Transition between settings

Jane Drake
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

By Jane Drake, a partnership advisory teacher in Leeds and author of Planning Children's Play and Learning in the Foundation Stage and Organising Play in the Early Years (David Fulton) Effective transition procedures require careful planning and should be rooted in a clear understanding of young children's social, emotional and intellectual needs.

By Jane Drake, a partnership advisory teacher in Leeds and author of Planning Children's Play and Learning in the Foundation Stage and Organising Play in the Early Years (David Fulton)

Effective transition procedures require careful planning and should be rooted in a clear understanding of young children's social, emotional and intellectual needs.

Leaving a setting and starting a new one can be a daunting and unsettling experience for any child. As much as adults try to 'sell' the forthcoming move as 'exciting' - and a positive approach is important - a child will still be anxious about the move.

Practitioners should give children opportunities to talk about their concerns and to ask questions. Often children's fears will be around practical issues, but adults shouldn't underestimate the emotional wrench for a child of leaving a key worker with whom they have had a close relationship. Each child will need to be supported sensitively by all involved adults throughout the transition process.


Effective transitions within the Foundation Stage depend largely on a commitment from teams to develop communication links between local settings.

To ensure continuity for children, their movement through the system and transition from one setting to another should be seen as a journey.

It is vital that settings develop a shared approach to learning and have no conflicting expectations of children. Regular meetings between teams, perhaps involving all settings within a designated area, will help to establish this cohesive approach. It will also enable practitioners to get to know one another and will make communications easier during times of transition.

When several children are transferring to the same setting, for example into a school reception class, it makes sense, and saves time, to arrange for the children's future carers to visit the children in their current setting.

Such arrangements can be difficult to organise when a nursery feeds several schools or when a school receives children from many pre-school settings.

However, settings should make ever effort to organise these visits, as they give practitioners the chance to:

* meet and observe the children in an environment that is comfortable and familiar to them

* talk to the child's key worker and share information that will support the child's transition.

Where an individual child transfers to a new setting, say, after moving house, the principles of good practice remain the same, and settings should aim to offer the same transition experiences. If the old setting is too far away, the child's new carers should still aim to contact the previous setting and ensure that the child's records are transferred to them.

Wherever possible, there should be ongoing links between nurseries and schools to enable staff to become familiar with the children. Where nursery and reception classes are working closely, perhaps in a Foundation Stage unit or a children's centre on a school site, transition should be a seamless process with little disruption to the child.


If practitioners are going to address children's concerns about transition, it is crucial that they take time to find out what exactly the children's concerns are.

There will be predictable and general worries such as 'Where will I have my dinner?' or 'Who will I play with if my friends go to another school?'

Activities such as circle time sessions are useful ways of opening up peer discussions.

However, some anxieties will be personal to the individual child, and practitioners should take every opportunity to listen and talk to each child as their concerns arise. Key workers have a particularly important role to play in supporting their key children emotionally, as they are likely to have built up a close and trusting relationship with them.

Communicating effectively with parents and carers is also crucial in ensuring a smooth transition. Children may disclose their worries at home, and staff need to be made aware of these if they are to provide proper and adequate support.

Children may experience feelings of sadness and resistance before leaving nursery, particularly if they have been in a daycare setting for a long time. It can help to spend time with children putting together 'memento books' that can be taken home or shown to the children and staff at the new setting. These could include photographs of special friends, key workers and favourite experiences or areas of the nursery. Children's individual profiles (including observations, photographs and samples of work) can be used in a similar way to reflect with children on their nursery experiences and to celebrate their achievements and development.

Visiting the new setting is an important element in dispelling fears of the unknown. Usually, children will be invited to their new setting with their parents, carer or key worker. Such visits are an opportunity for children to meet new staff and perhaps other children in their group. They also enable the children to become familiar with the layout of the environment and some of the new routines that can initially be baffling to young children.

It is a good idea to take a digital or disposable camera on such visits and encourage the child to make a photographic record of significant things.

When the child is given autonomy over the camera, their choices may be revealing. For example, they may be preoccupied about where they will hang their coat and bag before the visit and will decide to take a photograph of the cloakroom area when they arrive. The children can revisit these photographs back at their existing nursery and share them with other children and adults in the setting and at home.

When children move from the Foundation Stage to Key Stage 1, the same principles of good practice should apply. There should be continuity for the child and effective communication between adults.

When planning to support children's transition into Key Stage 1, practitioners should always remember that the best preparation for children's learning in the next stage is success at their current stage of development. They should, therefore, reject any inappropriate expectations of young children and resist strongly any pressure to introduce over-formal practice in the Foundation Stage.


Sometimes children leave a setting with little or no warning. They may move to another part of the city or country. Nevertheless, practitioners should make every effort to find out the name and address of the child's next setting so that they can pass on information about the child and telephone the new setting.

Under normal transition procedures, a setting will forward a child's records to the new setting ahead of the child arriving. The local early years development team can also offer advice and clarify what information should be included - consistency and a shared understanding of systems between settings is an important feature of good practice.

Reception class practitioners admitting many children at the same time will certainly welcome concise, consistent and easily accessible information.

Summaries of where children are operating within the stepping stone bands are a useful starting point for planning in the first few weeks and enable staff to highlight any particular needs at a glance.

Practitioners should provide some evidence (such as samples from individual profiles) to support these summaries and a written summative report organised under the six areas of learning.

Supporting material will offer a deeper insight into the child as an individual and their particular achievements and interests. Practitioners should also pass on additional relevant information about children who have identified special educational or behavioural needs.

Practitioners may post records, with a contact name and number included, but many teams prefer to book time to deliver records by hand, in the interests of networking and establishing good communication links between settings.

If practitioners are unable to deliver records in person, they should telephone the receiving practitioner before sending the records. Requesting feedback about the records is also a good idea, as this can generate useful information and help practitioners to refine their record-keeping in the future.


Good-quality nurseries maintain links with their children's new settings even after the children have left, by providing receiving practitioners with a contact name and telephone and inviting them to get in touch if they have any queries or concerns.

The key workers may also make a routine visit or phone call to the children's new setting. If necessary, they will follow this up with further visits or meetings with receiving staff to help them settle and get to know the child.


When a nursery admits a new child, staff should arrange for the parents and child to visit the setting and ensure that the child's designated key worker can give the family their undivided attention during the visit. If the child's records have not been received, staff should request them then.

Settings could also arrange a home visit, which provides a valuable opportunity for parents to ask questions and share information in a more intimate atmosphere. There, parents and practitioners are free from the distractions of the setting and the child will usually feel more relaxed and confident in the comfort of their own home. Practitioners should ensure that the home visit takes place at a time that is convenient for the parents.


* Fabian, Hilary and Dunlop, Aline-Wendy (eds) Transitions in the Early Years: Debating continuity and progression for children in early education (RoutledgeFalmer)

* Fabian, Hilary, Children Starting School: A guide to successful transitions and transfers for teachers and assistants (David Fulton)

* Bayley, Ros, and Featherstone, Sally, Smooth Transitions: Ensuring continuity in the Foundation Stage (Featherstone Education)


1 Do you have an agreed transition policy in place?

2 Are there effective communication systems in place between local settings to ensure a common approach to learning and smooth transitions for children?

3 Are programmes planned to enable children to visit new settings and new staff to visit children in their current setting?

4 Do children who leave or join your setting at irregular times during the year access the same quality of transition support as the cohort of children starting school in September?

5 How do practitioners ensure that they listen, and respond, to children's anxieties around transition to another setting?

6 How do key workers support each child in celebrating their time in the nursery setting?

7 Are all key workers clear about the requirements for the transfer of records?

8 How are parents and carers involved in the transition process?

9 Do the team offer follow-up support for children starting a new setting?

10 Does the team regularly review transition policies and procedures in consultation with parents and children?

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