Do you work in a school?


Do you work in a school?

You might be a:

  • principal
  • assistant principal
  • classroom teacher
  • learning support teacher
  • teacher's aide
  • school counsellor
  • another member of the school's staff


Recommended practice and the transition to school for children with disabilities

All children arrive at primary school with knowledge and experiences from growing up within the context of family, neighbourhood, service and community environments. Traditional concepts of school readiness have placed emphasis on a child's skills; however, skill-based assessments of children's functioning have been shown to be poor predictors of subsequent school adjustment and achievement (La Paro & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & La Paro, 2003). More recent thinking about the transition to school recognises that "school readiness does not reside solely in the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves" (Kagan & Rigby, 2003, p. 13).

(Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p45) Teachers play an important role in this community-wide approach to children’s transition to school.

Useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school

Research and feedback from parents, carers and professionals across NSW, has identified some useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school.

Useful practices

  • interagency collaboration
  • timeliness of planning and activities
  • training for all involved
  • advocacy skills for parents
  • active parent involvement
  • effective communication
  • ongoing evaluation and reflection
  • support for the family
  • orientation for child
  • teaching children skills in preparation for school
  • strategies for receiving teacher

Potential barriers

  • administrative
  • family concerns not being addressed
  • shift in educational approach (e.g. from family-centred to curriculum based practice)
  • challenges in relation to transition processes (e.g. timing of placement offers)
  • training needs not being met
  • communication challenges


The school’s role in transition to school

Practice elements for teachers in schools to enhance successful transition to school include:

  • establishment of effective communication between all members of the child’s team
  • learning what works for this child from their team
  • familiarisation of the child with the new school (click here for a checklist parents can use to gather information about the new school)
  • visits to the child in their ECEC setting prior to the end of the school year and/or in the family home
  • meeting with ECEC or ECI professionals prior to school commencing and also once the child has commenced school (see the importance of sharing information between ECEC and school)
  • preparing the school environment to be ready to receive the child (see community-wide approach)
  • identifying any specific professional development or training needs that will improve the school's capacity to support the child (e.g. communication systems currently used by the child)
  • sharing key information about the child’s learning strengths and needs between key school staff members to ensure a consistent approach to teaching and learning


“I think early intervention is so critical but we need to partner. Linking with parents and having a partnership with outside agencies is essential. Schools are limited in their capacity, so they need to work in with others and link parents to outside agencies and support networks.”

Assistant Principal in a regional school


What are the benefits of having a child with a disability included in your class or school?

There is a great deal of research which recognises the benefits of inclusive education. With appropriate planning and support for teachers, there is potential for typically developing children and children with disabilities as well as teachers, to benefit from inclusive practices.

Benefits of inclusion

For all children:

  • positive impacts on social development
  • improved communication skills
  • more positive sense of self and self-worth
  • improved behaviour
  • increased awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of others compared with children educated in non-inclusive settings

For typically developing children:

  • no decrease in academic performance than when compared with children in classrooms where children with disabilities are not included
  • greater acceptance and understanding of diversity and individuality, which can lead to increased flexibility and adaptability
  • when children with disabilities are included in physical education and provided with appropriate support, the outcomes are positive for all children involved

For children with disabilities:

  • better academic and vocational outcomes when compared to children who are educated in segregated settings
  • creates a situation where all children can be valued and experience a sense of belonging and where all children are encouraged to reach their full potential in all areas of development
  • when children with disabilities are included in physical activities, this provided an entry point for play and friendship and creates a sense of legitimate participation

Ref: Cologon, K. (2013) Inclusion in Education: towards equality for students with disability Children and Families Research Centre Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University

For teachers:

  • development of more skills to enable the inclusion of children who experience disability
  • knowledge and skills to provide higher quality education and care for children who do and do not have disabilities (Baker-Ericzén et al., 2009; Jordan & Stanovich, 2001; Jordan et al., 2010)
  • increased confidence in their ability to be inclusive educators through experience and support (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Cologon, 2012; Giangreco, 1993; Jordan & Stanovich, 2001; Jordan et al., 2010; McGregor & Vogelsberg, 1998; Purdue et al., 2001)
  • professional growth (Kliewer, 2008)
  • increased personal and professional satisfaction (Finke et al., 2009; Giangreco, 1993)


Working with Families

"It really was the support of the professionals we had involved that made the transition go smoothly. I really got the feeling at the orientation that the teachers “got it” and the school was accessible. I just had a level of confidence in them.”

David, father of Patrick


What do parents find helpful?

  • setting up a clear communication system that works for teacher and parents (e.g. email, communication book, SMS, regular face to face meetings or a combination of all of these methods). Effective communication is crucial in order to share progress, keep strategies consistent between home and school and support the child’s well-being
  • communication from teachers about:
    • positive progress or events as well as any challenges
    • challenges as they arise rather than when they have existed for a long time
    • what is working in the school environment
    • how they may be able to support the learning of any of the skills their child is being taught at school
    • opportunities for parent volunteering which are helpful to the whole class/school
  • opportunities for parents to be actively involved in planning their child’s education
  • confirmation that:
    • parents’ knowledge of their child and priorities for their child’s learning has been heard
    • school staff have spoken with and learned from the professionals who have been involved with the child’s education and intervention prior to school
  • opportunities to make connections with other families in the school community

The "Snapshot of my child" document can be a useful way of assisting families to share their knowledge of their child's strengths and needs with their child's new teacher.

What other teachers have found helpful

Interviews with teachers have identified helpful transition practices including:

  • seeking information from professionals who already know the child and what has been in place to support their learning
  • visiting children in their ECEC service to observe their behaviour and learning styles
  • observing children during orientation sessions, and seeing how they respond in the school environment
  • arranging for children to visit school for additional sessions at school during term 4 to prepare them for particular school routines (e.g. assembly, sport, music, recess and lunch times)
  • use of individualised social stories™ to familiarise children with new situations. Teachers may like to download and share the "My new school" story template and "other stories about school"
  • seeking information about:
    • the child’s learning strengths and potential needs
    • any possible triggers for challenging behaviour that you could be made aware of
  • establishing an effective communication system with parents and carers to share information which might impact on the child at home and school (click here for more information for families on developing a positive working relationship with the school)
  • open, honest communication with the family
  • seeking involvement from parents and family members to support programs at school
  • supporting parents and carers to understand the varied nature and demands of the role of the teacher


Support and resources

Teachers in schools should not feel they need to have all the answers, nor that they need to work out what will meet each child’s educational needs on their own. While teachers are experts in curriculum, parents are experts on their child, and the best outcomes come from working collaboratively.

Most students who have identified disabilities prior to starting school will have ECI professional/s involved. Speak to the family about who they have in their support team for their child, and whether they may be able to provide any assistance.

Within your school and education system, there are specialist staff who are able to work with you to build your capacity to adapt and adjust programming and teaching to support learning for children with additional needs.

Specific assistance may be available from the following professionals:

  • ECI professionals may be available to meet with you, come for observation visits, or show you support tools or resources which had been used successfully in the past. Some ECI service providers may have funding to provide support to the child until the age of 7 or 8 years which can assist with continuity between early childhood and school
  • other members of your school team may have made observations or had experiences with children which they might share with you to allow you to reflect further on your own practices
  • support professionals within your school, the Department of Education and Communities area office, Catholic Diocese or the AIS (e.g. psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists may be available to support you in your role)
  • see also the Forming a transition team for members of the transition team who may be able to assist
  • click here to view a resource designed for Catholic school staff which may provide some ideas on effectively participating in the individual planning process for students with a disability.

Click here for information about research around effective transition practices for families from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

Self-Reflection questions

When working with families, ask yourself:

  1. Are the first contacts that parents have with our school welcoming?
  2. Do we seek information from parents about what has worked for the child in the past? Do we treat this information confidentially?
  3. Do we establish and maintain effective regular communication with families?
  4. Do we provide positive feedback about progress as well as information about any challenges in a timely manner to parents?
  5. Do we invite parents and carers to be involved in the school community in ways which are helpful to the school and encourage families active involvement in their child’s learning?

When working in partnership, ask yourself:

  1. Does our school work with other professionals to provide a consistent approach to transition to school?
  2. Does our school make contact with the ECEC and ask to visit and observe children with a disability in their setting?
  3. Does our school make use of the information provided by early childhood intervention services, ECEC services and parents?
  4. Do we know about and access the assistance of relevant support professionals to enhance our school’s capacity to include children with disabilities?
Transition to School Resource

Starting school is an important milestone in any child and family’s life. For families of children with developmental delay or disability, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and as positive as possible.