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Making the transition to school or college

Change is often difficult for some children and young people, including those with special needs.

Starting school for the first time, or returning to school after a period of home education, can seem a daunting prospect, as it also can for parents or carers. The following information is intended to support you to assist your child’s return to school.

Managing feelings and emotions

Some children may be excited about starting or returning to school, while others will need help to manage anxiety about the unknown, expectations and/or overcoming previous negative experiences. The following resources are designed to support good emotional health and avoid anxiety:

Free resources and ideas from the Big Life Journal.

Young Devon – Wellbeing Toolkit

Mindfulness exercises


For parents: Overcoming your Child’s Fears and Worries by Cathy Creswell and Lucy Willetts.

For younger children:

  • Starving the anxiety gremlin.
  • The Panicosaurus.
  • Why Do I Have To? A Book for Children Who Find Themselves Frustrated by Everyday Rules by Laurie Leventhal-Belfer.

Preparing for a return to school

Start and keep to regular mealtimes, bedtimes, and consistent boundaries.

Work towards a routine, which fits in with a typical school day – discuss uniform, support your child if necessary with independence skills such as dressing and undressing, managing their own shoes and toileting.

You may find the following transition booklets helpful to use with your child:

Planning a return to school

Start visiting a range of settings, groups and schools before making any final decision.

Questions to consider asking:

  • What is the school ethos? How does it approach rules, sanctions and rewards? Does it have a bullying policy?
  • Is the school willing to arrange taster days and/or to organise a staggered return? Would it consider flexi schooling?
  • School routines – what are the start and finish times? Where do bags and trays go and are they easy to find and use?
  • The school environment – how much outside space is there and how much time is spent outdoors during the day? Where are the toilets? Look at halls/playground/lunchtime space – how are they arranged?
  • The curriculum – ask about timetabling and options if your child has special needs. In addition to the questions above it would be helpful to talk to the school’s SENDCo about:
    • how the school arranges the curriculum to suit individual children
    • what support the school has in place for children whose anxiety is intense enough to compromise their ability to enjoy school and learn
    • how the school helps children if they struggle with break times and lunchtimes
    • how the school uses its support staff to help children

Tell the school about your child

Speak to relevant staff and where relevant the SENDCo and mentor/1-1 worker.

Discuss your child’s interests and fascinations.

Share the areas in which you feel your child may need help, for example, making friends, separating from you, finding their way around, becoming easily overwhelmed in the school environment and so on.

If your child has special needs, then talking about their particular differences and difficulties will be very helpful. Explain where their needs lie, whether with social, emotional, learning, communication, speech and language, sensory processing differences and/or physical difficulties.

Communicate the names of any professionals who are involved with your child and take in any reports. If your child has an Education Health and Care Plan, take a copy with you.

Requesting a school place

Having chosen a school you like, you will need to check that there are places. You can do this by telephoning 01392 383000 and asking for the Admissions Team or you can take a look at our school admissions guidance.

If your child has an Education Health Care Plan you will need to work with the 0 – 25 Team to find a suitable school place that can meet your child’s needs – Devon’s Local Offer can help with this.