Supporting transitions with mobile families
The ‘Transitions’ model
STEP’s research on effective transitions for families from mobile cultures showed that smooth transition to, between and beyond schools relies on the ‘readiness’ of all those involved in the transition process. Building on these ideas, our model outlines strategies central to achieving ‘readiness’.
Gradual familiarisation is the key to achieving school ‘readiness’ for pupils from mobile cultures. Where most settled pupils will be surrounded by a culture of going to the local school, young people from mobile cultures may be the first in their families to make these transitions and they may have to learn new social practices, behaviours, rules, and learning styles. Approaches should aim to build gradual connections. Provide opportunities for pupils to meet school staff or other pupils informally, participate in school-type activities, rehearse social practices but show flexibility until the pupil is ‘school ready’.
Parental involvement in transitions is essential. Positive relationships between the school and home will reassure pupils. Parents and carers from mobile communities are likely to have heightened concerns about children’s safety, social relationships and whether their children will be treated fairly. Provide opportunities for parents to meet staff, voice their concerns, and address specific issues well in advance. Share school inclusion strategies in formats that parents understand, and maintain regular dialogue in the lead up to transitions. Be aware that there may be tensions within families with some members viewing school more positively than others.
Many strategies can be adopted to improve the ‘readiness’ of educational settings and prepare staff for engaging highly mobile families. The ‘readiness’ of an educational setting is achieved by adopting three key approaches: (i) a whole-school approach where schools adopt a clear transition framework, a positive culture, consistent teaching and relevant curriculum, (ii) outreach to improve and support family access and engagement with education, and (iii) targeted programmes for early intervention, to foster school ‘readiness’ and target specific barriers such as family literacy.
What is ‘readiness’?
Although an important aspect of school ‘readiness’ is being ready for learning, there are also other factors to consider. Many mobile families ‘ have little to no experience of formal education’ (McKinney, 2001; Padfield, 2005), meaning that children and parents can feel overwhelmed by many aspects of schooling. Our broad view of ‘readiness’, considers (i) children having tools for learning in the formal context of school (rather than within the family), (ii) children being prepared for school life (including negotiating the physical environment, new peer relationships and routines), and (iii) families, schools and communities having the knowledge, capacity and strategies to support children’s formal schooling (Jordan, 2000; Kagan, 1990; National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement HHS; Parker et al. 1999; UNICEF 2012).
Targeted programmes to support pupil and family ‘readiness’
Chicago’s Staying Put’ project aimed to address some of the challenges in elementary schools experiencing high mobility and poor levels of achievement. The main challenges were disruption to young people’s class routines and interruptions to their learning. Some highly mobile students were almost a year behind in academic progress. The project dealt with frequent transitions by using resources to prompt reflection. “My Best Year” folders were distributed to students and parctitioners documented all achievements and learning content to help with school transfers. A checklist titled, “Don’t Leave School Without It” emphasises the importance of parents’ roles during transitions. It describes paying extra attention to the child’s schoolwork, or helping to adjust to new subjects, textbooks, and timetables.
Parents and teachers are more aware of the issues arising from transitions and have accessible resources and information to help support children during the process.
This transition programme based in rural New South Wales responded to an extremely high proportion of Aboriginal/Indigenous school enrolments, high rates of mobility, and limited access to preschool settings. The focus of the programme was to support transitions through family learning. Key strategies included: using culturally-appropriate tools for assessment at entry into Kindergarten, home visits, and employing Aboriginal Education Workers who were trained in topics such as transitions and cross-cultural awareness. Parents were advised on literacy, learning, numeracy and health issues. Parents and the wider community were all encouraged to participate in the planning, delivery and evaluation of the program.
All participating children entered preschool the following year. There was an improvement in parents’ ability to support children’s literacy and (pre)school ‘readiness’ in literacy and numeracy. Following one term of school, the children’s talking, listening, reading and writing matched that of non-Indigenous children (i.e. targeting gap in learning). The Aboriginal community also became more involved in school activities.
Innovative communication with parents
This piece of research from the USA reviewed effective transition programmes for pupils entering into middle school and High school. Strategies involved providing different modes of communicating information to families. Examples included presenting an “Introduction to Middle School” program using video, chat groups, and a visual handbook. Many aspects of school routines were explained in practical ways instead of giving written instructions. Young people received their school locker access combination prior to starting school and were invited to practice using it during an informal visit.
Information was accessible to those with poor literacy or unfamiliarity with the national language. There was a decrease in dropout rates. There was recognition that effective transitions required adaptable planning from teachers and school management. Support needs to be informational and tangible, and be provided by parents, peers and teachers.
Continuity through technology
This programme implemented by Penyrheol Comprehensive School in Wales targeted Occupational Traveller families and used digital technology to support continuity of learning during periods of travel. Pupils were provided with laptops with Wifi access for periods of mobility. A staff member maintained email contact and ensured that completed work in all subjects was forwarded electronically, to agreed deadlines.
The programme allowed the students to maintain continuity in learning and contact with friends. This was invaluable in ensuring a smooth return after long periods of absence. On the whole, the strategy was considered a success. On account of the successful impact of the pilot on pupils’ achievement and social skills, the school planned to make similar provisions for all other pupils from Occupational Traveller families in the future.
Create a 'Transitions Council'
Swansea Comprehensive School in Wales implemented innovative strategies to improve transitions for Occupational Traveller pupils. The main challenge for families and the school was that pupils were out of the area during summer causing problems with transition between Year 6 and Year 7. A ‘Transitions Council’ comprising of representatives from all feeder Primary schools was created. Meeting every six weeks, they addressed a range of issues that the representatives voiced on behalf of their peers.
The Transitions Council had a positive impact on Year 6 attitudes to transition. The school has also included its Year 10 Occupational Traveller pupils on the Transition Council.
Improving familiarity with school practices
This Canadian ‘EvenStart’ programme aimed to familiarise parents and children with school. It took the form of a half-day summer session for children starting school who had no experience of nursery or out-of-school care. The activities improved ‘readiness’ by exposing children to various aspects of school life and by developing literacy and social competencies. Activities familiarised children with school structures and routines such as how to follow teachers’ instructions, socialise with other children, learn to take turns, be around unfamiliar adults, and how to express feelings.
The children benefited from familiarisation with school rules, and learned essential skills for navigating school culture. Families from the programme were more likely to transition smoothly to school and sustain attendance.