Report 4: Preschool to Primary School Transition
Children’s School Lives (CSL) is a national longitudinal cohort study of primary schooling in Ireland. Launched in October 2018, the study follows approximately 4,000 children across 189 schools through their primary school years. The study is now in year 3 and uses surveys and interviews with children, teachers and parents, as well as classroom observations. This study aims to provide rich and insightful pictures of children’s experiences in primary schools in Ireland. The study will also show how these experiences both shape and are shaped by schools as communities, institutions, and as a system.
Recently, Report 4 of the study was launched which is of particular interest to our sector as it focuses on children’s transitions from preschool to primary school. This report unearthed some interesting findings, particularly in terms of the experiences of children, parents and practitioners. What was key however was the fundamental concept; that accessing good quality early years services helps to support children’s transitions into primary school.
For the study cohort, some 99% of junior infants children had attended an early years setting at some stage before starting school, with 94% of children accessing the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme. Parents interviewed as part of the study were happy with the play-based nature of learning in preschool, and believed, along with their children, that primary school would place more emphasis on desk-based learning or ‘work’ and that primary school would be a “step up” or “drastic change”. This has resulted in some children being ‘over-prepared’ in some skills, such as literacy and numeracy as parents see a distinction between ‘play’ and ‘learning’. This is important, as it highlights skills which may be lacking in children when preparing to transition to primary school. In fact, play has been identified in the First 5 Strategy as something which needs to be enhanced in primary school.
Interviews with both teachers and parents highlighted the importance of preschool experiences in facilitating positive transitions into primary school for children. However, a mismatch between the expectations of parents and the necessary skills needed for primary school were noted. For example, primary school teachers ranked several skills vital to successful transitions and found that “self-care” skills, social skills and emotional maturity were far more important for children in comparison with the ability to write and read letters and recognise numbers. Some teachers noted that children were entering school with high quality levels of the latter skills, however of more importance are the former. This highlights the quality and success of the ECCE scheme and the Aistear Siolta Framework, but certainly illustrates that further work must go into synchronising both the expectations of parents and teachers, but also curriculum’s between preschool and primary.
Areas of improvement were identified as part of Report 4, in particular the variation and inconsistencies in relation to connections with primary schools. Some early years educators interviewed as part of the study noted that their early years services might only have rudimentary relations with local schools, which hinders that transition from preschool to primary school. Only around a quarter of preschools reported taking children on familiarisation visits to primary schools. As such, further investigations as part of the study confirmed the benefits of a dedicated role for facilitating this transition – the benefits were evidenced by a primary school that had a preschool on the premises, with teacher and principals commenting on the importance of the role and the valuable knowledge and information this ‘early years coordinator’ might bring to the transitions process. Parents generally reported feeling happy with the information they received, but overall areas around practice, information sharing, and individual transitions need improvement.
This highlights an issue with the current regulations in the sector, or their implementation, as under the Tusla Quality and Regulatory Framework (QRF) all services must implement a settling in policy which governs transitions into the service, but also transitions from the setting into primary school. The QRF outlines that transitions of this nature should be well planned and organised, however as evidenced in this study the implementation of this may be inconsistent at best.
Early Childhood Ireland’s Policy Team will continue monitoring the Children’s Schools Lives study. If you would like to talk to us further about this report, or perhaps share your thoughts on improving transitions in the sector, you can contact the Policy Team on email@example.com.