Transition to primary school: Does the beginning decide the end? - Education Matters Magazine
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Transition to primary school: Does the beginning decide the end?

primary school

The transition to primary school presents unique challenges for students, teachers, principals, and parents alike. In this Expert Contributor column, Emeritus Professor Marjory Ebbeck from the University of South Australia provides strategies for ensuring these transitions are successful.

The Chinese proverb – the beginning decides the end – infers that a good start will help pave the way for a successful future. While this may ring true on the surface, we all know that many factors can affect success.

Across our education we will make many transitions: from home to childcare; from preschool to primary school; from primary to secondary; and possibly university, or some form of higher education later in life. All these transitions require adjustments, but can we say that early transitions will affect later transitions?

Certainly, if young children have made a successful transition early in life, and they’ve developed trust and they feel secure, then they usually do manage transitions successfully. However, transition also involves change, and change can be unpredictable.

We know this, most recently, from the dramatic and unprecedented effects of COVID, where many adults and children found it very difficult to cope with the changes that emerged as a result of the pandemic. Some children felt very isolated, causing social and emotional problems, many of which have been long- lasting.

If we look through the lens of a child, what does transition mean for a child, and what makes the move to primary school smooth?

‘Education transition’ refers to the process of a child moving from one setting to another, and how long it takes for that child to settle in and feel comfortable. For many children, starting primary school can be a seamless transition from an early childhood context.

Children who have what is termed an ‘easy temperament’ can make this adaption easily, often enjoy the challenges of a new context and look forward to what is involved. However, for a child who has a less outgoing temperament, it can take much longer.

It’s important to recognise that the self-esteem and self-confidence of a child can be affected by an adverse transition.

If a child is anxious about change then starting primary school can create questions in their mind, such as: Will I be able to do the work in primary school? Will some of my friends be in my new class? Will I like my new teacher?

Add to this Australia’s very hot weather at the start of the new school year and we find that young children, understandably, will tire easily, adding another layer of change.

What can teachers do to ease the transition process as children start primary school?

For children who have been enrolled in early childhood classes at a school, transition to primary can be continuous as the physical environment of the school is known and children will be aware of primary classrooms and know many teachers. Yet for many other students, teachers will need to provide extra support:

  • Know the names of the children assigned to your classes.
  • Send a note home to welcome children just before they start school.
  • Ensure children know their class and the assigned teacher before school starts.
  • Create a classroom environment that provides security, predictability and respect.
  • Be objective as you observe and gather a holistic profile of your class of children.
  • Provide continuity of learning so that what a child already knows can be extended.
  • Make sure children eat their lunch and drink plenty of water. Although this may seem unnecessary, hot summers can cause dehydration in some children.

What about teachers?

Of course, teachers also experience transitions. Starting a new year can be overwhelming and teachers often need the support of their school Principal, peers, and the community to enact positive transitions and support students and families to a new year.

Returning to the Chinese proverb, if the year starts well (and hopefully, without environmental crises) then the transition to primary school should form the basis of a successful start and an exciting new phase for happy and secure children. Start well, and positive learning outcomes will be achieved.


Marjory EbbeckProfessor Ebbeck is currently Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Education, at the University of South Australia and a part time Senior Academic Adviser to SEED Institute (Formerly RTRC, Asia). She chaired the Children’s Services State Consultative Committee from 1996-2004. In 2006, she was the Principal Researcher as part of a University Commissioned grant she won alongside Dr Victoria Whitington and Ms Alexandra Diamond that investigated the transition between the TAFSA Childcare Award and the School of Education Early Childhood degree program. This research was published on the UniSA website. From 2007-2008, Ms Ebbeck was the Principal Researcher as part of a teaching grant and worked on developing an on-line course in brain development. Internationally, she has worked as an external examiner for the Universiti, Brunei Darussalam; an external assessor at the University of Malaya, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia; and for the Hong Kong Council of Accreditation (HKCAE) as a Specialist in Early Childhood Education.

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