Grant holder
Dr Autumn Roesch-Marsh, University of Edinburgh, Dr Fiona Morrison, University of Stirling, Dr Christina McMellon, University of Strathclyde
Project status

A small scale study, based in one large urban early years setting in Scotland, which investigated the transition experiences of children from migrant, refugee and minoritised communities.

Project summary

A review of the literature identified that the experiences and needs of migrant and refugee children and children from minoritised communities, during the period of transition from early years to primary school, has rarely been studied.

This small scale study used a mixed methods approach to investigate the transition experiences of minority ethnic, migrant and refugee children and their families in one large urban early years setting in Scotland. The study was undertaken in partnership with an Edinburgh charity called the Multi-Cultural Family Base.

The data collection for the study involved mixed qualitative methods including: 10 observations of 3 different transition groups, interviews with 8 families (3 families had children with disabilities), interviews with 5 children (1 child had a disability), 1 parent focus group with 6 mothers (3 of these mothers had a child with a disability), 1 child focus group with 8 children, 11 professional interviews with staff from ESL service, primary schools, nurseries, and the voluntary sector.

Analysis was thematic, with particular attention given to the presence or absence of Froebelian principles. It was found that Froebelian theory did not underpin transition practices in this part of Scotland but a range of good practice was identified. There were also crucial areas for development, particularly in relation to the needs of children with disabilities.

Key findings

The study found that migrant and refugee children and children from minoritised communities undergo multiple, complex and concurrent transition experiences which significantly increase the stress and anxiety associated with starting school. These included:

  • adjusting to a new culture
  • insecure and inappropriate housing
  • problems with travel and getting to and from school
  • changes to family configurations and family conflict
  • adjusting to a new and unfamiliar language.

Transitions were further complicated by the fact that may families faced:

  • concerns about their immigration status and their future in the UK
  • experienced racism and in some cases violence in the community
  • were experiencing grief associated with separation from wider family and were worried about friends and family not in the UK
  • and for the refugee families, many were experiencing post-traumatic stress and/or mental health difficulties.

Despite the many challenges experienced by these families during transition to school, many of the children and families had very positive experiences of transition. Many remarked on the respect they were shown and how this was different to what they had experienced in their home countries.

However, parents of children with disabilities and additional support needs had a much more difficult time and felt let down by nurseries, schools and social work.

Our study found that transitions are made easier when:

  1. we have a holistic understanding of the child
  2. we are patient about the pace and process of transition for each child
  3. we give parents/carers lots of information and reassurance
  4. we offer parents/carers opportunities for peer support
  5. we encourage children to develop friendships inside and outside of school
  6. we offer enhanced registration processes
  7. we offer language support for children AND parents/ carers
  8. we are sensitive to the trauma children and families may have experiences
  9. we address racism and bullying inside and outside of school.

Next steps

Recommendations for change include:

  • ensuring more even availability of transition support, practice varies throughout Scotland
  • better evaluation of transitions work with parents and (crucially) children
  • improving reflection upon and evaluation of transitions practice – are we focused on children who are ‘ready’ for school or schools that are ‘ready for children’?
  • increasing the ethical and cultural diversity of Parent Councils and teaching staff
  • ensuring more shared pedagogical approaches and philosophies between early years and primary – playful learning that ‘extends thinking’
  • developing a stronger policy focus for transitions
  • better planning and support for children with disabilities and to understand better intersecting challenges and strengths for families
  • bringing insights from Froebel into transitions work with an increasing focus on creativity, and environment.

The transition group work we observed was based inside, engagement with Froebelian theory and practice could support transition workers to better engage creative approaches to learning and make better use of inside and outside environments to enhance learning and smooth transitions.

Research documents

Final research report Transitions to Primary School Roesch-Marsh 2019