Top 10 tips for... Reception to year 1 transition

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

When children arrive in reception it is a carefully thought-out process with lots of preparation. But it could be argued that the move from reception to year 1 gets less attention. Suzanne O’Connell gives us 10 suggestions for making it smoother

1, Staff working together

There can be a tendency for year 1 staff to spend more time in discussion with year 2 than reception. Avoid organisational arrangements that separate reception from year 1. You need to make sure that the transition is as seamless as possible and to do this there needs to be tight planning and good communication between the two year groups.

2, Involve your subject coordinators

Ofsted recently raised some concerns about the extent to which the science curriculum of reception classes provided a sufficiently robust foundation for the science curriculum in year 1 (2023). The emphasis now is very much on having a clear framework for progression and this starts as soon as the pupils enter the school.

Whatever the school’s approach to teaching science in reception, make sure that your science coordinator, for example, has the overview of how this forms the basis for the knowledge and skills required in year 1. This practice obviously applies to all subjects.

3, Prepare your parents

Parents will have their own anxieties about their children moving up. Reception can still feel familiar and homely to them. Year 1 can feel like a world apart. Parents can have their own separation fears and having overcome that of reception may now feel renewed anxiety about taking the step into the realm of the national curriculum.

You want them to rise to the challenge of whatever the differences are, but also reassure them that the environment for their child will not be that much different to what they are used to.

Think about how much time and effort is made into bringing children into reception and then consider whether sufficient time is given to this prior to the move to year 1. Do your parents have the opportunity to meet the teacher during the summer term? This usually happens before entry to reception and some might feel a little let down if the same opportunity isn’t there now.

4, Prepare your children

What’s most important is that the step up should not come as a surprise. Starting early is probably the best advice with children spending time with year 1 staff and visiting year 1 accommodation in the summer term. Consider the transition issues for children surrounding routines, meal times, staffing differences, expectations, equipment, seating arrangements.

Try and look at it from a child’s point of view. How will their day seem different? Of course, you have the experience of children’s reactions from previous years. Make sure you listen to these and build on them. Give your children time to talk and ask questions, as some pupils will need lots of reassurance about the move to come.

5, Continuity through teaching assistants

Consider providing continuity with teaching assistants following the children up into the new year group. This can be particularly beneficial where you have children with special needs who have formed positive relationships and whose progress might be shaken with a change of staff.

6, Prepare the staff

How do year 1 staff get to know the reception children? In theory, this should be so much easier than when children come into reception. However, it can sometimes be assumed that there are more opportunities for this than there sometimes are in reality.

Do not leave anything to chance. It is vital that year 1 staff spend some time in the reception class to get a feel first-hand, especially in the run-up to transition. This should be followed by opportunities to talk through who they have seen and reflect on what the issues might be moving up. You might want to make a regular “swap” of staff focusing on a particular activity such as story-time.

7, Assessment

How effective are your records when it comes to passing them up from reception to year 1? Do they inform staff of what they need to know to make a successful transition? Records need to be fit-for-purpose and it can be too easy to spend time collating information that will simply be discarded when they move up. Schools should ask the receiving staff what is of use, what is of no benefit to them and what they are missing.

Don’t forget to let reception staff know how last year’s pupils are doing too. Keep the lines of communication open. As year 1 staff are getting to grips with their new pupils there may be some additional insightful information that could be provided that might not have cropped up during previous transition meetings.

8, Consider your approaches

It is not only the content of the subject areas that needs to be considered but also the teaching methods. It is to be expected that teaching styles become more formal and change in nature as children progress through the school and summer term can be a good time to introduce some of the learning experiences that pupils will have when they move into year 1. Consider maintaining some aspects of reception practice in year 1 as well. For example, keeping some sand, water, and play-based learning resources.

9, Something old, something new

The days of shocking children into a new regime are largely gone. Without compromising the ethos of the new class, are there items that can move with them? A class mascot or some equipment that will reassure them and make them feel they are in familiar territory without spoiling the opportunities that a new environment offers.

10, Learning from each other

It is not just about reception finding out how year 1 work and incorporating their practice into theirs. Sometimes those in year 1, overshadowed by the impact of national assessments, can feel pressure to move their pupils too quickly into a more structured environment. The children are still very young and some may have had very little time acclimatising themselves to reception, let alone year 1. What can the year 1 team learn from reception? This might be particularly important as the impact of missed social opportunities during Covid has left some pupils at a lower developmental stage than they might have been otherwise.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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