Our research team have been part of the Erasmus+ funded TRAINS project since 2019 with partners from the UK, Germany, and Bulgaria. We’d like to thank anyone who took part in our surveys about your experience with pupils transitioning from preschool to primary school – your input has been hugely helpful.
The team could not have foreseen the changes that occurred in society and the educational system during the pandemic, adding another layer to the transition into primary school settings amidst a backdrop of chaos. The four participating countries had response levels of varying levels of severity and duration with Ireland, the UK, and Germany in the top 10 European countries with the strictest measures. Bulgaria, meanwhile, has been forced into four separate instances of lockdown amounting to a period of approximately two months in total. This brought with it undeniable upheaval, confusion and stress for learners, educators and parents alike.
As a result, an array of transitions activities and practices, which have previously been a staple of the support provided to parents and families during this challenging period of change, have had to be curbed to prevent risk of transmission including:
- Less face-to-face time available to parents and families with schools
- Reduced opportunities for advance visits to allow for familiarisation with the new surroundings, teachers, and peers
- Limited/removed the availability of many typical transition activities (open nights etc.), thereby disrupting the settling in process.
- Furloughing of key early years staff and closure of many preschool settings, thus removing the possibility of critical inter-organisational liaisons between preschools and school staff.
- Additional difficulties for marginalised/vulnerable learners or learners with SEND, as opportunities to meet with learners and their families or observe learners prior to their arrival in the new setting could not be availed of. Access to key workers and the attainability of specialist medical, speech and language, and social and emotional reports were also adversely impacted.
The research team captured parental perceptions of how the pandemic has impacted upon the experiences of both themselves and their children across each of the partner countries. Among the issues cited were:
- Creation of Anxiety and Uncertainty due to lack of normal structures and missed opportunities to engage with staff
- Impaired emotional, social, and academic development: feedback from parents suggested that their children were less mature, their social skills were impacted, they had a more anxious attachment to parents making separation more distressing and one child repeating their final pre-school year due to learning deficits
- Loss of key habits and routine: leading to a reduction in learners’ capacity to seamlessly conform with school rules and expectations. Additional attention had to be given to the re-establishment of structure and order following such a period of chaos and unforeseen alteration.
While, as expected, the TRAINS team did receive a wealth of feedback on how the pandemic had adversely impacted the transition experience, the nature of the experiences was far from being entirely negative in tone.
Parents highlighted how the additional time spent with their children during the lockdown periods had helped to enhance the familial bond. One parent even noted that their child exhibited considerable gains because of their additional exposure to their siblings, while another believed that the unforeseen periods at home had served as something of a boon to their child’s self-perception and confidence.
They also commended staff on facilitating them during this transition and the use of technology, e.g., video tours of the school were hugely helpful in demystifying the experience and helping to quell burgeoning anxiety about the impending changes about to occur in the learners’ lives.
Perhaps more interesting still was the indication that some parents believed that some of the offshoots of the Covid-19 response adopted within schools had actually led to aspects of the transition experience being improved. Namely, the restrictions preventing parents from entering the school owing to health and safety protocols actually proved to be beneficial, in terms of allowing students to make a “clean break” when entering the school grounds and ensuring that the class environment achieved a more settled and focused atmosphere at an earlier point in the school day.
We will be piloting training materials and resources from April to September 2022. If you would like to be involved, you can contact our Senior Research Officer, Stephen Smith at [email protected]