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Teaching assistant > Transition

Dealing with transition – helping pupils cope with change

Elaine Hunt

Elaine Hunt works as the school workforce development adviser for support staff at Medway Council. Here she talks about transition, what it means to pupils and the role support staff play in making this an easier time for them.

There is a no more daunting time in school life then the first day of school for pupils. In my role I am fortunate to be able to witness some of the great practice teaching assistants and HLTAs contribute to school life.

We all remember our first experiences in a new school or new class, but the difference between happy memories and horror stories can be often be put down to the way the staff manage the transition process and get the basics right.

What is transition?

When talking about transition, we primarily mean the move pupils make in September from one school to another (usually infants to juniors, or primary to secondary), or to a new year group or class, and all the emotions and insecurities this can bring.

It’s also important to remember that transition can be any time of change for the child, such as loss of a loved one, family break ups, new siblings and/or step- parents… all transitions are about the process of change.

Helping children and young people to understand change and the emotions that accompany it, will go a long way to enabling them to adapt positively to the many transitions they encounter as they grow up.

How does transition affect pupils?

It is important to remember that transition has a big impact on pupils’ ability to think and learn.

A popular model to show why this is can be found as part of the Social and Emotional Aspects for Learning (SEAL) programme for schools, which is based on the basic needs that have to be met in any human being before successful learning can be achieved.

These are:

  • To be fed, sheltered and warm
  • To be safe
  • To be cared for and belong
  • To be valued by others and ourselves
  • To learn and be the best we can

Working with pupils to understand these needs shows them it’s OK to be uncomfortable with change and helps address the causes in order to feel better about it.

15 mins KS1/2 PSHE - SEAL
A look at the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning

What can support staff do to help?

The SEAL programme encourages activities that get the pupils talking about their feelings. At primary level, for example, using circle or group time can encourage children to think of both good and bad changes in life and help them to express their feelings.

You can then offer reassurance that it’s normal to feel threatened by a change because it’s human nature to challenge things, but it’s also human nature to adapt and deal with changes the best we.

Once children see that they are not the only ones with worries and that all kinds of people have all kinds of worries, they will start to feel less insecure.

To start this process, a lot of TAs use social stories, giving an example of an event in their own life when they were in a similar situation as the pupil and explaining how they felt and what they did or what happened that made it OK.

Vicky Elkins, Teaching Assistant at Elaine Primary School in Strood, says one of the most helpful tools she uses for nursery stage is to take photos of places around school and the classroom for pupils to take home and talk about with their parents/carers or other classmates.

Familiarisation with what school looks like and where to find people and certain items builds up confidence in children to help them feel more equipped to deal with the new situation and environment.

Let them know your expectations

Much of the fear associated with change is actually the fear of the unknown. What to do, how to do it and who to ask, knowing what is expected of us is so important.

As teaching and learning assistants, part of this role is to reinforce rules or to adapt lesson objectives to the group or individual pupils so they know what they are doing and how they can achieve it.

Being clear in your own behaviour management and consistency across the school gives pupils clear boundaries.

Encouraging pupils to ask if they are not sure is also a vital role of the TA. It’s something we might take for granted but lots of children are afraid to ask in case they are told off.

Help them make friends

Friends are so important at school, and as TAs you’re in the ideal position to help children with those first awkward introductions or to be a friendly ear.

In many cases, children feel more comfortable talking to a TA or other members of support staff than the teacher. They might tell you they are finding it difficult to decide who to approach to be their friend or that a group will not accept them.

Your experience and knowledge of the pupils and school will help you guide them towards someone with similar interests or background or an after-school club that they would enjoy.

Sometimes it’s just about having someone else to ask ‘can I join in with you?’

What are the signs that children are troubled by transition?

They might exhibit a change in personality, become quiet, moody, withdrawn and sad. They could be sensitive and act anxious when usually they are chatty, happy and lively.

They may come across very confident and overly self-assured when perhaps they are quite scared about the transition.

You might notice a lack of concentration, distraction leading to lesson work suffering or even purposeful sabotage of achievements.

As TA, it is a good idea to use your closeness to particular, perhaps more vulnerable pupils, in order to keep a close eye on changes in behaviour and keep a working log of changes or behaviour which you can use to feedback to concerned parents and teachers.

Share your concerns

Communicate with your colleagues, talk to the family liaison officer or home school support worker and your class teacher if you have any concerns.

Not only will they have tips to use in the classroom for specific children or behaviour types but they can also make sure that the progress you achieve with the child or young person extends to outside the classroom, supporting them both at school and home.

It’s this attention to small detail that teaching and learning support staff excel at and this makes the world of difference to the children and young people they work with.

For more information and ideas:

15 mins Primary/Secondary Transition
Part of the series Get Physical (Secondary)
Ensuring positive transitions from primary to secondary
15 mins Secondary Special Needs - SEN Pupils in Transition
How one school meets the needs of present and future SEN pupils
15 mins Transition from Primary
Part of the series Secondary Pastoral Care
What one head of year does to ease the transition to secondary