Supporting transition during the academic year


How can staff support pupils who are moving schools outside the usual transition points? Sue Cowley identifies some ways of providing the link between the old and the new setting and considers elective home education in particular.


  • A number of traditional transition arrangements might be adapted for mid-year moves.
  • Schools should take time to evaluate the transition process when a child leaves.
  • Increases in elective home education mean that schools should be prepared for how to support pupils and parents during the transition.

Moving from one setting to another can be a stressful process for children and their families. Traditionally, we tend to think of transitions as taking place at specific points in a child’s educational career, such as:

  • the move from the home to an early years setting
  • the move from the early years setting into a primary school
  • the move from primary to secondary (or between first/middle/upper schools)
  • the move into further/post-compulsory education or into the workplace.

While settings are usually well placed to deal with the normal transition points, there can be some confusion about how best to approach a child who is leaving or joining a setting part way through the academic year, and particularly when they are moving to elective home education (EHE). This article looks at some of the issues surrounding transition and particularly a move to be home educated.

The transition process

There are many tried and tested methods for supporting transition, with a two-way flow of information being one of the keys to success. For instance, home visits for children entering an early years setting are very useful. These allow the family to get to know the practitioners/teachers and for important information to be shared in the safe home environment.

Visits to the new setting are also vital, so that the child and the family start to feel comfortable with the space and learn their way around. Many schools run a series of induction or transition events during the Summer term, and at the start of the academic year, to support this process. Where a child is moving settings mid-year, a similar series of visits prior to the transition could be arranged.

Many additional arrangements are made to support transition at the conventional times. All of these could be adopted in some way as a strategy for a child moving mid-term.

  1. Many primary and secondary schools do ongoing partnership work on joint arts and sporting projects, for instance running a festival where pupils from both the secondary and the local feeder primaries participate.
  2. Schools might also share advice via email to help parents understand how to get their child organised and to ease any concerns.
  3. A number of schools now run peer mentoring projects where older children support their younger schoolmates as they join a new setting.
  4. Joint ‘transition topics’ where the child begins work on a subject in one setting and this is then passed on to the new setting and continued beyond the transition.

It is worth bearing in mind that one setting’s transition is another setting’s settling-in process. Both aspects of the transition need to be solid and well thought through to be as smooth as possible for the child, so you will need to work in close partnership with the new/old setting.

Evaluating your transition processes

A useful way to evaluate the effectiveness of your provision, and to look particularly at your work around transitions, is to use a leavers’ questionnaire. This is a key tool for reflection, because it offers you an insight into what parents or carers most valued about your setting. It also allows you to address any concerns that they had and it gives you a chance to identify how well your procedures around transition are working. You can find a sample leavers’ questionnaire in the toolkit Form – Sample leavers’ questionnaire.

Academic progress

Although there is rightly a focus on supporting children’s emotional well-being at points of transition, it is also important to consider how you can ensure a smooth handover in terms of academic progress.

It is known to be the case that academic attainment tends to dip at transition points. This can simply be to do with the child getting used to a new setting; however, it can also be because of differing expectations between one setting and the next, because of a lack of information.

Where the child feels that the work is repetitive, or where the level of challenge is not sufficiently high, this might even lead to disaffection. Finding ways to share examples of classroom work is vital. For instance, sending on a portfolio of best work to the new setting or to the home, if the child is moving to be electively home educated, is really beneficial.

Elective home education (EHE)

A recent survey from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) found a significant increase in the number of families opting to home educate their children. The survey estimated that over 57,000 children and young people were being home schooled across England, with an increase of around 27% in the numbers in a single year. 

The survey looked at the background to what has been going on and suggests some reasons for the increase. One respondent to the survey noted that, ‘All too often the “suggestion” of home education has been offered as a solution to ease the parental stress when they are emotionally vulnerable and under threat of warnings from attendance and welfare officers or head teachers and behaviour support.’

The DfE has recently updated its guidance to local authorities and schools on the subject of EHE. It notes that there are concerns about the ‘very significant increase in the number of children being educated at home’ in recent years and also that ‘there is considerable evidence that many of these children are not receiving a suitable education’.

The guidance identifies some of the reasons why parents might choose to home educate; for instance, for religious, cultural or philosophical reasons, or because of concerns around bullying or about their child’s mental health.

EHE and Ofsted

EHE has also come under the spotlight from Ofsted, in a study into moves from secondary schools to home education. Ofsted has made it clear that inspectors are going to be looking closely at movement off a school’s roll, particularly in Key Stage 4, and that they will check for the accurate use of attendance codes.

In its survey into EHE, Ofsted noted that it is ‘concerned about increasing evidence that home education can be a last resort for some families when relationships have broken down between schools and children’.

It made a series of recommendations in its study, including for schools and local authorities to develop clear processes for working together once a parent’s intention to home educate is known.

Ofsted has warned that, if a school wrote a letter to remove a child to home education on behalf of a parent, this may be evidence of off-rolling. The study also suggested that it would be good practice for schools to provide parents with children’s previous classwork.

Missing children

In an annual series of blogs entitled ‘Who’s Left’, the organisation FFT Education Datalab explores concerns around the number of children who appear to have left full-time education but are somehow missing from official statistics. As it points out: ‘the pupils who count in a school’s GCSE results and who get counted in national statistics, are those who remain on-roll when the school census is carried out in January of Year 11’.

In ‘Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions’, the Education Select Committee looked into alternative provision, and at issues around inclusion, exclusion and off-rolling. It was suggested that a way to discourage this could be for all pupils who have spent time at a school to count towards results.

The Select Committee noted that: ‘Retaining a degree of responsibility would reduce the attractiveness of off-rolling as a way of schools to wash their hands of pupils who will bring down their Progress 8 score.’

The role of the local authority

The local authority has various duties in relation to EHE. These include having a written policy statement, setting aside resources to support parents who choose to EHE and offering guidance to parents. From September 2016, the Pupil Registration regulations were amended so that the local authority must now be informed of all deletions from the admission register when this takes place at a non-standard transition time (i.e. not at the end of a term or school year).

Ofsted inspectors are likely to ask local authorities about withdrawal rates at schools and whether action has been taken to identify patterns and a suitable response. Schools are required to respond reasonably to any request from the local authority for any information it has about the reasons for withdrawal.

Whatever the reason for transition, schools and their local authorities have a clear duty to ensure that the actions taken are in the best interests of the child.

Further information


Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

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About Author

Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley is a writer, presenter, teacher educator and author of 30 books on education. After qualifying as a teacher with a first class BEd (Hons), she taught in primary and secondary schools and overseas. Sue’s international bestseller Getting the Buggers to Behave has been translated into ten languages and is a set text at many universities. Her best selling guide for NQTs How to Survive your First Year in Teaching has been in print for 20 years. She now works internationally as a teacher trainer and presenter. Website: email:

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