Current research on Transitions to School

The transitions from home to early childhood education and onto school are important milestones for both children and families. The transition into school is especially significant as “readiness” for school is predictive of long-term academic and occupational achievement. 


A child’s ability to transition successfully to school depends upon their own personal characteristics (e.g., temperament, personality), parent characteristics (e.g., attitudes to school, maternal education) and community characteristics (e.g., accessibility and quality of local services).


In Australia, the transition to school is likely to be more challenging for children from financially disadvantaged families, Indigenous families, families with children who have a disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families and those in the out of home care sector.


Children from these backgrounds are also less likely to attend an early childhood education and care service before they start school, which many of our foster children have also missed out. 


For children, successful transitions into and from the early learning environment can be facilitated by a range of approaches such as assisting children to understand the routines and practices of the settings they are transitioning into. During both the transition to early learning environments and to school, a partnership between carers and educators/ institutions can help carers manage this period of change.


For example, the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Project found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds who attended preschool, demonstrate much better levels of attainment at the start of primary school when compared to similarly disadvantaged children who did not attend preschool (Sylva et al., 2004).


The Early Years Learning Framework (COAG, 2009), which was developed to provide a foundation for quality teaching and learning in early childhood education and care settings in Australia, describes the following factors as important to successful transitions:

● building on children’s prior and current experiences;

● ensuring children have an active role in preparing for transitions, in partnership with families;

● assisting children to understand transitions, routines and practices of the settings they are moving to and feel comfortable with this process;

● helping children negotiate changes in status or identity, especially during the school transition phase;

● Working collaboratively with each new educator for the child and other professionals to make certain that a successful transition occurs.

● Along with these specific practices, the emphasis on factors such as responsiveness to children, cultural competence, and a focus on secure, respectful and reciprocal relationship, basically working in partnership with the school.


Research shows that approximately 10–21% of children have difficulty adjusting to the transition to school (Giallo, Treyvaud, Matthews, & Kienhuis, 2010). These difficulties may be expressed via:

● Complaints of being sick; negative attitudes towards school

● Increased worries, fears, crying, temper tantrums


Coping well and adjusting to changes brought about by the transition to school is important, as research indicates that a successful start to school is associated with future school success and academic achievement (CCCH, 2008b; Davies, 2011; Sanagavarapu & Perry, 2005).


It has also been associated with more stable peer relationships, better behavioural and emotional outcomes, and better school attendance and/or completion (Giallo et al., 2010; Smart et al., 2008). The capacity to make and maintain friendships has been found to be a protective factor in the transition to school and if the child has made friends in kindergarten or preschool then they will often experience feelings of security during the transition particularly if these friends then attend the same school. This is especially true for boys.


For children who did not attend early learning and care, the transition to school can be even more difficult because they have not had the opportunities to develop many of the attributes that facilitate a smooth transition to school (Elliott, 2006).


What can help a child transition successfully to school?

● the number of transition program activities attended (the more the better);

● the child’s level of developmental maturity relevant to their chronological age (“relative age”)

● gender (boys had more difficulty adjusting in the areas of social skills and behaviour);

● children’s home language (speaking English at home had a positive influence);

● attendance at preschool transition activities;

● presence of a familiar playmate in the same class.


Although the individual characteristics of children can impact upon their adjustment to school, the development of many of these characteristics is dependent upon the environment in which they develop. Some transition to school programs have been shown to be effective at helping parents to support their children during their transition into school. However it is important to note that because children’s ability to adjust to school is dependent upon the environment in which they develop, families, services, communities and schools all share a responsibility to help children become school ready.


One such program that has been successful is Child Care Info-Connect program currently operating in Broadmeadows, an outer northern suburb of Melbourne that has a high number of CALD residents.


With the introduction of universal early childhood education and care programs for all 4-year-olds in Australia is likely to have a positive effect upon children’s school readiness in the future.