Transition: Voices from across the bridge

Pictures of Amanda and Rhiannon

In our first blog post from the wider community, Dr Amanda Thomas & Dr Rhiannon Packer provide researcher perspectives on a variety of transitions within education. With the work gathering learner voice from nursery to further education settings, a common theme of fear and anxiety emerges; juxtaposed with the need to find space for learners to have ownership and agency within the transition process. The post ends with views on the role of parents and how transition cannot be considered as a one off event. Their new book – All Change! Best practice for educational transitions – is due for publication in January 2021.

Transition is a complex process no matter what your age and is an experience common to all. The process of transition in school involves a number of stakeholders; children and young people, practitioners and parents/caregivers. This educational transition involves both continuity and change. While there is a wealth of research available on the social, emotional and academic impact of transition on learners, we felt that not all opinions of those affected by transition were evident. We were interested in hearing the voices of all those involved in the transition process.

Initially we needed to consider what is meant by transition. Traditionally transition was seen as a one-off event; however, the ramifications of the process are more than this. Galton and McLellan (2018) perceived transition metaphorically as a bridge, aiding the movement of a learner from A to B. However, a bridge can also go from B to A so while a transition can initially seem successful, for some children this bridge can appear as a ditch.

Picture of Child Crossing Rope Bridge
Picture from Alexa’s Pixabay (Pixabay License)

As an example, consider children who become upset on returning to school after a break – they may have seemed settled and happy before the holiday, but the transition from home to school can be unsettling. Transition needs to be viewed as ongoing, aligning itself with life course theory (Hutchison, 2011). Hutchinson acknowledges that the time between transitions is as important as the process itself. This was a consideration apparent in the voices of practitioners in our research.

Transitions are complex and it is important to ensure in planning that the individual needs of the learner are considered, as negative experiences can have an impact. This is acknowledged by Donaldson (2015) in his proposal to reduce the number of educational transition points in the Welsh curriculum. Research on transition has focused primarily on pupil voice with little discussion on how practitioners view transition processes and practice (Cuconato, du Bois-Reymond and Lunabba, 2015). We felt hearing the voices of a range of stakeholders involved in transition was important to understand better how to ensure a smooth process for learners. We gathered the voices from 11 settings (private nurseries to FE colleges) throughout South East Wales; learners (3-19), practitioners and parents/caregivers all participated.

Drawing upon Ranson’s (2000) ‘pedagogy of voice’, which requires active listening and learning from the opinions and feelings of others, enabled an understanding of transition experiences from a variety of perspectives (Wertsch, 1991). Responses cited here highlighted the importance of giving all stakeholders a voice and data collected has been used to support a forthcoming book on transition published by Critical Publishing, All Change! Best practice for educational transitions (Packer, R., Jones, C., Thomas, A. and Watkins, P).

Younger learners, in relating their experiences of transition, talked about being anxious:

“I was a bit sick and I had a rumbly belly.”

“I felt scared.”

“I was very brave but I did cry.”

Picture of Child Painting
Picture from BC Gov’s Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Learners in Key Stage Two recalled specific events such as Moving up days, spending time in their new classes and undertaking activities ranging from, “drawing things that represented you and what you liked and disliked” and “writing our dreams in a time capsule which we buried to dig up at the end of next year”. Such activities gave learners a sense of agency and ownership over their transition. However, fears were also raised by some learners:

“In Year 3 you have more jobs to do.”

“We won’t get much choice anymore; it will be more work; there will be different people.”

In secondary schools, year 7 learners were asked to reflect upon what they would change about the transition process:

“A chance to talk to pupils about the school – older pupils – to ask them about the school – maybe year 9 or the sixth form.”

“… useful to know more about the school’s systems. If we were late for lessons then we didn’t know there were behaviour steps in place.”

This resonates with the need for ownership and agency for learners, where they can feel secure and in control of new and changing situations.

When interviewing practitioners, a number of approaches were taken during transition. Settings organised Starter Packs for new learners, arranged a residential week for both year 6 and year 7 pupils to meet each other. This allowed relationships to develop prior to starting in the setting between pupils and practitioners. Fostering a sense of belonging was an important focus for practitioners, encouraging prospective learners to view themselves as representing the school, before starting at the setting. Practitioners were keen to emphasise the importance of nurturing relationships with parents via settling in evenings and using social media platforms to keep parents informed.

The researchers recognised the important role of parents in transition. Research demonstrates that parental attitude to school plays a vital part in supporting transitions. Taylor, Clayton and Rowley (2004) found that parents’ own memories are reactivated when preparing their own children for school and this can influence their support (Miller, 2014). We found that parents held positive views of transition; feeling included and supported throughout:

“Lots of discussion about what to expect will happen.”

“We attended open nights at the school in Year 5 and Year 6. we discussed moving up and the changes as a family.”

Our research provided a snap shot of experiences and feelings about transition from key participants in the process. No one voice is more important than the other, all need to be heard and respected as all influence the overall experience. Transition should not be considered a one-off event and in the current climate, as we all try and navigate a new way of working in education, it is vital to ensure that transition experiences are right; right for the learner, the practitioner and the parent.

Author Short Biographies

Picture of Amanda Thomas

Dr Amanda Thomas is currently a senior lecturer in Early Years Education at the University of South Wales delivering on a range of education modules. In 1997, she began teaching in a Primary school and successfully led the Early Years provision for over 10 years.  Amanda also taught in FE for four years training childcare practitioners. Amanda was awarded her PhD in researching schemas in the Foundation Phase in 2019.

Picture of Rhiannon Packer

Dr Rhiannon Packer is a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University. She worked for nine years as a secondary school teacher and was a Head of Year before moving into Higher Education. Her research interests include transition for learners with Additional Learning Needs, the learner journey for quiet, shy and anxious children, supporting learners with Specific Learning Difficulties and bilingualism.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the original author(s) and the inclusion of the blog post on this page does not imply an endorsement of the authors(s) or any entity they represent. These views and opinions do not represent those of the Executive committee and any of the other contributors to this website

Share this post!