Case study Working together for children

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Children's transitions can be complex and diverse and derive from multifarious influences and causes. This is because children live interdependent and interconnected lives within a series of environmental systems that include people, places, culture, ideas, beliefs, and other social and economic factors (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, pg. 22). Transitions occur as children move between, and adapt to, different environmental systems (Colton et al., 2001), through both space and time. This context, or environment, is both dynamic and specific to each child.

Foley and Leverett stress 'The concept of transition has many meanings and applications when applied to children's lives. Both Newman and Blackburn (2002, pg. 1) define transition as ' Any episode where children are having to cope with potentially challenging episodes of change, including progressing from one developmental stage to another, changing schools, entering or leaving the care system, loss, bereavement, parental capacity or entry into adulthood'. (Foley and Leverett, 2008, pg. 209).

Niesel and Griebel both argue that, 'Compared to previous generations, children and their families in the twenty-first century are 'confronted with more and different disruptions to their biographies'. A range of issues, such as parental separations, divorce, emigration, remarriage, poverty and moving house. All this means that children today 'have a higher probability of being confronted with increasing personal demands resulting from transitions in their own, and their family's development'. (Niesel and Gribebel, 2005, pg. 4).

All children deserve the opportunity to achieve their full potential. This is set this out in the five 'Every Child Matters' (ECM, 2008) outcomes that are 'key' to children and young people's well-being: The five outcomes are:

• Stay safe

• Be healthy

• Enjoy and achieve

• Make a positive contribution

• Achieve economic well-being

To achieve ECM, The Her Majesty document states 'children need to feel loved and valued, and be supported by a network of reliable and affectionate relationships. If they are denied the opportunity and support they need to achieve these outcomes, children are at increased risk not only of an impoverished childhood, but also of disadvantage and social exclusion in adulthood' (HM Government, 2008, pg 32).

Starting school, moving from one key stage to another and moving from one school to another is a major event in children's lives. Consequently, for a child with Special Educational Needs (SEN) it can be particularly worrying.

Staff will be gather information about new pupils with SEN and doing everything possible to ensure that when they arrive, staff will be prepared to welcome them and meet their needs. This transition would clearly involve at least two settings from within the child's immediate environment or microsystem: from primary to secondary school. It sounds simple, however, the reality is complex and requires careful planning. Information and support for colleagues, as well as for the children, is the key to successful transition. If you can organise opportunities for cross-phase training and observation of lessons/activities in feeder/receiving schools, this will help develop colleagues' confidence in identifying children's difficulties, and employ effective ways of removing barriers to learning. (Mitchell, Forum A, 2010). Transition planning encompasses an assessment of child functioning as well as involving the family to prioritize goals to smooth the approaching transition.

Another important issue to stress is that transition provides an opportunity for new beginnings. This is so important for children who have experienced the negative impact of 'labelling' in their previous setting, especially in terms of behaviour. Give them a chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. It can make all the difference.

Much attention is paid to major transitions such as starting school. However critically, less consideration is placed on the repeated day-to-day experience of moving back and forth between home, education and care settings. This kind of transition is labelled 'commuting'. Lam and Pollard both state 'This requires children to adapt to the culture model of each place, a familiar experience for adults who spend time moving between home and the workplace'. (Lam and Pollard, 2006, pg. 123)

For most pupils moving from primary to secondary signifies a move into a more grown-up environment. However, for those with SEN it can be a scary prospect and they are particularly at risk of being bullied, so it's important that they (and their parents/carers) have assurances about the school's method of dealing with this. The sort of activities that secondary teachers can provide is an induction and subject taster days. This is a way of introducing your subject to learners and a way for you to start to get to know them. By giving them an activity to prepare over the summer holiday you can start to enthuse them. This will also provide you with a baseline for each individual, and maybe spot the gifted and talented as well as the strugglers. However, not all children will have free flow around the school to participate in all curriculum activities, especially if a child is wheelchair bound. Consequently, Foley and Leverett (2008) stress 'Although the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 resulted in the lifting of some barriers for disabled people, it is evident that children and their families still encounter a wide range of restrictions'. Such restrictions of activities may include insufficient accessible sport and leisure activities. The 'social model of disability' regards society as responsible for creating barriers through prejudice and discrimination, which prevent the full participation of the disabled. Critically, if an individual in a wheelchair cannot get into a library because there is no ramp, it is society which is disabling that person, not the fact that the person is in a wheelchair. There is now a legal obligation to provide facilities for the disabled in public places, including educational settings, such as schools.

The 'social model of disability', while understanding that there may be need for medical care, promotes the view that the disabled are able to take control of their lives and make their own decisions. Disability groups demand equal rights for the disabled and put forward the view that it was in society itself, where the problems lay.

According to Bronfenbrenner, 'the immediate environment (or microsystem) for very young children usually consists of primary carers and close family within the home setting. However, children become older this expands to include, for example, other family members, friends, peers, early years workers and teachers. As children make transitions within and between each setting, they are expected to recognise and negotiate different social and cultural models'. (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, pg. 22).

An important transition for a young child would probably also involve their family (a part of the microsystem) working closely with the school to ensure a smooth transition, and this is an example of a mesosystem interrelationship. Furthermore, the disabled child, identified as having additional needs, or is living within the 'Looked After care system', the transition might involve exosystem relationships, such as assessment and planning involving different children's services and practitioners.

The microsystem - this is the layer closest to the child and contains the structures with which the child has direct contact. The microsystem encompasses the relationships and interactions a child has with her immediate surroundings (Berk, 2000 pg. 23-38). Structures in the microsystem include family, school, neighbourhood, or childcare environments. Bronfenbrenner calls these bi-directional influences, and he shows how they occur among all levels of environment. The interaction of structures within a layer and interactions of structures between layers is key to this theory. At the microsystem level, bi-directional influences are strongest and have the greatest impact on the child. However, interactions at outer levels can still impact the inner structures. The mesosystem - this layer provides the connection between the structures of the child's microsystem (Berk, 2000 pg. 23-38). Examples: the connection between the child's teacher and his parents, between his church and his neighbourhood. The exosystem - this layer defines the larger social system in which the child does not function directly. The structures in this layer impact the child's development by interacting with some structure in her microsystem (Berk, 2000 pg. 23-38). Parent workplace schedules or community-based family resources are examples. The child may not be directly involved at this level, but he does feel the positive or negative force involved with the interaction with his own system.

DCSF - Aiming high for disabled children better support for families - quotes:

"Focused, effective support early in life and at key transition points, with early support for disabled children and their families, which promotes emotional and social development for disabled children and their siblings, to help to improve outcomes for all" (DCSF, 2009)

Critically, for a smaller number of young people, will require more support with activities to help them to meet their goals and take their place in society. At the moment, the support that young disabled people receive is often variable. Services may struggle to provide information at the right time, co-ordinate their responses with other agencies, and provide appropriate support to young people and their families. However, in response to this, schools organise activities to support students of the receiving school and often become "ambassadors" of goodwill. Student-to-student contact, preceded by a discussion of what information might be useful to new students, can help establish personal links. Sending-school students can be paired with receiving-school students for visitation days. Stella from the Open University DVD states, 'That can be quite a big move for them but in a primary school setting they are in the same building and one of the, the good things about the school council is that we have infants and juniors involved in the school council, so the infants get used to talking about issues with older children and they can see that joining the juniors isn't such a scary thing. The progress that the children have made throughout the year meant that they could take over the elections themselves'. However, Stella quotes from a primary school prospectus; this can however be easily integrated into a secondary schools ethos. (Open University, 2008).

There is a significant and sometimes traumatic transition for students that occur, without fail, every school day. Therefore, the move from home and community into the school is a typical example. Just by coming to school some students experience a psychological change that condemns them to being poor learners. This is especially so if they come from what is euphemistically labelled 'dysfunctional families', or if they have certain kinds of special needs.

If this transition is not managed effectively, children and teachers are stymied before they even start a lesson. Effective parent liaison, extended services and ECM and so forth, are the potential to provide strategies for making this most crucial of transitions successful. Critically, this is much easier said than done as many shy away from it at our peril as schools can be alien places and the ways in which they organise themselves. It is paramount that they must make them user-friendly and stress-free.

Critically, a couple of perfunctory taster activities for Year 6 at secondary school will not deliver effective transition. Transition will not be managed effectively if insufficient effort is made or not enough out-of-the-box thinking done.

Foley and Leverett, quote 'Despite the fact that all children are vulnerable to disability, and transitions in and out of poverty, this is an experience that receives relatively little recognition or support. However, adults working with children can challenge discrimination and create inclusive access to services in which they are involved. Although the causes of transitions into poverty are located in wider society, practitioners can signpost families towards appropriate advice or services such as children's centres'. (Foley and Leverett, 2008 pg 257-258)

In conclusion, transition is part of life and we all deal with it in our own ways. How we deal with it largely depends on our early experiences of transitions and how these were dealt with. To make transition easier for children schools need to make conditions as similar as possible, so that changes occur in a gradual way over a period of time. Good communication is essential to making this work well.

The diverse composition of early childhood classrooms brings many challenges as well as many opportunities to educators. With knowledge of effective practices, and with the support of colleagues, families, community and teachers can create classrooms that are responsive to the diverse needs of all children.

If schools are to meet the challenge of educating increased numbers of children with diverse needs, teachers must embrace instruction and curriculum that engage and encourage all children.

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