Transitions toolkit

Transitions toolkit

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’.

Pupil 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’.

Family readiness

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.

School readiness

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’

Transition resources


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.


Parental involvement


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.


Find a contact in your area

Find a contact in your area

Find a contact in your area

Find contacts with responsibility for Gypsy/Traveller and Roma pupil and family education throughout Scotland.

Click on the red pins to find contact information.

More detail from some local authorities.

Toolkit: Developing family learning programmes with mobile families

Toolkit: Developing family learning programmes with mobile families

Toolkit: Developing family learning programmes with mobile families

We learned lots of new words together on our trip to the Botanics.

We were learning to cook and speak at the time time!

We taught each other recipes to try at English and Slovak!

I learned how to help the wee ones to learn when we were doing the activities.

Amelia showed us how to learn from all the signs we could see from an open-top bus.

Counting the fish, describing the fish, and naming the fish!

We didn't realise how much we were learning to read while we were doing the activities.

STEP’s research into mobile family literacy showed that many adults from mobile communities have poor literacy and their children are known to have some of the lowest levels of literacy and educational attainment in the country.  The main reasons are due to mobility causing interruptions to education – for example – some families are recently arrived in the country, while others have no tradition of schooling.  Where English is an additional language, adults can be left behind while children absorb the new languages more successfully. Families may be unable to communicate with schools and other services, resulting in social isolation. When parents are unable to provide support at home, children’s learning and engagement with formal education can be affected. Studies have shown that shared family literacy activity can impact positively on literacy levels for both parents and children.  However, given the private nature of many mobile communities’ lives, it can be difficult to gain understanding of how families might engage with programmes to support their literacy.  STEP collaborated with families to discover what prevents engagement and what can be done to improve learning partnerships.


STEP co-ordinated three pilot programmes in different locations across Scotland with families from mobile cultures. The aim was to identify ways to engage families in sustainable learning programmes with a particular emphasis on literacy. Participants included Slovakian mothers in a primary school in Glasgow, three Gypsy/Traveller families with non-attending children living on a Travellers’ site, and a group of  five Gypsy/Traveller mothers and their pre-school children living on a local authority site.  The programme sought to use approaches to programme delivery that would be relevant and meaningful to each specific community.  For this reason, the structure and content of each pilot programme was designed in collaboration with participating families.  Early consultation was achieved through a range of methods such as informal social gatherings and practical activity sessions.


Families described a range of factors which  affected their participation in school life, their ability to support their children’s learning and engage in the wider community.  We found that different groups and individuals identified very different obstacles. However, our research showed that the greatest barrier faced by the majority of families was language.  By addressing any barriers well in advance, measures can be taken to ensure equity of opportunity for all participants.



Parents, for whom English was not their native language, faced frequent obstacles to engaging or accessing services due to language barriers and inability to communicate their concerns.  Women, in particular, are highly vulnerable to exclusion due to their low education and English language levels.  Where, children and husbands have reasonable exposure to the wider community, women described their opportunities as limited through maternal responsibilities and low literacy – resulting in social isolation. Women also felt apprehensive about seeking language learning courses because of their low language levels which made researching and approaching services intimidating without the presence of a translator.  Their confidence was low due to language proficiency and therefore did not approach school staff with concerns, and did not participate in school life including school trips, events and parents evenings.


Many parents were concerned about their reading and writing ability even when sessions were designed to address literacy issues. They felt embarrassment in front of other parents, teachers and particularly their children – if they were involved.  Poor literacy also prevented them finding out about other literacy support services in the area meaning that many of the women relied on ‘word of mouth’ communication.  Some also felt apprehensive about taking first steps to join groups as they were worried about registration processes due to limited literacy.


Following periods of travel, families said they often felt like ‘outsiders’ as their constant mobility didn’t allow them to become part of a school community.  Some also felt that the school community didn’t understand or share their enthusiasm for a mobile cultural lifestyle.


Families felt that practical factors were not considered and often stood in the way of engagement. Session times often conflicted with childcare, family or work commitments. Sometimes venues felt unfamiliar or intimidating, particularly if they were outwith the immediate community.


Factors relating to families’ culture and traditions can affect engagement.  Sometimes participation outwith the home or culture is disapproved of by others.  Programmes which lack cultural references or traditions may be viewed as having little relevance to the families’ everyday lives.

Previous negative experiences

Some participants said that negative experiences of education in the past put them off getting involved in family programmes.

Lack of awareness

Many families, especially those from Slovakia, said it was difficult to find out about education services that are available to them. Many were unable to read local notices or access the information via the internet. There was also no expectation as they were unused to such services in their country of origin.


The family pilot programmes produced useful knowledge which has informed templates for future work.

A framework for programme delivery

By working with a range of different participants, it became clear that there were four necessary stages to engaging mobile families in learning programmes. The stages were identified as: Engage, Consult, Co-produce and Sustain. This led to STEP’s ‘Framework for effective family learning programmes’, which is described in more detail below.

Considerations on content

Continuous evaluation revealed that programme content was effective when it met the following criteria:

  • Sessions were informal, flexible and family-led
  • Discussion and planning processes were culturally and contextually relevant
  • Activities were designed to include active participation and creative processes
  • Sessions resulted in tangible, useful resources such as a bilingual cookbook
  • Families could see the value in what they learned i.e. transferable skills and children’s activities that could be extended and replicated in the home

As a result of this research, STEP developed the ‘six dimensions for learning’ for Making learning relevant for mobile communities.  The model aims to support practitioners design relevant and engaging learning opportunities for mobile young people and their families.


Programme benefits for schools and families

The programme outcomes proved the benefits of the approaches for both families and educators. The programme demonstrated that:

  • Families were willing to engage with family education programmes, particularly when initial barriers were shared and accepted.
  • Parents took great pride in being able to get involved in their children’s education and express their interest and concerns.  Often they needed initial support to do this.
  • On the whole parents were willing to share the challenges of their own literacy development, if done in a secure and trusting environment.  This was particularly successful when the opportunity arose as part of another initiative, such as a craft workshop.
  • Adults were particularly keen to learn strategies to allow them to support their children’s learning at home. Digital media was embraced as useful for intergenerational learning.
  • New and positive relationships developed between school staff and parents as a consequence of the programme. Although families were initially reluctant to engage with other services (e.g. nursery, library, language courses), as the programmes developed, and they became more familiar with staff, they felt confident to pursue other routes.



The framework for effective programmes with families

1 Engage

Reach out, draw on other community initiatives for initial contact.

Visit sites and use Traveller educators (TENET) to broker relations.

Do research and show awareness of Travellers’ cultural values and traditions.

Address practical barriers to initial engagement such as transport, childcare or translators.

Build trust – be transparent with information, demonstrate democratic relationships and discuss long term commitment.

2 Consult

Provide opportunities for families to share motivations, prior experiences, knowledge and skills and discuss how to build on them.

If trust has been established, draw on the expertise of other professionals, such as health, early years, local businesses.

Use accessible and creative forms of communication, eg. oral and visual methods can build rapport.

Demonstrate that all views are taken on board.

3 Co-produce

Use participant-led approaches – invite people to take different roles.

Adopt needs-based design – families should decide what is relevant and how it should be delivered.

Consider both cultural and personal input that is engaging, useful and transferable.

Work with familiar facilitators, particularly those known to communities.

Adopt a responsive programme structure – welcome new families, and adapt content as confidence and skills develop.

4 Sustain

Empower participants – embed leadership roles at early stages.

Focus on transferable skills that will also be useful in the home learning environment.

Produce useful and tangible resources that can be shared.

Ensure transparency so that families can see the benefit for themselves and other family members.

Broker relationships and form networks with wider community to sustain projects and offer new learning pathways.

How the framework was applied

1 Engage

One school created personalised invitations to a family session. The invitations were translated into families’ native languages. They were also sent by post as the school was mindful that families may not have access to the internet.

Another programme was held in a Gypsy/Traveller site portacabin for convenience. The Education Officer visited the caravans individually and told families about the sessions.

2 Consult

All of the sessions began with creative and familiar activities such as cake decorating. This allowed natural conversation to flow, provided opportunities for parents to share views on learning needs, and enabled facilitators to consult with participants about their interests and expectations.

To feel most at ease when sharing views and experiences, two of the groups decided they only wanted mums to attend.

3 Co-produce

Families planned programmes that would have both cultural and personal relevance. For instance, some mothers were keen to learn English – solving many day-to-day challenges.  They were keen that words and phrases taught met their own routines such as liaising with schools and using public transport.

Parents wanted some sessions to be split into two, providing opportunities to learn on their own before being joined by children.

4 Sustain

Participants created things that they could share with their families at home such as a recipe book, craft objects and e-stories. Participants’ confidence grew throughout the project, as skills developed and opinions were valued.

They took ownership of programmes – running groups, organising cultural trips, and seeking new learning opportunities in school and in the local community.

Participants’ views

I look forward to coming here and having coffee and a chat.  I look forward to every Friday!  It’s so fun and I feel committed to it. I’m honoured to be around english speaking ladies. I feel I’m always learning.

Magda, parent participant

I see a change in the parents and the school. The mums are more involved and more confident. They’re getting involved in school trips and events. There’s a completely different ethos in school.  It’s very positive.

Head Teacher

The biggest barrier to doing things in the community is the language….reading, writing, speaking.  We only know basics…which doesn’t help with serious issues. For example, when we get mail, we don’t know what it is.

Ana, parent participant

10 things you need to know about the law and education

10 things you need to know about the law and education

10 things you need to know about the law and education

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Produced in partnership between STEP, TENET and Govan Law Centre. This poster reflects the legal position as at 1 January 2016. Please be aware that changes to the law, either legislative or judicial may have affected the information contained since then.

Written by Govan Law Centre (GLC) with funding from  the Third Sector Early Intervention Fund, a joint initiative of the Scottish Government and the Big Fund in Scotland. GLC is a Scottish Charity SC030193. The information provided is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem or legal question you should contact a solicitor. You should not rely on the information above to resolve specific legal problems or answer specific legal questions.

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