
- The transition from early learning settings to primary school.
- The transition from primary to secondary school.
- The transition from secondary school.
Each of these major transitions is discussed in its own fact sheet.
This series of fact sheets provides information on how educators can support children, young people and families at these times, including those experiencing difficulties.
It’s normal for children and young people to have strong feelings about an upcoming transition, such as excitement about the prospect of going to a new school, as well as nervousness about what lies ahead. Many children and young people may also feel sad or angry about leaving their current learning environment and the positive relationships they’ve established with educators and each other.
Common feelings children and young people have during transition can include:
- fear or anxiety.
Understanding and helping children and young people to handle the feelings will help to reduce their stress and can provide them with positive coping strategies. Children and young people often have difficulty explaining in words how they are feeling – instead they might show their feelings through their behaviour.
Behaviours you might observe include:
In children transitioning to primary school – clinging behaviour, restlessness, withdrawal, anxiousness, refusal to comply, avoidance, planning and organisation difficulties, crying and tantrums, regression to younger behaviours, volatility.
In transitioning to secondary school – withdrawal or difficulty participating in class discussions, low confidence or self-esteem, regression to younger behaviours, avoidance of tasks, short temper or behavioural concerns, friendship issues or isolation.
Families might also notice issues such as changes in eating habits (low appetite or overeating), difficulties falling asleep, feeling unwell (for example, sore stomach or headaches) or difficulty separating from family members.
These could be typical behaviours
Many of these behaviours are typical for children and young people as they adjust to their new environment, but educators and families need to show understanding and support to help them settle in. By discussing such behaviours with families, you’ll gain a sense of whether they are unusual for the child or young person and make an accurate assessment of their support needs.
If concerning behaviours persist, it’s important to get help to identify possible underlying problems such as mental health issues or academic difficulties. You may need to seek advice from the school wellbeing team or external health and community professionals.
Be You Professional Learning
Learn more about noticing behavioural and emotional changes in the Notice module, and about providing support for children, young people and their families, by helping them access information and internal and external supports, in the Provide module.
Opportunity for early intervention
Transition is an opportunity for ‘receiving’ schools and services to gather information from existing learning environments about children and young people’s strengths, skills, interests and preferences.
For some students, change is stressful
Research highlights that transition in and out of primary school can be the time when issues such as school refusal, disengagement and academic decline first emerge or are exacerbated. So working together with the child or young person’s existing learning environment in the lead-up to transition can identify those who may need additional support or special arrangements. Families also have rich information about their child or young person’s needs and are an important resource in planning individualised programs and strategies.
Identifying additional support needs during transition can help ensure that children and young people receive assistance before difficulties escalate.
- can help promote engagement in school and enable students to achieve their potential
- may include school and family-based interventions and strategies, or support from external professionals such as health and community agencies.
How can schools support a smooth transition?
- Invest in partnerships with ‘feeder’ early learning settings, primary and secondary schools to build an understanding of each environment, and to aid the transfer of information about students and families.
- Review current policies and practices for transition so they’re reflective and inclusive of your diverse community – do they make specific consideration for children and young people with additional needs (physical and developmental)?
- Identify a key team of people in your learning environment who can coordinate transition practices; establish and maintain key relationships with wider school community networks and families.
- Ensure there are established processes for gathering information from everyone involved in transition, including the voice of children and young people.
- Get to know the local community where families live, including cultural norms, demographics and available resources, so that you understand the experiences and backgrounds of students.
- Review communication processes and tools to make sure information flows both to and from families in a way that’s accessible and inclusive for diverse community members.
- Provide professional development to help staff members identify key signs that show children and young people may need additional support.
- Create space and time for educators from different settings to meet and share valuable transition information.
- Provide multiple opportunities for students and families to visit their new environment – both formal (for example, information evenings or orientation days) and informal (for example, after-school access to the playground or school clubs/sporting events) – to help build familiarity and belonging.
- In addition to orientation information, give families tips and ideas for how they can support and develop their child or young person’s social and emotional skills, coping and help-seeking strategies.
- Get to know individual families and help them understand you value the information they can share about their child or young person.
- Ensure children, young people and families know who they can talk to if they feel worried or encounter a problem.
- Scaffold opportunities for children, young people and family members to connect with each other before and after transition to help build a sense of belonging to the school community (for example, activity evenings, social events, team-building activities or children attending school productions). Ask families how they’d like to connect with each other.
- Online communication systems, social media and applications can be intimidating for some families – provide lots of opportunities so they can learn how to access these and provide alternative options where necessary.
- Provide creative opportunities for children and young people to start building a sense of connection to school – for example, provide names/photographs of key educators and classrooms, involve current students in creating short films introducing the school to new students, ask transitioning students to create a booklet ‘all about me’ to share with educators.
- Teach children, young people and families specific skills which will support them during the transition period and beyond, such as:
- how to recognise, express and talk about their feelings
- problem-solving skills
- helpful thinking strategies – for example, “I can do this” or “I can be brave”
- seeking help when needed.
- You may wish to engage the help of external health and community agencies to provide information sessions to families on these topics.
- Identify students who are likely to or are finding transition difficult – work closely with the family to provide support early.
For more information abut transitions, check out our In Focus webinar: Transitions – preparing children and young people for change.
Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) (2015). The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Annual Statistical Report 2014. Melbourne: AIFS. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/publications/longitudinal-study-australian-children-annual-statistical-report-2014.
Izzo, C. V., Weissberg, R. P., Kasprow, W. J., & Fendrich, M. (1999). A longitudinal assessment of teacher perceptions of parent involvement in children's education and school performance. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27(6), 817-839.
NSW Health (2014). School Refusal – every school day counts. Sydney: NSW Health. Retrieved from http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/youth/Documents/forum-speaker-presentations/2017/webster-greenberg-sr-booklet.pdf.
Waters, S. K., Lester, L., & Cross, D. (2014). Transition to secondary school: Expectation versus experience. Australian Journal of Education, 58(2), 153–166.
Transition to a new learning environment is a major event in a child or young person’s life as it changes social connections that they have built.