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Service gaps in transition to middle years still a problem

An Auditor General report released today on Education Transitions found that while the Department of Education and Training (DET) has improved transitions from early childhood to primary school, it does not have a comparable strategy for the primary to secondary school transition.

The Auditor General found that while there are many examples of good practice for transitioning students from primary to secondary school, practice is inconsistent, there is limited transferring of student information and a lack of support and guidance to schools.

Transition from early years to primary school

A child’s early years fundamentally shape their life chances. Participation in early childhood education prevents poor developmental outcomes and later disengagement from education. The Auditor-General found that DET has a comprehensive, well-researched framework to support early years’ transition. Information is transferred with the child through transition statements.

The report found that most Victorian children are well-prepared for their transition to primary school. This is partly driven by increased kindergarten participation rates from 93 per cent to 96 per cent over the last five years. Victoria has also reduced the proportion of Prep children who are considered developmentally vulnerable.

However, with one in five children entering school assessed as having at least one developmental vulnerability, there are still a large number of children at risk of falling behind. Children from CALD backgrounds, Aboriginal children and children who live in low socio-economic areas are more commonly assessed as having a developmental vulnerability.

Transition from primary school to secondary school

In contrast to the framework around early years’ transitions, the report found that DET does not have a comprehensive strategy for managing middle years’ transition, when children are moving from primary to secondary school.

The middle years, between year 5 and year 8 when children are entering adolescence, are a time of significant physical, emotional and developmental change. They are an important opportunity to identify and respond to early warning signs that could lead to more complex problems, but they have been virtually ignored in policy and program development.

This is also the time when some children begin to disengage from education. For many children, the transition to secondary school involves building new social networks, adjusting to a more independent learning environment and a change in the curriculum and teaching methods.

The report identified that children’s academic outcomes and engagement with school decline after transitioning to secondary school. Decline is faster for boys than girls.

There is significant room to improve how schools and DET manage this transition. For example, according to VAGO there is no requirement for a transition statement to be prepared for children transitioning to secondary school and there is a lack of guidance and support to schools from DET. As a result schools are approaching transitions for children in the middle years in a variety of ways, leading to inconsistencies and inefficiencies across the system.

VAGO highlighted the need to examine the uneven impact of transitions on male and female students and develop targeted strategies to support vulnerable students.

In our submission to the 2015-16 budget VCOSS has called for transition plans for students moving between primary and secondary school to better identify any ongoing learning, development and support needs. Similarly, the 2013 YACVic and VCOSS report Building the Scaffolding recommended the development of a policy framework and specific funding for services supporting children in the middle years.

Recommendations

The Department of Education and Training has accepted all the Auditor-General’s recommendations. The audit recommended that DET:

  1. Review data collected from maternal and child health services and early childhood education and care providers to monitor the impact of services on children’s long term education outcomes and develop a system that allows DET to link child-level data collected prior to school with data collected after school enrolment.
  2. Review the use of early years transition statements for adequacy of information captured, relationship between early childhood and schools, training and development for educators in early childhood and schools settings to develop shared understandings.
  3. Develop and monitor transition outcomes for the early years and middle years for children identified as vulnerable.
  4. Develop a more comprehensive suite of guidance and resources to support schools to transition middle years students, including advice on information transfer and development of transition networks for schools to share best practice
  5. Allow more timely access to child-level data for schools.
  6. Examine the appropriateness of the timing of the Year 6 Review for children with disabilities and its impact on transition outcomes.

VCOSS has made several recommendations on education and transitional support for children and young people in our 2015-16 state budget submission, Building a Victoria without poverty.

VCOSS media release: Auditor General report supports call for better ‘middle years’ transition planning.