UK news has been dominated in the last few weeks by reports of how many children have been missing school due to being at home self-isolating. But June and July are critical times for preparing children for their September transition, so what will the fallout be like in the new school year and how can schools mitigate against the impact of lost transition time?
At the time of writing this article, The Metro reported that:
On July 8, 11.2% of all state school pupils were recorded as absent, up from 8.5% on July 1 and well over double the rate on June 24 (5.1%).
The vast majority of pupils missing from classrooms are self-isolating due to a possible contact (747,000) while 39,000 have tested positive.
A further 39,000 stayed off school with a suspected case but had yet to return a positive test.
That’s a lot of children missing school at the end of June and into July. Some might argue that this is not really a problem because it’s the end of the school year and children are mainly revising or doing fun activities now anyway – so in theory not a great deal of learning has been lost. However, it is a critical time for transition activities which take place to prepare children for a new teacher, class or school in September.
What are transition activities and why are they important?
Transition activities are activities aimed at reducing the stress of transitioning to a new teacher, school or year group. They usually involve students doing fun things with their new teacher so they can get used to them and start building a positive relationship ahead of the new school year. For children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), this can be especially important. Autistic children for example thrive on routine and knowing what comes next. It is therefore likely to be especially stressful for them to come to a new provision or class where they will not know their surroundings, teachers or support staff. For some individuals, this can trigger extremely negative reactions such as school refusal or emotional meltdowns – which doesn’t exactly set the stage for a successful term.
Even for children without SEND, it’s a lot to handle. My son is moving to year 3 in September in a lovely village school, but it took him a long time to get used to his year 1/2 (it’s a 0.5 form entry school) teacher and to develop a positive working relationship with him. He has been at home self isolating with me for two weeks (once because of being a contact then again when he contracted the virus). As a result of this, he has missed out on a host of opportunities to spend time and have fun with the staff who will be working with him next year. I’ve discussed in previous blog posts the importance of having positive relationships between children and their teachers – especially with children who struggle with social and emotional issues. Without this foundation, are teachers likely to launch into the curriculum with high expectations of their students in September without first having built a valuable relationship foundation? And will this lead to issues along the way making the transition more difficult for staff and students alike?
What can schools do to mitigate lost transition time?
It is really important (in my humble opinion) that schools take the time to think about how they can mitigate against this lost transition time. Here are a few ideas I have had which could help:
1 – New Teacher Pen Pal
What if the new teacher sent a note or a video message to each of the children they will be working with in September, telling them a bit about themselves and asking for the child to write or send a similar video message back? This could work while children are at home self isolating or during the holidays (which I know is non-contact time for teachers but we are living in unprecedented times…) Just seeing a familiar face and feeling like you know them a little bit can take a lot of the stress away for children when starting with a new teacher.
2 – Video Tour
If a child is due to start at a new provision or in a new classroom in September, being familiar with the surroundings can be helpful. It might therefore ease the transition if the new class teacher could do a video of the provision and/or classroom, telling the students all about it in a friendly and informative way. They could show them where certain resources are, how to get to the toilets and anything else that might be handy. Children who are particularly anxious about the move could watch the video as many times as they like until they feel familiar and less worried about their transition.
3 – Online Class Games
The provision or teacher aren’t the only things that could be new in September – some children will also be dealing with getting to know new classmates. Another suggestion might therefore be a whole-class group activity or two – perhaps a quiz or some show-and-tell sessions – anything that allows the children to see the faces of others who will be in their class come September and afford them a bit of familiarity. If it’s a transition to a new school, students could be coming from a range of settings, so an activity like this might be best done in an evening for maximum attendance – but again, it could prove to be worth it’s weight in gold.
4 – Start Slowly
If transition activities are not possible this side of the new academic year, how about doing them in September? Taking time to play games, build relationships and spend time together doing something fun for the first week or so of term could be of huge benefit to many children. Even better if a staff member already known to the children can be involved and gradually “hand over” to the new teacher.
Above are just a few suggestions for COVID-friendly transition activities that schools could run to support their students ahead of the new school year, but you may have more ideas… and we’d love it if you could share them! You could post a comment below or visit our Twitter page (@axcis) and use the tag #transitions to get the conversation going. You never know, your ideas could help children who have been stuck at home this half term!
Are you looking for a teaching or support job for September?
If you’re looking for a SEND teaching or support job in England or Wales, why not register with Axcis, the SEND recruitment specialists? Or perhaps you need to recruit staff for your school or provision? If so, why not take a look at the Axcis Website, or get in touch today to find out how we can help?