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From playgroup to primary

A nursery's transition programme has been lauded by HMIE and included on its website as an example of good practice

Even before the inspection of Ferryport Nursery was over, Liz McCrickard knew it had been good. Halfway through, the inspector had asked if her nursery's transition programme could be included on the HMIE website as an example of good practice.

But the Fife headteacher is quick to give due to others. "What we have was created by Kate Russell, depute head at Tayport Primary, long before I arrived in 2000," she explains. "I have merely built on that."

The programme was pioneering for its day when Mrs Russell introduced it more than 10 years ago, and since then she and Mrs McCrickard have consolidated and grown it, reducing the trauma of moving to big school for almost the entire pupil roll and allowing extensive sharing of information between teachers and staff at both institutions.

Recently, Mrs McCrickard extended the model to the transition between playgroup and nursery. "We are a school with capacity for 30 children in the morning and the afternoon, though we aren't full," she says. "We only take children at four and many are at the playgroup before joining us."

Once the children begin at the nursery, parents are encouraged to participate in the "soft start" to the day, where structured play activities are set up. It lasts for some 20 minutes. A similar scheme is in place in P1, although it is timetabled rather than drop-in.

Key to both transition programmes are the extensive teacher visits, which are planned in advance. Cover is provided by swapping teachers when necessary. At Tayport, Mrs McCrickard or Mrs Russell will often take classes so that teachers who have voiced an interest in taking the younger children in the following year can join in any visits.

The programme starts early in the year, dovetailing into the previous year's timetable, where nursery staff visit the new P1s to discuss progress and offer support through to October. As soon as the teachers are confident the new P1s have settled, they visit the new nursery children. By the time Mrs Russell visits the nursery in January to enrol the children for school, her staff will already be familiar with the children.

The next step is to get the youngsters familiar with the school, and the four-year-olds start visiting classrooms in January. "We don't have the benefit of being on the same site, which is why the transition programme is so important, but we do use the school gym on a Monday, so the children are familiar with that part of the school," explains Mrs McCrickard. "On some of the visits to the classroom, the P1 classes are absent and on other occasions they are there to mingle with the younger children."

In May, they get to meet their buddies who are in P6 and will befriend them when they move. They also go on walkabout through the school. Throughout June, their buddies come to the nursery in groups of 10 to play and the exchange of staff visits continue.

"The staff visits are so important because of the exchange of information. We can share the children's personal learning plans, while those with additional needs can be identified," says Mrs Russell. "It is enormously helpful for the teachers to know the children and their needs before they arrive."

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