Positive Behaviour in the Early Years: Perceptions of Staff, Service Providers and Parents in Managing and Promoting Positive Behaviour in Early Years and Early Primary Settings

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CHAPTER 6 WHAT PRACTICES CAN BE IDENTIFIED BY STAFF AND PARENTS AS SUCCESSFUL IN RELATION TO SUPPORTING TRANSITIONS FROM NURSERY/PRE-SCHOOL TO PRIMARY SCHOOL?

6.1 Introduction

Parents and staff were asked a range of questions about children's transitions through the transitions questionnaires. Views were sampled on all transitions: into nursery, within settings and the transition to primary school. Here we focus on parental perceptions of transitions (n=527) - the matching staff data is not reported here. Most parents (76%, n=444) thought the transition experience would be mostly positive for their child before their child moved, slightly more found it actually was (78.3%, n=472). This shift in perception meant that 74 parents who had been slightly concerned about the transition before their child moved, had their fears allayed- leaving 41 parents who thought the move had only been partly positive for their child. A very small number (n=9) did not expect the transition to be positive at all, 6 of these parents felt the same following the transition.

Many parents felt able to support their child as he/she made the move to nursery or to another room, group or year: the strategies parents used to support their child during the transition phase fell mostly into four categories - communication (27%), encouragement (15%), home preparation (9%), and reassurance and comfort (8%). Schools and nurseries were perceived to provide considerable support. They found that visits (21%) plus pre-entry visits (9%), staff support (17%), and information given (11%) and shared (4%) provided good support at this time. They would appreciate an increased focus on visits and pre-entry visits and staff support, as not all parents felt these approaches were sufficiently available.

Parents were asked to choose the words that most expressed their own and their child's feelings at transition. For all it was an emotional time. They reported their own and their children's excitement (64%), their child's nervousness (24%) and other emotions including apprehension, anticipation, sadness, the child feeling grown up, indifference or in some cases the child being too young to understand what was happening. They themselves experienced happiness at their child moving on to the next stage, excitement, nervousness and looking forward to the change. Child and parent emotions mirrored each other.

6.2 Staff perceptions of transitions

Data on educators' perceptions of transitions was collected through questionnaire differentiated by the age strata of the children: 0-3, 3-5 and Primary 1. Analysis of results was undertaken by grouping responses to two sets of questions: those which focus on teachers' perceptions of children's transitions, and a second group which refer to teachers' practices at times of transition.

In response to questions 1, 2, and 6, which focus on staff perceptions, 956 returns on individual children were received.

6.2.1 Questions 1,2, 6

Overall transition records were completed on 956 children, by 119 staff. There were 815 children for whom records were completed both before and after school entry.

Q1) Before starting or moving up within the nursery/to primary school, did you think the move would be positive for each child emotionally and in relation to the areas of relationships, concentration, and behaviour (if applicable)? Staff were asked to respond on a basis of yes, mostly; partly; or not at all.

Q2) Looking back, do you feel that the recent move into or within nursery/to primary school has been a positive experience for each child emotionally and in relation to the areas of relationships, concentration and behaviour?

Q6) Which word best describes how the children seemed to feel about coming in to or moving within nursery?/The move to school?

Records in which staff commented on how they thought children would settled into the next stage of their pre-school or school experience, before that move actually took place, for example, prior to the move to school, were completed for 838 children. In each case staff felt that more than half of the children would find the transitions positive emotionally and in terms of their relationships, concentration and behaviour. Nevertheless both staff and parents felt transitions to be important.

Table 6.1 Before transition - emotionally

Before transition did you think it would be a positive experience emotionally for each child?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

165

19.7

1 = yes, mostly

499

59.5

2 = partly

149

17.8

3 = not at all

25

3.0

Total

838

100.0

Table 6.2 Before transition - relationships

Before the move to school did you think the move would be positive for children in terms of relationships?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

164

19.6

1 = yes, mostly

493

58.8

2 = partly

165

19.7

3 = not at all

16

1.9

Total

838

100.0

Table 6.3 Before transition - concentration and engagement

Before the move to school did you think the move would be positive for children in terms of their concentration and engagement?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

182

21.7

1 = yes, mostly

461

55.0

2 = partly

159

19.0

3 = not at all

36

4.3

Total

838

100.0

Table 6.4 - Before transition - behaviour

Before the move to school did you think the move would be positive for children in terms of their behaviour?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

164

19.6

1 = yes, mostly

540

64.4

2 = partly

110

13.1

3 = not at all

23

2.7

Total

838

100.0

Staff also completed records for 922 children after school entry. The results show that staff felt positive about the ways in which children were coping with transition emotionally (Table 6.5), and in terms of relationships (Table 6.6) and behaviour (Table 6.8) in 67% of cases. Figures were not so consistently high for concentration (Table 6.7) with 24% only partly positive in the ways in which they were coping in contrast to 57% who were mostly coping. A small percentage caused concern in terms of concentration (5.2%) (Table 6.7), and behaviour (2%) (Table 6.8). However these figures were consistent with staff anticipation of these experiences before transition (4.3% - Table 6.3, and 2.7% - Table 6.4 behaviour).

Table 6.5 After transition - emotionally

Looking back has the transition been a positive experience emotionally for each child?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

123

13.3

1 = yes, mostly

627

67.9

2 = partly

158

17.1

3 = not at all

14

1.5

Total

922

100.0

Table 6.6 After transition - relationships

Looking back has the transition been a positive experience in terms of relationships for each child?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

123

13.3

1 = yes, mostly

618

67.0

2 = partly

165

17.9

3 = not at all

16

1.7

Total

922

100.0

Table 6.7 After transition - concentration

Looking back has the transition been a positive experience in terms of each child's concentration?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

123

13.3

1 = yes, mostly

529

57.3

2 = partly

222

24.1

3 = not at all

48

5.2

Total

922

100.0

Table 6.8 After transition - behaviour

Looking back has the transition been a positive experience in terms of for each child's behaviour?

Frequency

Percent

0 = no current transition

123

13.3

1 = yes, mostly

626

67.8

2 = partly

151

16.4

3 = not at all

22

2.4

Total

922

100.0

Records for 922 children were returned describing more fully children's emotional state following transition (Table 6.9). Here practitioners selected from a range of descriptors: happy, excited, nervous, apprehensive, looking forward to nursery/school, sad, grown up, indifferent or another descriptor. Up to three words could be chosen to describe any given child. Typical combinations were 'excited, looking forward to it, and grown up' or 'nervous and apprehensive'. Where staff recorded that a child seemed indifferent this was usually the sole entry for that child - 8% of children were deemed to be indifferent about change. Just under half of the children were described as happy about change, 36% as excited, 25% as apprehensive and 19% as nervous. Such figures suggest that transitions can still pose problems for children, even though commentary from staff suggests positive approaches.

Table 6.9 Emotions at transition

Emotion at transition

Numbers perceived to experience this emotion

Percentage of cohort
(n=922)

Happy

418

45

Excited

333

36

Nervous

175

19

Apprehensive

228

25

Looking forward to the change

308

33

Sad

22

2.5

Grown up

147

16

Indifferent

76

8

Staff were invited to identify up to 3 emotions experienced by any one child - they made over 1700 recordings for 922 children.

Comments from staff reflect some of the strategies used to support children and encourage positive behaviours through positive approaches:

" Settling days suited to child's needs and at their own pace" (0-3 setting)

" I think we have a good settling in process and have few difficulties with children not settling in well" (Nursery Provider)

"Staff talk to and prepare children at all times highlighting the positive features of the new room and the many possibilities" (Nursery School)

"At present I feel our school has a really positive approach to children beginning their school career" (P1 teacher)

"Unsure children are placed in class with at least two friends" (P1 teacher)

"A transitional policy to ensure all pupils have a good quality experience moving to P1 should be provided. This could be drawn up in consultation with all relevant staff, nursery and primary, and parents. Views of children themselves should be taken into account. Staff should be made aware of early warning detection signs. Nursery reports should be made available as soon as possible to P1, preferably long before school begins in August." (P1 teacher)

6.3 Staff support practices for transition

In response to staff perceptions of their own skills and service provision, 128 responded to the transitions questionnaire, of these 39 staff working with 0-3 year olds responded, 70 3-5 year old staff responded, and 18 Primary 1 teachers

6.3.1 Questions 3,4,5

Q3) Do you feel equipped to support the children's move into or within nursery?/children's move within nursery?/ children's move to primary school?

Q4) What supports are provided to make the move into or within nursery positive?/ children's move within nursery?/ children's move to primary school? - positive

Q5) What supports should be provided to make the move into or within nursery positive?/ children's move within nursery?/ children's move to primary school?

Using three broad headings of 'Practitioner Support', 'Systems Supports' and 'Staff Views on Appropriate Support', responses were coded into eight categories - those which were either positive or negative overall comments, those which focused on the parent contribution or parental involvement, responses that referred to staff support or training issues, procedural and organisational issues, visiting by staff and children and information sharing between sectors, relationships, and activities around transitions. Additionally these eight categories were informed by inter-rater coding or written responses into 60 sub categories which were collapsed into the present eight used across the three practitioner practices questions.

Table 6.10 Responses to transitions practice focused questions

Nature of support

0-3 years

3-5 years

Primary 1

Q3

Q4

Q5

Q3

Q4

Q5

Q3

Q4

Q5

Positive approach

23

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

Negative approach

6

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

Parental links

15

27

19

10

27

10

4

8

4

Support & training for staff

4

0

1

3

12

10

1

0

1

Procedural factors

29

31

25

36

37

20

11

3

5

Visits for child

11

28

18

31

35

8

7

10

8

Responsive interaction

24

9

13

25

4

3

6

1

0

Child support & inclusion

2

0

3

2

10

1

6

4

2

Total

99

86

62

107

100

52

35

18

18

Nature of practitioner support

Practitioner approaches to supporting children's transitions recognised the importance of working closely with parents in ways that would reassure and comfort both the child and the parent. Mention was made of the importance of promoting feelings of participation and belonging in out of home settings, and of good communication with children so that they benefited from explanations, discussions about daily events, and could anticipate what might happen next in the new setting. Children were often encouraged to have a transitional object such as a favourite toy or a comforter. In some cases pre-entry programmes were offered though this was more often the case at primary school entry than in pre-school settings.

Practitioners felt that by working with parents appropriate home support could be given and positive relationships developed with parents. There was encouragement for parents to focus on some home preparation for school entry, to take time off from work to support the settling in or school entry days and to stay with their child during nursery settling in periods to ensure a gradual entry - these comments sometimes focused on the wider family and the place grandparents or siblings could play. Many of the responses from staff in early years nursery settings paid attention to the role that a keyworker can play: a contact with one particular member of staff was widely held to be important during transition periods for both children and their parents.

Nature of System Supports

Practitioners shared a range of approaches and supports for transition that they currently use. They focused on three broad areas that contribute to effective transitions in early childhood services - support for the child, support for families and opportunities for shared working between sectors. They were asked to consider within-setting transitions, as well as transitions from home and between early childhood sectors.

Practitioners recognised the importance of a positive environment in which children could be relaxed, happy, have fun and engage with exciting materials to help with the transition process (eg cartoons, puppets). Thoughtful and sensitive interactions with children, a warm welcome, reassurance and comfort, taking time to explain and to acknowledge the child's feelings, to discuss daily events, to listen to children and to share expectations with them were all included. Encouragement, fun and praise were seen as motivators for positive behaviour, just as familiarity of people and place were included in current practice, eg child moving with peers into a new room that had been visited and was already familiar. The importance for children of being able to take something familiar with them (transitional objects such as toys, a favourite blanket or something associated with home) was linked to gradual entry supported by a series of visits or events, including summer holiday activities for children moving on to school. Some settings also used a buddy system in which younger children were paired with children already in school and visited their new class when the current nursery or Primary 1 children were there. Each of these approaches supported children to feel more confident at transition, and helped to avoid stress for the child.

When responding in relation to parents at times of transition for their children, practitioners highlighted a number of practices they currently use. Many respondents expressed a view that effective support for young children in transition had to involve collaborations between practitioners and families. The climate created to make it possible for parents to take part in planning for and supporting their children through transitions was seen to rest on positive attitudes amongst staff. Good communication and sharing of information was therefore cited.

Practitioners and parents shared a number of themes in their responses: both groups recognised that when children are making transitions it is also a transition for their family. Practitioners reported a good level of awareness of what parents might be feeling as their children start in out of home care or education, and settings were putting a range of practices in place to provide support and to make policy a reality.

Table 6.11 Parents and practitioners - shared transitions themes

Parents

Practitioners

Induction day / pre-entry meeting (parents and staff

Home preparation for school start

Contact with parents

Opportunity for parents to voice opinions / concerns / ask questions / open door policy / pre-entry visits

Information SHARED with parents Information GIVEN to parents

Support from setting / staff / keyworker / communication

Daily information given to parents

Parents involved / continuity (of school work or school policy etc at home)

Workshops for parents

Parents stay until children are settled

Support from other parents

Providing a parents' room

As much support for parents as children / involving wider family. Parents not always prepared / bigger issue than expected. Parental anxiety

Support from family other than parents ( e.g. siblings)

Transitions are for parents too

Staff views on appropriate support

Respondents were also asked to express views about what should be in place for children and families in transition. Here practitioners focused on a similar range of practices to those mentioned as part of their current practice, but additionally they made suggestions about potential developments. As settings varied what was innovatory in some was already established good practice in others, and in yet others some recommended approaches were being reviewed, for example one Headteacher commented that they had worked to develop a buddy system, using both Primary 1/2 children and Primary 6/7 children to support new entrants. She highlighted the importance of training buddies - and had found that new entrants could become over dependent on their buddy if that buddy took too directive a role. A number of respondents suggested that transitions were at their most effective when staff moved with a group, when a qualified early years keyworker could support individual children, and when information was passed on to the new teachers. A value was placed on in service training, on the support from/involvement of outside agency in challenging cases, and on a staff ethos which provided support from and interaction with other staff, including those with more experience.

Overall the data from the staff transitions questionnaires showed this as an aspect of practice where staff were thoughtful, were looking for solutions, and were more than prepared to collaborate between sectors and with children and families. In both parental and staff returns the major focus was on social and emotional support for children. Whilst not absent in returns, much less emphasis was placed on continuity and progression in learning and on bridging curriculum between settings. Herein lies an important area for development.

6.4 Transitions Focus: Nursery to P1 Progress Records in a sample of settings

Further insight into transitions for young children is provided by taking a closer look at transition records. Typically such records are passed from pre-school to school as children enter primary education. The timing and follow up of this exchange of information varies from area to area, but provides an opportunity for staff groups either side of transition to school to bridge children's experiences in positive ways.

6.4.1 Background

The purpose of the Nursery to P1 Progress Records is to 'provide families and primary schools with a summary record of each child's learning in each of the key aspects of the 3- 5 curriculum'. The approach is based on the following principles:

  • Identifies what the child can do
  • Depends on professional judgement
  • Uses current curriculum guidance
  • Reflects good practice
  • Involves parents
  • Involves children
  • Supports continuity and progression at the crucial stage of transition from pre-school to primary school

6.4.2 Methods

A total of 117 individual child records was analysed from 4 of the case study settings. The settings included a local authority nursery school, a 0-5 nursery centre; a nursery class in a primary school and a private 0-5 nursery. The sections analysed included:

  • Emotional, Personal and Social Development which has 15 items graded on a 3 point scale [emerging (lowest level); developing (mid-range); skilled (highest level)]. A quantitative analysis of each item was undertaken to identify an overall assessment of children's emotional, personal and social development; to identify the numbers of children within the sample as having emerging skills and which items were noted as emerging ( i.e. likely to require further support in P1)
  • Nursery staff commentary in the Emotional, Personal and Social Development section. A process of content analysis involving the extraction of key words and phrases was used.
  • Parental commentary on the child's experience at nursery. A process of content analysis involving the extraction of key words and phrases was used

6.4.3 Emotional Personal and Social Development

Emotional, Personal And Social Development is described as 'an aspect of learning that demonstrates the child's ability to cope with people and settings outside the family. The development of independence skills, self-esteem and the ability to relate to others…'

There are 15 categories of behaviour shown:

1. Separates readily from parent/carer
2. Plays independently
3. Plays cooperatively and shares resources
4. Expresses appropriately own feelings, needs and preferences
5. Recognises others feelings, needs and preferences
6. Is confident in a range of relationships
7. Shows interest and curiosity
8. Knows when to seek help
9. Remembers and observes rules
10. Concentrates at an appropriate level
11. Commits to task and completes it
12. Exercises self-control
13. Responds appropriately to instructions
14. Is independent in personal hygiene, cloakroom and other routines
15. Takes turns and shares

Some guidance of 'What to look for'( i.e. evidence) is provided for each category. This provides at least some indicators to promote a consistent approach to which aspects of behaviour and skills to comment on in each behaviour category. There is no advice about level i.e. what constitutes 'emerging', 'developing' or 'skilled' so this may be interpreted differently within settings and between staff.

6.4.4 Summary

An overview of transitions is provided by analysis these records. Data drawn from this analysis also informs the case study section of the report provided in Chapter 8. Of the 117 records analysed:

  • 45 children were perceived to be in the skilled category for all aspects of development
  • 67 to span the developing and skilled categories
  • 4 children were perceived to have a number of skills in the emerging category with other categories either developing or skilled.
  • 1 child was perceived not to have attained emerging skills in a majority of categories, to have emerging skills in two categories 'play cooperatively and share resources' and 'show interest and curiosity'; and to be skilled in 'separate readily from carer' and be 'independent in personal hygiene'.

If children with skills in the 'emerging' category are viewed as a concern then only 4% of the case study sample would be in this category and only 1 child would be perceived to have significant needs in relation to Emotional, Personal and Social Development.

The categories were children were most likely to be viewed as skilled (more than 80% of children) include

  • Separates readily from parent/carer
  • Plays independently
  • Expresses appropriately own feelings, needs and preferences
  • Shows interest and curiosity
  • Knows when to seek help
  • Remembers and observes rules
  • Responds appropriately to instructions
  • Is independent in personal hygiene, cloakroom and other routines
  • Takes turns and shares

The aspects where substantial numbers of children were in the developing category include

  • Play cooperatively (31%)
  • Recognises others' feelings, needs and preferences (20%)
  • Confident in relationships (33%)
  • Concentrates at an appropriate level (26%)
  • Commits to task and completes it (22%)
  • Exercises self-control (22%)

Table 6.12 - Overview of the content analysis of transition records

Transition Records by level of emergent skills n=117

Not attained*

Emerging

Developing

Skilled

separate readily

0%

0%

10.26%

89.74%

play independently

0.85%

0%

10.26%

88.89%

play cooperatively

0%

3.42%

30.77%

76.07%

express own feelings

0.85%

0%

13.68%

86.32%

recognise others feelings

0.85%

1.71%

19.66%

77.78%

confident in relationships

0.85%

1.71%

33.33%

64.10%

show interest

0%

0.85%

18.80%

80.34%

seek help

0.85%

0.85%

14.53%

83.76%

observe rules

0.85%

0.85%

11.97%

86.32%

concentrate

0.85%

0.85%

26.50%

71.79%

commit to task

0.85%

0.85%

22.22%

76.92%

exercise self-control

0.85%

0.85%

22.22%

75.21%

respond to instructions

0.85%

0.85%

17.95%

80.34%

personal hygiene and eating

0.00%

0.00%

3.42%

96.58%

takes turns and shares

0.85%

0.85%

15.38%

82.91%

It may be helpful for Primary 1 teachers to recognise that it is in these areas that children at transition may need continued support in developing their skills.

Table 6.13 Parent comments on transition records

Category

Positive Comments

Negative Comments

Confidence

21

Relationships

20

Progress

17 = social skills
25 = general progress

2 = needs to develop more social skills

Child's Disposition (happy, enjoyed, etc)

25

Parents' Disposition (proud, pleased)

16

Readiness for School

21

1

The transition records also allow space for comments from parents and staff. Parental comments about children's Emotional, Personal and Social development were generally positive and were in a number of key categories shown in Table 6.14. Staff comments were also generally positive and were in the following categories:

Table 6.14 Staff comments on transition records

Category

Positive Comments

Negative Comments

Confidence

31

1 = growing confidence

Independence

29

0

Relationships

65

1+ difficulty in forming relationships

Behaviour

50

7= support to participate or complete activity

Disposition

13 = happy
7 = pleasant/delightful
10 = thoughtful/caring
4= other

1 = quiet
1 = support to control emotions
1 = was unsettled has now settled

A number of short studies of transitions in case study settings are included in the case studies of settings section.