Transition into Key Stage One – A Blog and a Book…

Alistair Bryce-CleggTransition14 Comments

As this is the time of year that lots of Reception and Year One teachers are thinking about Transition.

It is a hugely important time for children, and when done well can have a significant impact on wellbeing and attainment.

If you fancy reading my thoughts and ideas on tradition in a bit more depth then you might want to try and get your hands on a copy of  Effective Transition into Key Stage One.

If you buy it direct from Bloomsbury here it is part of their 45% off sale which is going on until the 7th of July!


When I tried to get to the bottom of what the people who were trying a play based transition were finding hard, they were all pretty much in agreement.

  • Lack of EYFS knowledge
  • Lack of equipment/resources
  • Lack of additional adults
  • Lack of support
  • Unrealistic expectations

To be fair, if you not quite sure what you are supposed to be doing, you haven’t got any resources or support it is going to be pretty difficult to put in place an effective transition model.

Through my project work with different schools and Local Authorities, I have also found out that people’s definitions of ‘transition’ differ greatly. For some schools it is a couple of story swaps in the last week of term and that is it. For others it is a play based approach to learning throughout the whole of Year One, and everything else in between.

I appreciate that even though it makes perfect sense to me and that there is significant evidence to prove it’s appropriateness and effectiveness, the concept of children having play based learning beyond Reception is one that is not accepted or promoted by our current educational climate in the UK.

There are many very successful countries across the world whose children don’t start their ‘formal’ education until they are 7 years old. Indeed, three of Europe’s most academically successful countries start school at 7 years old.


So a later start to more formal academics does not mean slower progress.

High level engagement is what gives you the potential for high level attainment. The more engaged a child is the more they absorb and facilitate their learning.

We have to make sure that we are giving ALL children a developmentally appropriate approach to learning and for the majority of children at 5 years old ‘formal’ teaching isn’t it. They are not physically, emotionally or academically ready to take on what is in essence a Victorian model of teaching and learning. Just because the children sit in silence and look at a Smart Board rather than a black board doesn’t make it a modern approach to learning.

Of course, all children are not the same, different children will develop different skills at different times. Practitioners will often tell me that they have a group of children that are ‘ready for formal’. Or I work with some schools that have a Y1 class and a split Y1/R class where the ‘less able’ children are in the split class because they ‘need the play’. The truth is, they all ‘need the play’. Even the most able. It is through quality play experiences that children will be engaged and challenged and that is how you facilitate truly effective learning.



Those of you reading this in Scotland may know that there is an ongoing Scottish campaign ‘Upstart Scotland‘ to try and change the age that children start school to 7 years.  Even if you don’t live in Scotland, but you would like more information, evidence and academic findings on this subject click on the link above there is LOADS there to get your teeth into.

On the subject of a delayed start to school, Professor Donald Christie, emeritus professor of education at the University of Strathclyde, said:

“Of course at the age of four or four and a half, there are many children who can cope very well with the demands of formal education but equally there are children who are developmentally not ready for that kind of change.”

He said that the gap between the academically capable children and those who are less able opens up quickly and creates a burden for teachers.

Where the start of formal education is delayed until children are seven, Prof Christie says that those who would have been capable at four are not affected and the children who would have struggled have had time to mature.



Even if we agree that children would benefit from starting school at 7 years old. It is unlikely to happen tomorrow or in the near future. So, why am I telling you this? Well, as Year One teachers it might help to explain some of the issues that you struggle with  especially around engagement, attention span and behaviour and help to shape an approach to teaching and learning that is more developmentally appropriate. Also to reassure you that quality play is an effective learning tool for the most able. Not something they only get to do when they have finished their work, or on a Friday afternoon.

Happy children make successful learners and happy adults make successful teachers! So we need to make sure that we are all as happy and relaxed as we can be to be in school.

For children entering Year One, the more the environment, resources and routines are as they were in Reception, the easier the transition will be. If the children have had several opportunities to visit their new Y1 space and spend time with their (new) adults, the this high level of familiarity will significantly reduce their conscious and subconscious anxiety.

For adults setting up a Year One environment, the more you understand about Foundation Stage practice the more relaxed you will be. Add into this mix some appropriate resources, outdoor access and another fully trained adult – and you will probably be able to at least half your alcohol consumption in the first few weeks of term.

High levels of well-being for all of us are crucial if you want to ensure success. It doesn’t matter how FABULOUS you are or how AMAZING your classroom is. If a child (or adult) is feeling out of their comfort zone they will not be firing on all learning cylinders!


Imagine you got a new job in a brilliant school with really lovely people, but you had been to the school once before you applied and once on your interview. Today is your first day, how do you feel? Probably not at your most spectacular, and you are an adult not a 5 year old!

One highly effective tool to help practitioners to create an effective learning environment and then monitor its effectiveness is the Leuven scales of Well being and Involvement.

The Leuven scales were developed by Professor Ferre Laevers in 1994 and have become a well recognised and welcome addition to effective assessment. Well being refers to children’s self esteem, self confidence and resilience, described by the Leuven institute as when children behave ‘like fish in water’!

Involvement refers to their levels of engagement, interest and the depth of their learning

Each scale has 5 levels

Well being scale

Level 1 – Extremely Low

The child clearly shows signals of discomfort:

  • whines, sobs, cries, screams;
  • looks dejected, sad or frightened, is in panic;
  • is angry or furious;
  • shows signs feet, wriggles, throws objects, hurts others;
  • sucks its thumb, rubs its eyes;
  • doesn’t respond to the environment, avoids contact, withdraws;
  • hurts him/herself: bangs its head, throws him/herself on the floor

Level 2 – Low

The posture, facial expression and actions indicate that the child does not feel at ease. However, the signals are less explicit than under level 1 or the sense of discomfort is not expressed the whole time.

Level 3 – Moderate

The child has a neutral posture. Facial expression and posture show little or no emotion. There are no signals indicating sadness or pleasure, comfort or discomfort.

Level 4 – High

The child shows obvious signs of satisfaction (as listed under level 5). However, these signals are not constantly present with the same intensity.

Level 5 – Extremely High

During the observation episode, the child enjoys, in fact it feels great:

  • it looks happy and cheerful, smiles, beams, cries out of fun;
  • is spontaneous, expressive and is really him/herself;
  • talks to itself, plays with sounds, hums sings;
  • is relaxed, does not show any signs of stress or tension;
  • is open and accessible to the environment;
  • is lively, full of energy, radiates;
  • expresses self-confidence and self-assurance.

Involvement Scale

Level 1 – Extremely Low

The child hardly shows any activity:

  • no concentration: staring, daydreaming;
  • an absent, passive attitude;
  • no goal-oriented activity, aimless actions, not producing anything;
  • no signs of exploration and interest;
  • not taking anything in, no mental activity.

Level 2 – Low

The child shows some degree of activity but which is often interrupted:

  • limited concentration: looks away during the activity, fiddles, dreams;
  • is easily distracted;
  • action only leads to limited results

Level 3 – Moderate

The child is busy the whole time, but without real concentration:

  • routine actions, attention is superficial;
  • is not absorbed in the activity, activities are short lived;
  • limited motivation, no real dedication, does not feel challenged;
  • the child does not gain deep-level experiences;
  • does not use his/her capabilities to full extent;
  • the activity does not address the child’s imagination.

Level 4 – High

There are clear signs of involvement, but these are not always present to their full extent:

  • the child is engaged in the activity without interruption;
  • most of the time there is real concentration, but during 
some brief moments the attention is more superficial;
  • the child feels challenged, there is a certain degree of motivation;
  • the child’s capabilities and its imagination to a certain extent are 
addressed in the activity.

Level 5 – Extremely High

During the episode of observation the child is continuously engaged in the activity and completely absorbed in it:

  • is absolutely focused, concentrated without interruption;
  • is highly motivated, feels strongly appealed by the activity, perseveres;
  • even strong stimuli cannot distract him/her;
  • is alert, has attention for details, shows precision;
  • its mental activity and experience are intense;
  • the child constantly addresses all its capabilities: imagination and 
mental capacity are in top gear;
  • obviously enjoys being engrossed in the activity.

In many of the transition projects I have done, we have used the Leuven scales at the end of the 3rd term of Reception and then again (with the same children) on entry to Year One. Lots of staff have been amazed by the significant drop in many children’s well being and involvement on entry to Year One compared with what it had been in Reception. If their well being and involvement are low then the potential for achievement and progress is also low.

A3 poster (16) (Medium)

Image: Pete Moorhouse

There are a number of other Social-Emotional assessment tools coming onto the market. If you have used a good one – let us know in the comments section of this blogpost.

National statistical data tells us that 70.7% of children achieved a Good Level of Development (GLD) at the end of Reception 2017. So that means that 29.3% of children didn’t (amazing maths skills I know!).

If you think back to the summer term, you may have felt the very tangible pressure that your Reception team were under to make sure that the maximum number of children made GLD. Often what happens is that as a result of year on year target setting, and performance management pressure,  practitioners will identify where the ‘gaps’ are that are prohibiting certain children from reaching the desired GLD target.

Once the gaps are identified the teaching and learning is planned in such a way that lots of opportunities are taken to fill the gaps. More specific activities, extra sessions of phonics, extra reading at lunchtime etc.

In some Reception settings this when under the guise of ‘School Readiness’ children are given more formal, structured, adult led teaching and less Continuous Provision. The sand and water may disappear to make room for extra tables. (If this style of teaching is not developmentally appropriate in Year One – then there is little hope if it is introduced in Reception).


By the end of this intense period of ‘coaching’ children will often be able to produce evidence to show that they have filled the gaps and are now at a GLD. This evidence is often moderated by Year One staff, Senior Leaders and sometimes Local Authority moderation teams, the evidence is robust – the children can do it…at the time.

But, because a lot of this information has been learned at speed in a short space of time it doesn’t stick. Give those children five or six weeks off on holiday and then a return to a Year One environment that is nothing like their Reception. It is little wonder that the learner a Year One teacher has sitting in front of them appears very different from the children who achieved the GLD in the summer.


It is just like when we revise/cram for a test. How much of that information becomes part of our hardwired knowledge base and how much seems to leak out of our brain while we are asleep?

Of that 70.7% of children who achieved their GLD I would hazard a guess that they were not all still secure with their learning on entry to Year One. Those children aside, you potentially have a third of your class who have not yet reached a ‘good level of development’ with a play based approach to learning. They are VERY unlikely to flourish with a more ‘formal’ approach on entry to Year One.

I firmly believe that if you pitch the start of your year in Year One at the appropriate level for all children, taking into account an effective transition, the link between well being and achievement and what a powerful learning tool play can be then you will reap bigger rewards later on.


Pushing children too soon into a developmentally inappropriate learning environment in the hope that they will learn more at a faster pace,  will actually make your job and their learning significantly harder. This will make you fed up and stressed and them stressed and fed up!

It is okay – in fact more than okay – to provide a quality play environment for children on entry to Year One. It is also okay to stand back and observe your children, their interactions, interests and learning preferences. You often learn so much more by watching than you do trying to get through your ‘groups’.


It is perfectly appropriate to evidence what you are seeing in the same way that it is done in Reception with photographs, observations, discussion, creations and practitioner judgement.

Although it is important that we are able to show children’s achievement progress this doesn’t have to be written in a book. What children are able to record at this age is a TINY aspect of what they know and can do. It is wrong to make judgements about their ability based only on what they record in a book. In the words of Einstein…



14 Comments on “Transition into Key Stage One – A Blog and a Book…”

  1. A nervous NQT starting in Year 1 from September. The school I have a job in currently has no CP. I have spent time with my new class and feel that CP would be particularly beneficial to the chn. I’m struggling to organise and think of effective CP so that the balance of formal/CP learning is correct. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  2. Great read and my thoughts exactly! I am moving into year 1 from a S&L resource base in sept and my class will be having playbase resources (even though it’s not the usual practice)as I still have a number of chn who are no where near the ELG and even if they have met them they still play! Our education system is outdated and doesn’t work!

  3. A great read.
    I am having reception and year 1 in September and we are definitely learning through play. Indeed we are trying to make this style of learning seamless all the way to the end of year 2. Really looking forward to the challenges. I will share this with my colleagues.

  4. Dear Alistair, I have recently transitioned from a ” formal” year 1 class in a big school( they thew away my sandpit and toys when I left) into a mixed infant class in a tiny village school. How marvelous is their transition now!! In the same room , with the same resources, inside and out ,I love it and so do the children , as the first day of year 1 is exactly the same as the last day of reception except they feel grown up because there are some younger ones to support, show around and lead into activities, and because they know “everything”. How I wish more schools worked like this. Keep up the great work Mr BC.

    1. Thanks Claire

      No plans at the moment – but I will let you know if that changes.


  5. I watched your webinar with colleagues at school and then read your blog. I appreciate your realistic outlook and suggestions for those of us who are new to this idea of transition as a process and building play into Year 1. Thanks!

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