Planning and support required to ease transition to second level

The need for more co-ordinated planning and support for moving to second-level schools has emerged from research with students with special needs and their parents.

While previous studies on the transition to second-level education have focused mainly on general pupil populations, the team led by NUI Maynooth psychology department head, Yvonne Barnes-Holmes, worked with 32 students with a wide range of special educational needs (SEN) to examine experiences before and after moving from primary school. They had attended 22 mainstream and eight special schools and took part in focus groups late in sixth class and early in first year.

Most of their parents took part in focus groups and three were interviewed by researchers, who carried out the work for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

The worries facing pupils before moving, largely mirrored those of all children, such as anxiety about leaving primary school, fitting in at second level, and concerns about disapproval from teachers or peers as a result of not knowing what to do.

“What perhaps did differentiate some of these pupils was concern not to stand out by asking teachers for help,” Ms Barnes-Holmes told an NCSE research conference.

Things were not as tough as expected after the move, thanks to support, advice, and advocacy of peer mentoring, particularly for those reluctant to ask teachers for help as they did not want to stand out.

For their parents, emotion and anxiety were more evident, with particular fears about possible loss of supports and assistance.

“There were frustrations that information about pupils’ SEN had not been used effectively and some parents did not receive appropriate communication about supports. Some difficulties were attributed to lack of ready access to teachers, which some parents believed would have avoided small problems developing,” said Ms Barnes-Holmes.

“Lack of resources remained stressful and distressing for some.”

The parents whose children’s schools did not directly involve them regarding their special needs were more distressed and hard to reassure, but where such involvement did take place, parents were the most satisfied. So too were those given secure tangible supports before or soon after school entry, as well as extensive transition planning.

The researchers said these findings highlighted the importance of having a single contact in a school to co-ordinate the transition.

The conference also heard about research for the NCSE, reported by the Irish Examiner last week, which showed a need for greater support for students in the move from second level to college.

The study, led by Conor McGuckin of Trinity College Dublin, showed a need for information for school guidance counsellors on colleges supports and targeted initiatives to help students transfer to further education colleges.

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