'School readiness' is only part of transition

Dr Karen Wickett, lecturer in early childhood studies at Plymouth Institute of Education, says that children's need to adjust to school should not be forgotten

Over the past few weeks many four-year-olds have moved either from an Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) setting, or from home to start the school reception class.  Prior to starting school, parents and ECEC practitioners have prepared these children for this institutional transition.

A recent study found that the preparations had included supporting the children to become familiar with the skills, knowledge and behaviours associated with school as well as fostering their personal and social skills and positive dispositions and attitudes to change (Wickett, 2016).  In the study, parents explained that, generally, they and their children were excited about starting school.  Despite these preparations and the general excitement of starting school, not all children have a successful transition to school (Brooker, 2008). 

Globally, academics acknowledge that this transition is a key experience during children’s early years, which can contribute significantly to their future success at school (Educational Transitions and Change (ECT) Research Group, 2011).  This understanding has led politicians to view the transition to school with particular interest. 

In England, changes to the EYFS in 2012 reflected this interest as the framework aims to ‘promotes teaching and learning to ensure children’s "school readiness" (DfE, 2014: 5)'.  This suggests that ‘school ready’ children are more likely to be prepared and capable for school learning and have a successful transition. 

The focus on children’s readiness for school can lead to an emphasis on the phase of preparation, which shortens the transition. The preparations during this phase often lead to the practices of formal learning trickling down into the ECEC setting. Also, from the readiness perspective, each stage of education is viewed as a preparation for the next stage.However, the preparation of children is only one phase of the transition. 

After the move to the reception class there is a phase of adjustment. When adjusting to school, children are learning to make sense of ‘differences and discontinuities’ (Margetts, 2002:105) that they encounter in the new context. For instance, reading and listening to a story at home and in the ECEC setting looks and feels very different to reading and listening to a story as a member of a reception class.

Adjusting and adapting to school will often take time, as children learn about their role as a school pupil (Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta 2000). The emphasis on children’s ‘school readiness’, mentioned above, can position the children who take time to adjust to school as not being ready for school. This can lead to a degree of blame being placed on those preparing the child. However, when viewing the transition to school as a longer process that includes phases of preparation for school, and adjustment to school, the child may be seen in a very different light.  

Children that succeed in adjusting to school offer insights into what features can best support the adjustment process and successful transition. It is generally acknowledged that children who are more likely to adjust to, and be successful at school are those whose home experiences are reflected, or are similar to, those in the school context (Ball, 2003). 

The children who find adjusting to school difficult are those where there is a ‘mismatch between what students have learned in their home cultures and what is required of them at school’ (Bransford et al, 1999, cited in Engeström et al, 2002:60). 

Moreover, the difficulties that children have in adjusting to school may be exacerbated if the learning and experiences the children have had whilst attending the ECEC setting are also not reflected in the school. 

Instead of purely focusing on children’s preparation and readiness for the next stage of school. this discussion highlights that the phase of adjustment should also be acknowledged as part of the transition.

During the phase of adjustment, parents, ECEC practitioners and teachers can support children’s adjustment, by making links between the contexts that the children move between.

Practices to establish these links would include establishing and developing collaborative relationships between parents, ECEC practitioners and teachers throughout the phases of transition. These relationships will promote sharing and listening to each other’s views and experiences with the child and using these understandings when planning the child’s various environments. 

During this collaborative process it is more likely that there will be similarities in the expectations and experiences in each of the contexts. An interpretation of the EYFS (DfE, 2014) would enable these practices as a guiding principle of the statutory framework are ‘positive relationships’ (DfE, 2014).

Finally, by emphasising the phase of adjustment and associated practices those working in the reception class can then resist the pressure of preparing children for Year 1 before they and the children have adjusted to the new environment.



Ball, S. J. (2003). Class Strategies and the Education Market:The middle class and social advantage. London: Routledge Falmer.

Brooker,  L. (2008). Supporting Transitions in the Early Years.Maidenhead: Open University Press

Department for Education (2014). "Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five". DfE: Cheshire.

Educational Transitions and Change Research Group (2011). Transition to school: Position statement Albury-Wodonga: Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education. Albury  NSW:Charles Sturt University.

Engeström Y., Engeström,  R. and Suntio, A. (2002) ‘Can a School Community Learn to Master Its Own Future? An Activity-Theoretical Study of Expansive Learning Among Middle School Teachers’ in Wells, G., and Claxton, G. (ed) Learning for Life in the 21st Century. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Margetts, K. (2002). ‘Transition to school - Complexity and diversity’, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 10(2).

Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., and Pianta, R. C. (2000). ‘An Ecological Perspective on the Transition to Kindergarten: A Theoretical Framework to Guide Empirical Research’,  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21(5), 491 - 511.


Wickett, K. (2016) Beliefs and Relationships during Children’s Transition to School: Parents, Practitioners and Teachers. Plymouth Univiersity: doctoral thesis

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