Going back to school or college

Children in classChildren and young people are slowly starting to go back into school as ‘lockdown’ restrictions ease and life slow returns to some kind of normal. Many parents have been in touch with us to ask about transition and how they can support their child to return to school, especially around the move from primary to secondary school.

The information below aims to answer some of the questions that parents have been asking. DiAS is open and you can call and ask for advice and support if you need more information. Check out the contact us page for more details.

You can also find more Q and As about coronavirus, tips about how to manage at home, information about changes to the law around EHC plans and needs assessments and resources to support you and your child or young person with home learning, managing anxiety and understanding what’s happening.


What is transition?

Transition is when a child moves from one thing to another and during that move there is a change from one state to another. Some transitions are small such as the move from one lesson to another, from home to school or even from activity to activity. Other transitions are much bigger for children to manage, such as moving schools or moving from children’s services to adult ones 

In the current situation, some transitions will be harder than others for children to manage: 

  • Big transitions are those where your child is moving school, such as finishing primary school and moving to secondary school or going to a further education college. 
  • Tricky transitions are those where your child may be in the same school but moving onto a new stage, such as moving from year 5 to year 6 or from year 9 to year 10 and the start of work for GCSEs. 
  • Transitions for everyone. Whatever happens, all children will be moving into a new year in September and most children will be going back into school after time spent at home.  

Change is difficult for many children and young people to manage and for those with SEN it can be even more challenging. And the last few months have seen some of the biggest changes any of us have been through.  

You know yourself how unsettling, confusing and worrying life has become, so if you multiply that by 10 or 100 you’ll probably have an idea how your child is feeling.  

That said, at some point all children will make the move back into school or education and working with school or college staff, you will need to help them manage it as best they can.

What can I do to help and support my child as they go back into school?

The most important thing to do is to keep talking to staff at your child’s school or college. Tell them how things are and have been at home, what’s been positive and what has been a struggle. Stay in regular contact and tell them if your child’s needs have changed or you need more support. 

You can ask for your child’s school plan to be reviewed and updated before they go back. If they have an EHC plan, ask for a meeting to talk about what support can and can’t be provided in school. Work with staff to plan your child’s return to school, thinking about what they’re likely to be able to manage. Some children and young people may need a gradual return to school to make sure they settle back in as well as possible.  

Some of our local educational psychology services have been writing helpful information for schools and parents about how to support children whatever the transition. Here are some of their top tips for how you can help your child in the run up to going back to school: 

  • Involve your child or young person as much as possible in planning for going back to school and in some cases for getting back into learning. There are some tools to help you do that on the DiAS web pages.  
  • Find ways to celebrate your child’s achievements and successes, however small they are. Many children will have lost confidence in their abilities so you can help by boosting their self-esteem. They could make a book or scrapbook, keep a diary, or fill a box with the things they have made and memories of their achievements. 
  • Revisit and go over some of the things they knew well or did regularly and practice some of their skills. So, depending on their age, they could practice sports skills, revisit tying laces and using scissors, practice times tables and spellings, get in some typing practice or get themselves ready for bed on their own. 
  • Give them lots of structure and predictability. Try and follow a similar timetable to when they were going to school – get up at the same time, follow the same steps getting ready and having breakfast, have a similar bedtime routine and lights out. 
  • Help your child to share how they feel about going back to school. You can ask them to keep a journal, write a letter, draw a picture or record a video. Many children may have mixed feelings about going back to school – they may be looking forward to seeing friends but be worried about being away from you. Some may be scared to leave the house or may have enjoyed being at home and not want to go back to the formality and rules of school. 
  • Find out as much as you can about what it will be like in school and share that with them. Or ask your young person to find out and then talk about it with them. Many schools are sending out letters to students, making videos and sharing information. School will be different and will feel different and the more prepared your child is, the easier it’s likely to be.  
  • Help your child catch up with friends. If it works for your child, you could set up a video call or a socially distanced meet up so that they can talk to and see their friends before school starts. Chatting to other parents might help you to feel less anxious and more prepared too.  
  • When it gets closer to the day of going back in, practice your morning routine as if you’re going to school or college. Get their uniform out and ask them to try it on – lots of children will have grown upwards (and outwards) over the last few months so make sure it fits! 
  • For younger children (and older one where it’s helpful) you can arrange for your child to take a small transitional object with them from home. This can help them remember that you’re thinking about them. They could take a special toy, a photograph, a key ring or something of yours that smells like you, such as a squirt of perfume on a hankie. 

My child is due to go to secondary school in September and I’m worried about the plans for their move. What can I do?

The first thing to say is that you’re not alone. Many parents and children are worried about the move to a new school and a new stage in their lives especially during such difficult times. This move is a big one and this year it’s going to look and feel different for both schools and students.  

It might help to think about transition as a journey that’s going to take time. There are many things you can do to prepare your child before they start at the new school. Then you will be supporting them in the first few days and weeks and after that, helping them to feel settled and safe throughout the whole of year seven. A successful transition that works well will set the tone for the rest of their time at secondary school.  

Talk to school staff about transition for your child now  

A woman expressing her opinion in a meetingIf you haven’t had direct contact with the SENCO or staff at the new school about the support that will be in place for your child, ask for a meeting. Ask staff at your child’s current school to be involved too, such as their class teacher, TA and SENCO.  

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to meet face to face, but you can ask for a video or telephone call or talk by email if that is better for you. Ask to discuss your child’s transition, what their needs are and what kind of support they’re likely to find helpful. If you need help to do that you can talk to the staff at your child’s current school or contact us for advice.  

Before the meeting, be as prepared as you can. If your child has an EHC plan, go through it and make notes of the main things they will need help with. So, for example, if your child finds relationships with others difficult, they’re likely to need to support to meet key staff and make new friends. If organisation and planning are challenging, they may need extra support finding their way around or need to make use of breakfast club to get organised before school starts. 

If your child doesn’t have an EHC plan, ask for a copy of their school plan or make your own list of the areas where they will need support. All secondary schools do enhanced transitions for children with special educational needs where extra support is planned for each child. 

Transitions are in two parts and it’s important to prepare for both  

Your child is leaving one school and going to another and the ending of one school life is as important as the beginning of the next one. That means remembering and celebrating the things that happened in primary school and what life was like there, as well as preparing for a new start 

The end of year six is usually full of activities that help children do just that – leavers church services and assemblies, the last sports day, having year six leaver’s hoodies, having social time together, putting on a play or writing a yearbook. They’re all ways of helping children move on in a positive way and are part of their transition. Ask the school staff how they will be helping year six students to do this in a different way this year. You can also talk to other parents to see if there are ways to help celebrate or mark the end of primary school. 

For many children with SEND, the staff at primary school and the relationships that have with them are hugely important too. Saying goodbye to teaching assistants, teaching and support staff is likely to be very hard for some children, especially where those relationships are long standing or close. Some schools ask teaching assistants to write cards, postcards and memory books with their students as well as going on school visits where possible, before and after they move to their new school. 

You can also ask the new school if your child can be in the same class as a friend. Many schools will try and do this if it’s possible 

What kind of things are schools and colleges doing to help with transitions?

These are strange times and the staff at schools and colleges are having to think differently about how they prepare children and young people for transitions.

These are some of the things we have heard about: 

  • Staff from secondary schools are going out to primary schools to talk to year six students, following guidelines on social distancing.
  • Year seven students are being involved in providing interactive and virtual support for year six students, in a similar way to being a mentor for them.
  • Staff from primary schools are sharing information with secondary schools about all students and their needs. Many will need extra or different support from what may have been planned before.  
  • Year six students are writing pupil passports or profiles which tell new staff more about themselves and what they’re looking forward to, what helps them learn or what they’re are worried about. 
  • A small number of children with SEND are doing visits to secondary schools with their parents or their TA to meet key staff and start to find their way around the school. 
  • Some children are having video and telephone calls and emails with new staff to start to get to know them. 
  • Some colleges are contacting all students with SEND individually to ask what kind of support they will need in September. 
  • Some young people are being asked to go back into college to finish their courses. 
  • Many schools are offering virtual tours and creating films address concerns and to allow staff introduce themselves and their subject areas.  
  • Some schools will be bringing students in gradually when term starts in September to help them settle in more easily. 
  • Pastoral support staff and support services like counsellors will be on hand to support students as needed too. 
  • Some schools are creating and using social stories to help children and young people understand what is happening, what the new school arrangements are and how things might be different.      

I’m worried that my child will have fallen behind and won’t be able to manage when they get back to school.

Every child will have had different experiences of being at home instead of school. Some will have thrived having one to one time with parents and none of the stresses of school, whereas other will have found it much more challenging. Every child stopped being in school at the same point and not every child will have been able to do all or even any of the learning provided. Teachers and support staff know this and won’t be expecting children and young people to just step back into school as it was. 

‘Lockdown’ has been stressful for everyone and every child will have been affected in some way. The focus for school staff will be on emotional and mental health and well-being and helping children and young people manage all the change. It’s going to take time to adjust. Teachers are likely to go over old ground first to make sure children feel confident and are back into a learning and school mindset before starting on anything new. 

If you’re worried about any part of your child’s development or learning, talk to staff before your child returns to school, or contact us for advice. 

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Page published 10 June 2020 Reviewed regularly