Published by CELA on 28 Jul, 2017

Emma Pierce, an early learning inclusion specialist, returns to share more tried-and-tested resources for educators supporting children with developmental delays or disabilities transition to school.  Developed by ECIA NSW/ACT, the resources can be applied to any educational setting, anywhere, and are relevant to all educators. 

Collaborator and advocate: an educator’s role in transition to school when a child has a developmental delay or disability

There are so many ways in which educators can support transition to school for children with developmental delay or disability. In this piece I highlight a few areas which I feel are of great priority. The focus in this piece is on collaboration, advocacy, and considerations around sharing information and confidentiality. This blog finishes with my six top tips for educators.

We know from research and experience that the child’s skills are not the most important factor in successful school transition

Ready for school?

Early childhood educators have applied the principles of play-based learning to their planning and practice for a long time. The National Quality Standard area 1: educational program and practicearea 5: relationships with children and area 6: collaboration with families and communities and the Early Years Learning Framework’s tenets of being, belonging and becoming, can readily be applied to transition to school.

The emphasis on children’s ‘school readiness’ does however continue to be discussed and pursued by parents and in the media, even though we know from research and experience that the child’s skills are not the most important factor in successful school transition. This is also the case for children with disabilities. Research tells us it is a community-wide approach where all involved are involved and prepared which supports the most seamless transitions for children, and that a collaborative approach is even more important for children with developmental delay or disability.

The school readiness equation also highlights this need for collaboration: ‘Ready families + Ready Community + Ready Services + Ready schools = children ready for school’ (United States National School Readiness Indicators Initiative, 2005).

Of course, there is always a place for educators to intentionally support children to develop skills in early childhood, but it comes as no surprise that research interviews with school teachers finds they agree the emphasis on skills should always be around functional, social emotional skills and self help skills.

The Transition to School Resource provides ideas for activities which may help prepare children for school.

The early childhood educator as advocate

How can we explain why we work in the way we do in early childhood and how this is best practice in supporting children to transition to school?

Our preschool teacher really helped me. She made time to come along to the transition meeting with me and even had a coffee and a chat with me afterwards. This support helped a lot because I was so stressed about school, I was everywhere.

Kylie, mother of Alex.

Parents tell us that the period before their child with a disability started school was one of the most stressful times. Families say that educators can play a vital role as an advocate and support for the child and family, as one constant relationship in the family’s lives as they navigate decisions around school options and share relevant information about their child’s strengths and needs with the new school.

Change can be exciting, but change can be daunting, particularly when what is usually one of the most exciting, much anticipated milestones in a family’s life now involves travelling down an unexpected, unchartered road. Educators can be more effective advocates for families and children if they:

  • become familiar with school enrolment processes
  • know some of the options available to families, and
  • understand every child’s right to attend their local public school.

Information found in the Thinking about school options section of Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA NSW/ACT)’s Transition to School Resource can help.

At times, cultural perspectives of disability may influence this viewpoint, or perhaps the family may have had previous experiences of breaches of trust or confidentiality.

The ‘clean slate’ theory

What about when families don’t want to share information about their child’s needs with the new school?

I have worked with some families who will access early childhood intervention for their child but, when it comes time to transition to school, feel it might be better not to tell the school about the child’s diagnosis and instead for their child to start school with a “clean slate”.

Sometimes they are afraid school staff will become biased by hearing a diagnostic label or information about the assistance a child has had before school and not treat them fairly as a result. At times, cultural perspectives of disability may influence this viewpoint, or perhaps the family may have had previous experiences of breaches of trust or confidentiality. Sometimes, in a trusting relationship, providing information about parents’ and children’s rights to confidentiality can help alleviate concerns.  Part of your role can be to support the family to express what is important to them. At the end of the day, it is each parent’s choice and prerogative as to what information is shared about their child.

I remember being in a meeting where an educator truly heard and acknowledged a parents concerns around this by saying: It sounds as though it is very important to you that information about Joe’s needs are only shared on a need to know basis with key people. Telling the school about what has worked at preschool to help Joe learn could help make his start to school as smooth as possible. You and Joe do have a right to your information being treated confidentially. We would only ever share information with your permission.

Joe’s mother did decide to agree to information being shared about her child’s learning at preschool through the “Snapshot of my child” document under the proviso that this would only be shared with school staff who were in regular contact with her child and that this consent would be revisited each year.

ECIA NSW/ACT has included some information about children children’s and parents’ rights in the Transition to School Resource.

The Transition to School Resource also includes responses to frequently asked questions for parents and carers about why it is useful to share information about a child’s learning with the new school.

Top tips for educators working with children with developmental delay or disability who are transitioning to school:

  • Develop supportive, trusting relationships with families
  • Access accurate information about school options and share this with families
  • Offer to attend key transition planning meeting with the family
  • Connect with schools which children will be attending
  • Enhance children’s development in a group setting
  • Encourage the child and family to participate in orientation activities and become familiar with the new school

Additional links

Information specific to early childhood educators’ roles in transition to school for children with developmental delay or disability and links to the National Quality Standard and Early Years Learning Framework.

The full interactive online Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA) NSW/ACT Transition to School Resource

Questions for reflection

How does supporting a child with developmental delay or disability and their family to transition to school differ to other children and families?

How can you assist the family in introducing their child to the new school?

How does your service connect with local schools and your local community to support continuity as children transition to school?

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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