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Top tips for starting school

Starting infant or primary school is an exciting milestone for your child but can feel like a big step for lots of children, and even more so for those who have special educational needs and/or disabilities. As a parent/carer, you may also feel worried about whether the school will understand your child’s needs and how they will settle in. To make the transition a little easier, there are some things you can do to help your child prepare for September.

What does transition mean?

Transition is a word that is used a lot in SEND. It simply means moving from one setting, stage or phase to another.

Examples of transitions are: moving from nursery to primary school, primary school to secondary school, secondary school to post-16 education and from post-16 education to adulthood. For some children there is also the change from infant school to junior school.

Transition can also be used in a more general sense to talk about daily changes such as the transition from home to school each morning or moving classrooms between lessons. Any change or move is considered a transition of some kind.

For many children and young people with SEND, changes and moving places can be a challenge – so it is important that careful planning is put in place as early as possible. There are lots of strategies, techniques and support that can be given to help children and young people with SEND manage change and adjust to their new environments.


1. Speak to your child’s new school and share information early

Female client consulting with a agent in the office

Talk to the SENCO or inclusion manager of your child’s new school to make sure the right support will be in place. If possible, agree a transition plan so that you know how the change will be managed. If your child is currently in nursery or pre-school, make sure they have ways to communicate with the school about activities your child might struggle with, or any medical needs they may have.

2. Take your child to visit the school as many times as possible

Photo of a teacher with children and colourful wooden toys on a table.

The more familiar your child feels with their walk to school, their new surroundings, and with the people, the more confident you will both feel when the time comes.

3. Use visuals, like photos, drawings and maps when you talk about school 

A photo of a woman on a sofa laughing and looking at a book with a young girl.

You could even make a scrapbook in which you could add photos from your visits, pictures of your child in their new uniform, maps of the route to school and pictures of their morning routine.  You could create a story in which your child is the main character. Some schools can even prepare personalised stories for you to read with your child.

4. Create a profile or ‘all about me’ page that can be shared with your child’s school

A little boy with glasses playing with coloured building blocks

This could include:

  • Name
  • Great things about me
  • What is important to me?
  • How I communicate
  • What you need to know to support me

5. Organise a play date

A photo of a man and woman pushing a child each on swing

If possible, try to get to know one or two other parents/carers of children starting school and consider a play date. There may be some parents/carers from the same nursery or pre-school moving on to the same school or if the school has a buddy system, you may be able to contact them in advance through the school.


6. Take part in activities at home that can support development

A photo of a little girl with Down Syndrome and colourful painted hands

There are simple activities that you can do at home to encourage independence, mobility, communication, listening, concentration and turn taking. Just by sharing books, singing nursery rhymes, and playing games, you are preparing your child with the skills they will need for school.

Portsmouth City Council have produced a Top Tips for Starting School guide which gives you some ideas of the skills that teachers like children to have when they start school.

For children with SEND, we know they achieve things at their own rate, so please don’t worry if your child can’t do all these things, but hopefully you will find some of these activities and resources useful.

7. Let your child be involved

A photo of a mother and daughter choosing a pink rucksack.

For example, let them choose their new school shoes or their new bag. Let them try on their uniform at home and get them excited about starting school.

8. Make starting school a positive experience 

A picture of a man talking to a young boy on the sofa with his arm around him.

Talk to your child about what to expect and any worries they have. Don’t let them see your fears and worries.

9. Start your school routine early

A photo of a child setting an alarm clock in his bed.

Begin your child’s sleep routine during the summer holidays – so that they are already going to bed and getting up at the right time. You could also practise getting them to have breakfast and getting dressed quickly – so that the routine is familiar.


10. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and voice any concerns that you have with the school. 

A sign post image of the six most common questions, who, what, why where, how.

If you have an early years worker or someone from portage supporting your family, they can give you helpful advice and support too.  You can also contact Portsmouth Parent Voice (PPV)  and Portsmouth SENDIASS for further advice and support.

Transition - Moving from Primary to secondary

Moving from primary to secondary school

For some children with special educational needs, moving from primary to secondary school can feel like a big jump.

Schools are often much bigger than children may be used to and they will most likely be seeing lots of different teachers and moving between different classrooms throughout the day. This is very different from having one consistent teacher and the same class friends at primary school.

Try not to worry too much – there is lots the primary school, the new secondary school and yourselves can do to make your child’s move a bit smoother.

Schools will be working together The primary school will be sharing lots of important information about your child with the secondary school and will make sure you get to share your views too. Some schools create written profiles or passports that they share with the new setting, these contain details on any needs your child has, how best to support them, what has worked so far and any likes or dislikes. Sometimes this is called person centred planning.

Secondary schools plan ahead – Some schools will offer induction days (sometimes called moving up days) to give your child the opportunity to experience the school before they start. They should be asking to speak or meet with you to learn how best to support your child.

The school will put in place early any adaptations or support that your child will need when they start. The SENCO of the new school will be sharing information on your child with all staff that will be working with them. Some schools will also offer a mentoring or buddy scheme. They can also offer visuals and pictures to share with your child before they start.

Supporting your child at home

  • Ask for information early – Contact the new school as soon as possible and ask for any information or visuals they might have to prepare your child. A map of the school can be really helpful. You can also visit the outside of the school and travel the journey to school either walking or on public transport.
  • Create a checklist – Having a list of everything your child needs can be really helpful in supporting them to be organised each day. You can create a visual for the wall that they can tick off.
  • Work on new skills – Your child may need to practice putting on a tie, ordering a lunch or following a timetable – these are all things they might not have come across before.

Read Parent Carer, Natalie Abraham’s blog about her son’s move to secondary school

Read Young Mind’s transition tips for pupils with SEND.

National Autistic Society – Starting or Changing School information

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Contact the Portsmouth Send Local Offer to gain help, get more information or to leave feedback about the website.

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