Supporting transition for pupils with SEND during COVID-19
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The summer term is traditionally the time of year when schools plan a raft of activities and events to support pupils moving from one phase of their education to the next. This year transition will inevitably look different and present a challenge on many levels.
The changes that occur as a result of transition, particularly at key points such as moving from primary to secondary school, can be stressful for any child, even in more normal situations. For those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) these significant changes can bring added challenges and worries.
For SENCOs, a key part of their role in meeting the needs of pupils with SEND is to facilitate additional transition support. Many SENCOs will have a range of examples of how they would usually go about making this happen. For example:
- meeting with a pupil’s new teachers to share information about the child
- facilitating discussions between parents, pupils and new teachers
- primary and secondary school SENCOs planning meetings to facilitate information sharing on Year 6 pupils
- secondary SENCOs attending Year 6 annual reviews
- additional visits for Year 6 SEND pupils to their new school
- support to prepare the pupil for changes e.g. using social stories.
At a time when most pupils are at home, when ‘schooling’ looks very different and everyone is practicing social distancing, how can SENCOs and other school leaders put effective transition arrangements into place?
Some of these usual activities can still happen, just with a different approach.
SENCOs could plan remote meetings with pupils’ new teachers to share information. For Year 6 pupils, primary SENCOs could virtually meet with secondary SENCOs to do the same.
Documents such as individual support plans (ISPs) or pupil passports and education, health and care plans (EHCPs) can be shared using safe transfer systems so that new staff can be informed around the following:
- the pupil’s strengths and areas of interest
- the pupil’s needs and barriers to learning
- any important contextual information e.g. about the pupil’s family
- advice from external agencies
- strategies that help the pupil in school and at home
- provision the school has put in place and the impact
- any resources that will support the pupil e.g. visual timetables, prompt cards (some of these could be prepared in advance).
It’s important to discuss the impact of school closures on a pupil’s emotional wellbeing. For pupils with existing social, emotional and mental health needs, the impact of coronavirus may heighten their challenges further.
Pupils may be experiencing feelings such as anxiety, grief, worry and loss. Schools need to prepare for this as part of their reintegration curriculum. For example, providing safe spaces for pupils to talk about their feelings, or providing bereavement support.
Continuing or developing positive relationships with pupils and their families is the key priority for transition. Effective relationships take time to build and the sooner you can start the process of communication, the better.
Consider arranging emails, letters, phone calls or even informal video chats between pupils with SEND, their parents and key members of staff (including the SENCO, where appropriate) to help them get to know each other.
Ask parents and pupils about their preferences for communicating first – some may feel uncomfortable with direct contact through phone calls or video, so emails might be the appropriate starting point.
Where reviews for pupils with SEND are taking place remotely this term, invite the child’s new class teacher or form tutor to attend (where parents agree this would be helpful).
Many secondary schools will ask Year 6 pupils to complete some sort of transition passport, which will provide key information about them as individuals e.g.:
- what interests them
- what they like doing in school
- what helps them.
These sorts of documents provide a good insight into the pupils and could be completed by pupils while they are at home.
Adaptations to the passports can enable these to be accessed by pupils with learning needs, for example through recording their responses in different forms or asking parents to scribe.
I know of a secondary school which is working with feeder primaries to put together packs for Year 6 pupils which will be delivered to their homes. The packs include the transition passport, some suggested activities to do at home and personalised notes from their Year 6 teacher, the new Head of Year 7 and the SENCO, where appropriate.
It’s important that pupils with SEND know about and understand significant changes.
It might be helpful to create social stories or photograph booklets of their new class teacher or new school building. Some schools have created virtual video tours for pupils to watch online, walking through the building and commentating on different parts of the school.
While Year 6 pupils are at home, parents could help in practicing some key skills needed at secondary school. For example:
- reading the school timetable
- telling the time
- interpreting a map of the school and identifying key areas e.g. reception, canteen, changing rooms
- using homework planners
- preparing and using key resources needed for different subjects
- reading lunch menus
- reading and understanding the school rules.
Where appropriate, suggest examples of visuals or prompts that might help, for example colour coding the different subjects on the timetable or labelling equipment using symbols.
If you’re part of a SENCO network group, perhaps as part of a multi-academy trust or cluster of schools, consider arranging an online meeting to share your transition support plans.
Many practitioners are sharing ideas on social media. For example, see SEND consultant Abigail Hawkins’ video on SEND transition.
Abigail suggests setting up a virtual coffee morning for SEND parents where SENCOs can share information about SEND in the school and parents can ask questions or provide suggestions of support to each other. Alternatively, the SENCO could set up an organized online question and answer session for pupils or parents to participate in.
This year, the transition plans for pupils with SEND will require schools to be more creative than ever, but there are many ways that pupils can be supported through this challenging time. You never know, some of the ideas you implement for transition this year could continue to be useful even when things are back to relative normality.