Evaluation of Transition to School Statement

This report was originally published 08 September 2015.

Image: Evaluation of Transition to School Statement

Summary

Introduction

The NSW Transition to School Statement was introduced in September 2014. The Statement records a child’s strengths, interests and preferred ways of learning. Its aims are to improve communication between early childhood (EC) services, families and schools about children’s transition and provide greater assistance for school teachers to prepare for children entering Kindergarten and thus, to plan appropriate learning and teaching programs.

The aims of the evaluation were to: identify the extent of uptake of the Statement and to assess which aspects of the Statement are working effectively and which aspects could be improved to inform future implementation efforts (i.e. a process evaluation). The evaluation also sought to determine whether the Statement achieves its stated objectives (i.e. an outcome evaluation).

CESE employed a quasi-experimental encouragement design to evaluate the program. This involved selecting two ‘targeted’ sites (Sydney-Blacktown and Riverina) and two ‘comparison’ sites (Sydney-Inner South West and Central West). The targeted sites received encouragement to utilise the Statement through additional communication and tailored professional learning workshops for EC services and schools, and parent forums. Data was gathered through qualitative and quantitative methods.

Data is based on surveys of:

  • 195 (or 94% of) EC and school participants in the workshops and 10 (or 100% of) parents in the parent forums in the targeted sites, carried out in September 2014.
  • 531 (or 87% of) EC directors in the targeted and comparison sites, carried out in December 2014.
  • 205 (or 61% of) school principals in the targeted and comparison sites, carried out in March-April 2015.
  • 532 (or 60% of) Kindergarten teachers in the targeted and comparison sites (representing 60% of all teachers in those sites), carried out in March-April 2015.
  • 1,029 parents and carers of Kindergarten students in the targeted sites, carried out in March-April 2015. These respondents represent 49% of all parents and carers selected from administrative records and 93% of families who could be contacted. Parents and carers were not surveyed in comparison sites to minimise fieldwork costs.

The very strong response rates provide reason to be confident in the representativeness of the survey findings. Data was also obtained through case studies of seven EC services and a forum with an expert panel to review de-identified Statements.

In this report, ‘EC services’ includes: community preschools; preschools that are part of a school; mobile preschool services and long day care services. The term ‘EC directors’ refers to the EC service directors and/or educators who responded to the survey. The term ‘principals’ includes their nominees for the survey. The term ‘school educators’ refers to school principals and teachers of Kindergarten students.

The terms, ‘parents’ and ‘families’ includes carers. The term, ‘child’ refers to the child for whom the respondent was the biological parent, step parent or other carer.

Extent of awareness and uptake of the Statement

The encouragement design resulted in significantly greater awareness and uptake of the Statement in the targeted sites. When surveyed two months after the Statement initiative commenced, 88 per cent of EC services in the targeted sites said they were aware of the Statement compared to 76 per cent of services in the comparison sites. EC services in the targeted sites were significantly more likely to report using the Statement than services in the comparison sites (60% vs 26%). Nearly 20 per cent of EC services in the targeted sites completed Statements for all children in their year before school compared to only six per cent of services in the comparison sites.

Around 50 per cent of principals and school teachers surveyed in the targeted sites had received Statements for one or more of their Kindergarten students compared to fewer than 20 per cent of school educators in the comparison sites. Around 90 per cent of the school educators who received Statements reported that their school made use of them to support the learning and additional needs of children and to get to know the child and family. Around half these school educators used the Statement for classroom grouping and organization, and one in three for curriculum design and delivery.

Around one quarter of parents surveyed in the targeted sites had a Statement prepared for their child. Based on the self-reporting of EC services, it was estimated that around 10 per cent of parents in the comparison sites received a Statement for their child.

The most challenging issues for EC services implementing the Statement were the workload and time constraints in preparing the Statement. EC directors typically reported taking between 41-60 minutes to prepare their sections for each Statement and a further 10 minutes to complete the child’s section. Paper versions were the most commonly used format but involved significant photocopying costs. Some EC services reported technical difficulties with the online format.

Among the EC services that had chosen not to use the Statement, the most frequently cited reasons included: the late introduction of the Statement in the year (62%); too much time involved to complete the process (39%); the service was already using a similar transition statement (32%) or the staff need professional development to prepare the Statements (21%).

Differences on expected outcomes between targeted and comparison sites

The successful implementation of the ‘encouragement’ design enabled a test of whether communication and transition support was perceived to be better in targeted than comparison sites. There were few differences between targeted and comparison sites on the outcome measures, which suggests that the Statement had little aggregate impact on transitions in its first year of implementation. However, users of the statement tended to report that it was a valuable tool to assist in the transition to school.

Improved communication between early childhood services, families and schools

Targeted vs comparison sites

Nearly all EC services agreed that they share information with families about children’s strengths, interests, preferred ways of learning and ways to support children’s transition to school. The majority of principals and school teachers reported receiving information from families about their child’s strengths and interests. There were no significant differences between targeted and comparison sites on these measures.

Kindergarten teachers in the targeted sites were significantly more likely to indicate that they received information from EC services about students’ strengths, interests and preferred ways of learning than did teachers in the comparison sites. There were no significant differences between principals’ responses to these questions in the targeted and comparison sites.

Users vs non-users

The parents and school educators who had received Statements said they felt better informed about the children’s strengths, interests, preferred ways of learning and ways to help their transition to school than respondents who did not receive them.

Better support for children’s transition to school

Targeted vs comparison sites

Nearly all EC directors, principals and teachers in targeted and comparison sites agreed that children were well supported and generally well prepared for their transition to school. This did not vary significantly across targeted and comparison sites.

Users vs non-users

Despite very high levels of agreement among users and non-users of the Statement, teachers who received Statements were slightly more likely to agree that their students were generally well prepared for school than teachers who did not receive any Statements. Families with Statements were also slightly more likely than those without Statements to agree that their child was well supported in their transition to school. However, most families surveyed felt that their children made a smooth transition into Kindergarten.

Among the families who already had a child at school, 86 per cent of parents agreed that having a Statement provided better support to help their child’s transition to school compared to their other children who did not have a Statement. Furthermore, 95 per cent of parents agreed that the Statement provided a better way for their family to pass on their knowledge of their child to the school compared to their other children who did not have a Statement.

Greater assistance for teachers to prepare for children entering Kindergarten

Just over 90 per cent of school teachers agreed that they felt better informed about the strengths and interests of their students with a Statement compared to students without a Statement. Approximately 75 per cent of teachers agreed that they felt better informed about the preferred ways of learning for students with a Statement than students without a Statement. Around 80 per cent of school teachers reported feeling better able to respond to the learning needs of their students with a Statement compared to those without a Statement.

Perceived value of the Statement among those who had used or received them

More than 90 per cent of EC directors, school educators and parents affirmed the Statement as a valuable tool for sharing information between families, EC services and schools. Ninety per cent of respondents were willing to recommend the Statement to other EC educators, families and schools.

Three quarters of the EC educators were planning to use the Statement in 2015 for children going to school in 2016, with the bulk of the remaining services still considering using the Statement. A substantial majority of school principals (87%) and teachers (90%) said they would use the Statements if received for Kindergarten students starting in 2016. Nearly all parents (95%) said they would like to have a Statement if they had another child starting school in the future.

Suggestions for improving the content and format of the Statement

Given the high level of interest in implementing the Statement in 2015, the most commonly mentioned recommendations were to make the Statement shorter and more concise, and to make specific refinements to the language and structure of the questions in all sections. The clear consensus from the survey data, case studies and review of de-identified Statements was to streamline questions and reduce the overall length and thus, reduce the time involved for EC services and families preparing Statements and for school educators using the information.

Future support strategies to enhance uptake of the Statement

Awareness and perceived value of the targeted and state wide support strategies

EC directors were generally much more aware of the targeted and state wide support strategies offered than school educators. In the targeted sites where professional learning workshops were offered to introduce the Statement, two in five EC services and schools sent participants. Over 90 per cent of respondents who accessed this support valued the workshops and Initiative Support Payment (teacher relief) in helping them to use the Statement. Although the parent forums were not well attended, almost all surveyed parents who attended, valued the forum. The online support materials (information sheets, community languages translations and completed example) were very well received by over 90 per cent of all respondents who used them. EC directors and school educators who were surveyed after the workshops and/or during Term 1 requested additional training to understand how to use the Statement to support children’s transitions.

Some respondents highlighted the need for ongoing support strategies for both the EC and schools sectors to increase understanding of the Early Years Learning Framework and school curriculum and to enhance skills in preparing and interpreting strength-based writing. Respondents also highlighted the need for more information sessions about the Statement and ideas on how parents can support their child’s transition. Some respondents indicated that schools should be encouraged to provide feedback to EC services and families about the individual Statements received to enhance children’s transition experience.

Discussion and Recommendations

The evaluation found that EC services, families and schools almost universally felt that children were well supported in their transition to school. These strong positive responses created ceiling effects, whereby respondents in geographical areas where the statement was used more or less frequently were equally likely to provide positive responses about children’s transitions. This made it impossible to detect any additional impact of the Statement in its first year of implementation. However, the Statement is clearly valued as a useful tool among the many key stakeholders who were using it and was generally perceived to serve the needs of individual children and their families. These findings suggest that there is merit in making the Statement more widely available. A potential barrier identified to more widespread implementation is lack of awareness about the Statement. One quarter of EC directors, two in three school teachers and nearly half the school principals surveyed in the comparison sites had little or no knowledge of the initiative. The proportion of parents who are unaware of the Statement is also likely to be high given that 61 per cent of parents in the targeted sites reported knowing little or nothing about it. If the comparison sites are indicative of the state wide trend, efforts to improve awareness may be required across the State to increase utilisation of the Statement.

To enhance uptake and implementation of the Statement, it is recommended that:

  1. The structure and content of the Statement should be refined, taking into consideration the feedback received in the evaluation.
  2. The accessibility of the online Statement should be enhanced to give early childhood services more flexibility to utilise electronic options, conditional on those options being consistent with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.
  3. Communications should commence earlier in the year, with consideration given to Terms 1 or 2 when early childhood services, families and schools are planning for transition.
  4. A targeted communication strategy should be implemented state wide to raise awareness of the Statement and promote its potential benefits to early childhood services, families and schools.
  5. The communication strategy should include support for professional learning including:
    • resource materials targeted at key users of the Statement - early childhood and school educators, parents and carers
    • specific training or online webinars targeted for educators in the early childhood education and school sectors with helpful ideas on how to use the Statement.
  6. The strategy should also include delivery and/or support for professional learning including:
    • cross-sectoral training opportunities for early childhood and school educators to develop a shared understanding of the purpose of the Statement and its alignment with the Early Years Learning Framework and to enhance skills in preparing and interpreting strength-based writing to support children’s transition to school
    • more localised training and networking to build relationships and collaboration between early childhood services and schools.
  7. The communication strategy should encourage schools to provide feedback to early childhood services and families by acknowledging receipt of the Statements and sharing how the Statement has been used to support the children’s transition.
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