The Learning Support (previously Special Education) Update is working across the whole education system and with sector partners to strengthen inclusion and modernise learning support. In this issue, Education Gazette meets those involved in the Auckland Region Collaborative Early Childhood Transition to School project, which offers a proactive approach to supporting children with additional learning needs as they begin their schooling pathway.
The opportunity to build meaningful relationships between children, whānau and school is at the heart of the Auckland Region Collaborative Early Childhood Transition to School project. Its overarching aim is to provide a seamless transition for the child from the early childhood setting into the school setting.
Each transition has a collaborative team approach to supporting each child. Ministry of Education and RTLB staff are teaming together with the early childhood centres and schools to ensure the smoothest possible transition from early childhood education into primary school.
This in turn enables the teacher and school to feel well prepared, confident and supported in their work, and children and their families to feel heard and valued.
A PROACTIVE APPROACH
In this project, a student has early access to transition support to enable them to move successfully to their new school setting.
A tailored plan is specially developed by the key people working with the child. These people include the child’s parent or caregiver and whānau, early childcare and primary school teachers, RTLB caseworkers, and Ministry of Education fieldworkers, as well as any other specialist professionals involved in the child’s education.
Parental voice and aspiration for each child is integral to how the plan is put together.
The service provides a 10-week transition to school programme, which usually spans the four weeks prior to the change and the first six weeks at primary school.
At the end of this 10-week period, a decision will be made about further support for the child and school. Often no further work is needed at this stage but the school is able to access RTLB support at a later date if needed.
The early involvement of RTLB (four weeks prior to a child starting primary school) is what sets this approach apart.
In the past, RTLB have engaged with students after the transition, and only upon referral from the school.
BUILDING A SOLID FOUNDATION: MANAKAU PROJECT WITH RTLB CLUSTER 11
The joint Ministry of Education and RTLB cluster 11 team that helped with Cory’s transition from ECE to primary school
Cory* loves rubbish trucks. He loves real trucks and toy trucks, and books about trucks and other vehicles. He knows when the rubbish collection happens in his street and he knows all about recycling.
This love of rubbish trucks has been one thread weaving together a group of education professionals who collaborated to ensure a smooth transition for Cory as part of the RTLB cluster 11 Auckland Early Transitions Project.
Each child’s transition process is different, but in Cory’s case, the following people worked closely together: Brigitte*, Cory’s mother, and the rest of his whānau; Debbie Law, speech and language therapist; Shirley Snoad, Little Cubs Kindy head teacher; Maddy Barley, Cory’s class teacher, Cockle Bay Primary School; Vikki Bardo, SENCO, Cockle Bay Primary School; Liz Coleman, RTLB cluster 11;
Karen Eaton, RTLB cluster manager, and Denise Deihl, Ministry of Education service manager.
Everyone involved speaks of the strengths-based approach of this new transition process.
“In this way of working together, every voice matters, and everyone’s important when it comes to supporting a child and setting them up for success,” says Karen Eaton.
“It’s about building a solid foundation so that the system is sustainable. We want to be able to use it for every child who needs it.”
Karen says that key to the transition process is “getting the school ready for the child, rather than getting the child ready for school.”
Both Karen and her colleague Liz Coleman stress that the process enriches an entire school – the effect is not limited to one student.
“The underlying principles of putting the child first, and working closely together to make sure everyone is ‘heard’ has been hugely important to this project,” says Liz.
“The early engagement strategy has helped ensure a smooth process for everyone – there’s plenty of time to get it right.”
Shirley Snoad says the transition process was remarkable in that she and her colleagues at Little Cubs Kindergarten felt they were valued throughout the process.
“We have a number of children with special needs at our centre, and this is the first time there’s been any formal acknowledgement of our role in a child’s transition,” she says.
“Throughout the transition process we felt we had an important part to play, and we were heard and valued.”
Rubbish trucks also played a role. Cory has taken on the job of classroom rubbish monitor at Cockle Bay – a role he takes great pride in.
“In the early days of this transition process, we shared our knowledge about Cory with his new school and RTLB – and that included lots of information about his personality and interests,” says Shirley.
This led to the purchase of some new truck toys for his classroom, as well as the creation of a special book – “telling the story of how Cory moved from Little Cubs to Cockle Bay” – with a copy to keep at school and one for Cory to read with his parents at home.
Cory’s mother Brigitte says that Cory has central hypotonia with global developmental delays (GDD) and was born with mild microcephaly. A premature baby, he experienced feeding and swallowing difficulties, and currently has a MIC-KEY button enteral feeding tube fitted in his chest.
Brigitte says her son is making good progress in all aspects of his school life.
“I was very pleased with how Cory’s transition from kindergarten to school went – from the meetings with the appropriate people to discuss his needs, to putting processes in place to help him succeed in the classroom,” she says.
“The book that was put together worked very well for him – as did reward systems that were put in place and special equipment organised to help support him in the classroom.
“Cory has settled in very well, making lots of friends and enjoying being at school. My husband and I really appreciate everything that has been done for Cory and feel really happy knowing he has settled in so well.
“We are very proud of Cory and how far he has come.”
UTILISING COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE: AUCKLAND CITY PROJECT WITH RTLB CLUSTER 7
The joint Ministry of Education and RTLB cluster 7 team that helped with Julian’s transition from ECE to primary school (All photos by Debbie Lim Photography)
Closer to the heart of Auckland city, RTLB cluster 7 has been having good results in helping children with learning needs in the transition from early childhood education to primary school.
The Ministry of Education and RTLB cluster 7 Transition to School Project also aims to ensure a seamless experience for children with moderate additional learning needs as they move from an early childhood setting into primary school.
Like the work of those in cluster 11, this has involved collaboration between the school, early childcare, whānau, RTLB and special education staff to break down the traditional ‘silos’ that might see children fall through the gaps.
The project began in term 4, 2015 when RTLB practice leader Trish O’Brien and special education service manager Monique Lund met with key representatives from local schools to develop the transition protocols.
A small group of students, families, schools and early childcare centres were chosen to trial these protocols during the first two terms of 2016, and the project has since been extended to other schools within the cluster 7 area.
Monique says that being part of the project development process was pleasing because the team was creating a different way of supporting students.
“It was exciting to be part of something quite new – an improved way of doing things,” she says.
“In the past, cluster 7 RTLB services would not have typically been involved with a student’s transition planning, and a referral to RTLB services could only be made once the child had started school.
“But in this process, I feel parents and teachers are honoured and listened to more – the feedback so far has been very positive.”
Similarly, the early childhood education centres involved report a smoother, more streamlined service and the acknowledgement of their perspective
While the process has resulted in an improved experience for the students and teachers, it’s also building a strong pathway for how transitions will work in the future.
Dr Wendy Kofoed is cluster 7 lead school principal and believes it’s about developing a strategic view going forward.
“The integral part for us now is making sure this becomes ‘business as usual’ – the model we follow for all the students we support to transition into schools,” she says.
Trish O’Brien is an RTLB practice leader and she believes the close involvement of parents and whānau in the process is its great strength.
“When parents are anxious about an upcoming change, such as a school transition, their child picks that up and carries those worries too,” she says.
“By working together prior to the transition, and talking everything through, anxieties are lessened – it’s about building strong relationships to pave the way for better future experiences for our students.”
SETTING UP FOR SUCCESS
One such student, Julian*, was supported by a team of professionals working closely together.
These included Michelle and Christopher, Julian’s parents and his whānau; Trish O’Brien, RTLB practice leader; Monique Lund, special education service manager, Ministry of Education; Maree Stenberg, RTLB cluster 7; Dr Wendy Kofoed, lead school principal cluster 7, and Newmarket School principal; Andrea Des Forges, new entrant teacher and SENCO at Newmarket School; and Joleen Millward, from the Ministry of Education team.
When Julian turned five, he moved from ABC Epsom to Newmarket School. At the beginning of the transition, Newmarket School new entrant teacher Andrea Des Forges visited Julian at ABC Epsom – a step in the process that she describes as “quite a natural process.”
“It was useful for me to go into the centre and see him in that setting, which really helped with the transition and in identifying further support he might need,” she says.
“We all have equal input into what we’re doing with this transition process – and by pooling our knowledge, we are stronger.”
Julian’s mother Michelle says she and Christopher did have some anxieties about the move to Newmarket School but the transition project eased these fears.
“We were struggling with Julian’s communication at the time, and this was affecting his social behaviour. When we first enrolled him in the primary school we were quite concerned about what was going to happen.
“A particular worry for us was Julian getting frustrated and angry and his tendency to throw tantrums. We worried because he prefers to interact only with people he already knows.”
Michelle says she and Christopher had a series of meetings with the transition team where they were able to share their concerns and future goals for Julian.
“At the meetings we were able to create an action plan together with the new school. So we all knew what to look out for, and what to expect. It was reassuring to be supported by Joleen and to know what was going to happen.”
Michelle reports that Julian has settled in well to Newmarket School and is developing his communication and social skills.
“In the past he’s really struggled when other children don’t want to play with him or things don’t go his way. But his teachers and fellow students have been helping him to cope with that.
“He’s really enjoying it there now. I think in terms of communication, he’s improved a lot, he’s still delayed but he’s learning to speak properly. He’s a bit famous actually – kids recognise him around the school and say hi.
“I’m very thankful to all the people who helped us settle Julian in to school. It’s a great project and we’re happy to have had the support and all these people looking out for Julian.”
Joleen Millward, from the Ministry of Education says an important element to the project is that the transitioning student is placed at the centre of the professional collaboration.
“These transitions are working extremely well because of all the voices involved – every voice is important but the needs of the child are at the centre, and everything else grows organically from there,” she says.
“It’s an iterative process – we are setting up for success over and over through collaboration.”
*Surnames have been omitted at the request of whānau.