Reception to year 1: How to support pupil transition

Written by: Ben Case | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Just because a child has reached a ‘good level of development’ at the end of reception class does not mean they are completely ready for life in year 1. Ben Case discusses transition and how we can support our youngest pupils

Spring term can be a puzzling time in the year 1 classroom. The autumn term’s focus on settling in the children can often mask how some are actually adjusting to year 1.

Children are defined as having reached a “good level of development” (GLD) at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) if they have achieved the expected level for the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) in the prime areas of learning and mathematics and literacy (DfE, 2022).

However, it is not unusual to find a child who reached GLD at the end of reception, now struggling in the spring term of year 1.

One of the challenges is that GLD is much more about a child’s early years development, rather than their readiness for year 1. GLD is determined by the number of ELGs a child has met in the “prime” areas, literacy and maths. However, even when most of these are met, a child may still be missing elements that are important for them to thrive in year 1.

There is a lot that is new in year 1; lessons are more structured, there are lots more transitions between different subjects, playtimes and assemblies, and less adult support when children do tasks. Getting used to this affects lots of children and is why we can see a dip in the spring term. For instance, a child who has grown in confidence during reception, may quickly lose that confidence as they cope with an unfamiliar classroom or a new teacher.

My experience of teaching in both year 1 and reception has made me appreciate how big a transition this is for children. However, because it is all happening in the same school, unlike the transition from years 6 to 7, we can underestimate the support children need to become confident and happy learners in year 1.

So, what can help to make this important transition child-centred, and successful?

Give more time to your ‘prime’ areas in reception

The early years framework is made up of seven areas of learning. Three are known as “prime”:

  • Personal, social, and emotional development
  • Communication and language
  • Physical development

The other four are known as “specific”:

  • Literacy
  • Maths
  • Understanding the world
  • Expressive arts and design

The prime areas help to prepare children for learning and are taught as children play, problem-solve, or explore resources. It is the high quality interactions educators have with children that enable them to develop these skills.

At times, the prime areas can be overlooked as it is not always easy to link these to "typical" subjects or to assess them. Even in reception, focusing on the specific areas can feel easier as they link nicely to other curriculum subjects such as English, maths, geography or science.

However, the more attention placed on developing children’s prime areas in reception the better prepared they are for their transition into year 1.

For instance, helping reception children to practise listening to instructions, and following them, is an aspect of communication that provides valuable preparation for year 1.

Get to know each other better

Teaching in any phase is incredibly busy but making time as a reception teacher to understand year 1 and vice-versa can really help to support children’s transition. I benefited a great deal from teaching in both year groups, but that is not always an option.

Instead, encouraging year 1 and reception teachers to visit each other’s classes can help foster understanding about the experience reception children are bringing into year 1 and what is typical in the year 1 classroom.

When I visited my first reception class as a year 1 teacher to help prepare the children for their transition, I have to admit my initial impression was of chaos. There were busy children and resources everywhere. It was noisy, with lots of talking, and adults joining in. I started asking myself what kind of learning could possibly be going on here.

However, the reality is that there is a lot of rich learning going on in this early years environment. Here are just some examples:

  • Learning and singing songs helps children to listen and retain facts.
  • Completing a puzzle promotes problem-solving and concentration.
  • Being outside and climbing on equipment builds strength in their bodies to help them sit up at a table when writing.
  • Using pegs with letters or sounds written on them to make up CVC words (basic three-letter words) helps them to develop their finger strength which allows them to hold and control a pencil to write.

All the activities that take place in a reception classroom are there to develop a child's understanding of what it means to be a learner.

While this may look different to the learning that takes place in year 1, it creates strong foundations for the children to understand the nature of learning.

If possible, getting the year 1 teachers to set up their classroom space to be similar to that of the reception class for the beginning of the autumn term can help with the transition for children as it feels familiar and safe for them. It also helps the year 1 teachers to understand the type of learning that takes place in this environment.

Visiting a year 1 classroom is also incredibly useful for reception teachers. How the classroom is set up, how the year 1 teachers do their inputs, and the expectations for the children to complete work, helps a reception teacher to understand how well prepared a child is for year 1.

Based on this, they can give a more informed view of where a child, who has reached a GLD, may still need support in year 1. For example, instead of just explaining that a child has met the ELG in self-regulation and fine motor skills and shows an ability to follow instructions in writing about a specific topic, their understanding of year 1 means they can also add that where the child needs to do this without adult support, the child may struggle.

Looking beyond a GLD to the whole child

One of the main changes in the new EYFS framework was to reduce the amount of data collected by practitioners. This does not mean that staff don't collect and use data, but there is no requirement to have this all collected on a spreadsheet.

Feedback from practitioners suggests that this is reducing their workload and allowing them to focus quickly on supporting children, as and when it is required. This positive development also needs to follow through into the year 1 classroom.

At the start of this article I explained why a GLD was not a sensible way to predict how a child will cope in year 1. Instead, ensuring that there are close working relationships between reception and year 1 means that the right information about a child's needs can be shared. Also, allowing more time for a year 1 teacher to come and meet their new class properly, and observe them in reception, is important in supporting a successful transition.

Final thought

The transition from reception to year 1 is a challenge for everyone but with careful communication, consideration of where the children are coming from, and an understanding of year 1 it can be a positive transition and ensure children establish a foundation that enables them to flourish for the rest of their school lives.

  • Ben Case is education advisor for Tapestry and the Foundation Stage Forum. He was previously a primary school teacher for more than 10 years. Visit

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