Accepted for publication in Advances in Autism, 23rd July 2018 – Author accepted
version - DOI 10.1108/AIA-05-2018-0016
Published version: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/AIA-05-2018-
Inclusive school practices supporting the primary to secondary transition for
autistic children: pupil, teacher, and parental perspectives
Keri Hoy1,3, Sarah Parsons*1,3, Hanna Kovshoff2,3
* For correspondence: email@example.com
1. The Centre for Research in Inclusion, Southampton Education School, University
of Southampton, UK
2. The Centre for Innovation in Mental Health (CiMH), Psychology, University of
3. The Autism Community Research Network @ Southampton,
Purpose: The primary to secondary school transition can have a significant and long-
lasting impact on young people. Autistic children are particularly vulnerable to negative
transition experiences, however, there is a lack of research examining effective
practices and provision for these pupils. This case study involves a mainstream
secondary school in the South of England, which has a dedicated Learning Support base.
The aim was to collect qualitative data on experiences of the primary to secondary
school transition from multiple stakeholders.
Design/methodology/approach: A photovoice activity followed by a semi-structured
interview was conducted with five autistic pupils aged 12-16 years; semi-structured
interviews were also carried out with six parents, and four teachers.
Findings: Five key themes emerged from the data in relation to effective practices:
Inclusion, Child-centred approach, Familiarisation, Visual Supports, and Communication
Research limitations/implications: As a small-scale case study there are limitations
regarding generalisation. However, this research illuminates transition practices that
are experienced as effective by autistic children, their families and teachers.
Practical implications: Practical implications related to each of these themes are
highlighted. These implications are important in the context of the mandatory
responsibilities of schools in England to include the voices of children and young people
with special educational needs in decisions about their education.
Originality/value: The findings challenge a rights-based approach to inclusion and
illustrate the importance of a needs-based approach which appropriately recognises
and understands what autism means for children, their families, and the teachers who
The transition from primary to secondary school, which takes place in the UK around
the age of 11 years, is one of the most important and challenging educational transitions
that pupils go through, and can lead to considerable stress and anxiety (Zeedyk et al.,
2003). Secondary schools tend to be large, holding over three times as many pupils on
average compared to primary schools (Department for Education (DfE), 2017a). This
can be overwhelming, particularly for pupils on the autism spectrum, who may have
heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli (American Psychiatric Association (APA),
2013). Within secondary school, pupils typically have subject lessons with different
teachers and classrooms; new routines containing multiple changes and transitions
throughout the day can be especially difficult for children on autism the autism
spectrum (Fortuna, 2014). Further stress and anxiety can arise from expectations of
increased independence at secondary school, which autistic children may struggle to
fulfil (Plimley & Bowen, 2007).
Ineffective and unsupported transitions between schools can negatively impact on a
child’s development and academic achievement (Fortuna, 2014). Consequently,
transition planning is particularly important for children with special educational needs
and disabilities (SEND; DfE / Department of Health (DoH), 2015). With autism spectrum
diagnoses on the rise (Hansen, Schendel & Parner, 2015) and 70% of pupils on the
autism spectrum educated in mainstream schools in the UK (DfE, 2017b), there is a
significant need to identify the school practices that may support more successful
transitions to secondary school.
Tobin et al., (2012) acknowledge that the increased demands on flexibility and social
communication during secondary school can be especially challenging for autistic
pupils. They discuss how the children’s strong preference for consistency can make
adapting to new routines difficult. Despite this, there is a lack of empirical evidence
focusing on the specific difficulties they face. This conclusion is supported by Makin, Hill
and Pellicano (2017) who discussed how although autistic children are known, mainly
anecdotally, to be vulnerable during the transition, little is known about the factors
which cause this difficulty. Their longitudinal study assessed 15 autistic children in
primary school through to secondary school. These pupils reported generally negative
experiences, involving a lack of support from both their primary and secondary schools,
as well as concerns about bullying and difficulties making friends (also Topping, 2011;
There are also some studies that report less negative transition experiences for autistic
children. For example, Mandy et al., (2016) explored experiences of transition through
standardised questionnaires assessing levels of ‘psychopathology’, ‘adaptive
functioning’, and ‘peer victimisation’ in 28 pupils on the autism spectrum, aged 11
years. Parent-, teacher- and self-assessments were conducted during the final year of
primary school and the first term of secondary school. Mandy et al., (2016) found that
bullying levels decreased across the transition, whilst levels of ‘psychopathology’ and
‘adaptive functioning’ remained consistent i.e. they did not decrease. There are
limitations of this study, not least the overwhelming focus on difficulties and challenges,
as well as the fact that the social and educational processes which occurred during the
transition were not directly investigated. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that the
transition to secondary school may not always be an unduly negative experience. Other
authors also report some positive experiences within small samples of children (Neal &
Frederickson, 2016; Fortuna, 2014). Crucially, however, Mandy et al., (2016; p.11)
acknowledge that the reduction in bullying found between primary and secondary
‘…could reflect proactive and successful strategies adopted by the secondary
schools in this study. This possibility should be specifically investigated, as
knowledge about any ecological processes that reduce bullying of people with
ASD would be valuable for informing good educational practice’.
This comment clearly highlights the need to examine school-based practices that may
support successful transitions from primary to secondary school. Makin et al., (2017)
identify that additional planning is key to successful transitioning, and suggest
interventions need to be applied before, during, and after the transition to modify the
school environment to best suit pupils’ everyday needs. The question remains about
what modifying the environment may look like in practice in terms of meeting the needs
of autistic individuals, and parents (Stoner et al., 2007). The present study is, therefore,
interested in illuminating specific practices that are implemented in the primary to
secondary school transition that are identified as enabling and positive from the
perspectives of the key stakeholders involved: parents, teachers, and of course the
pupils themselves. This study was also interested in finding out more about the
practices that could be developed and improved in the light of feedback from these key
stakeholders. The specific research questions addressed were:
(1) What are the views and experiences of young autistic people about their
transition from primary to secondary school?
(2) What are the views of parents and teachers about the transitions of young
autistic people from primary to secondary school?
(3) What do these views and experiences identify as the effective practices that
support transitions, and the practices that could be developed or improved further?
Context and epistemology
This research was conducted under the umbrella of the Autism Community Research
Network @ Southampton (ACoRNS; acornsnetwork.org.uk). This is an education-
focused initiative that aims to understand more about effective practices for supporting
children and their families through transitions and trajectories. ACoRNS is a
collaborative partnership between academics at the University of Southampton, and
schools and colleges in the local community that span the statutory stages of schooling,
and includes mainstream and specialist schools. The research agenda, with the views
and voices of children and young people at the core, is co-constructed with these
community partners to ensure that research and practice are mutually informing and of
direct practical relevance and benefit (Parsons et al., 2013). Fundamentally, the ACoRNS
partnership operates from an epistemological position of knowledge co-construction,
rather than knowledge transfer or exchange (Guldberg, Parsons, Porayska-Pomsta, &
Keay-Bright, 2017). Such an approach seeks to move beyond traditional assumptions
about whose knowledge is prioritised in research and, therefore, how such knowledge
should be captured, represented and disseminated in developing evidence-based
practices (Milton, 2012). This approach reflects the need for an ethical shift in autism
research that is more inclusive and participatory (Pellicano, Dinsmore & Charman,
2014), and in autism education research that places schools at the centre of the agenda
(Parsons & Kasari, 2013).
In line with this collaborative approach, this project adopted a single case study design
focusing on one mainstream secondary school in the South of England. By examining
data at the micro-level, and drawing on multiple perspectives, case studies help explain
complexities which may not be captured through experimental or survey designs
(Thomas, 2015). Data is collected within the context of its use, which is vital if research
and practice are to inform each other (Parsons et al., 2013). The school was actively
involved in planning the research, and generating ideas for the questions they would
like answered. Additionally, this study drew upon the multiple perspectives of
stakeholders in line with Fortuna’s (2014; p.189) recommendation:
‘Having the viewpoint of all participants in the transition process – parents,
pupils and teachers – is quite rare; yet all three play a major role in the transition
process, and need to be involved in any future research.’
School and Participants
This school has a number of pupils with severe and complex needs, including autism,
and supports those needs in a Learning Support (LS) department within the school. The
LS department supports pupils in a range of ways, with some spending a majority of
their time within the dedicated base and others using it on a less frequent basis and
spending more time within the rest of the school. Purposive sampling was used: the
Assistant Head teacher selected pupils who were diagnosed as being on the autism
spectrum, according to school records, and who he felt would be willing to participate.
Five pupils chose to participate (four males, one female), aged 12-16 years. Three of
these pupils are in the LS, whilst two are in mainstream lessons but receive additional
support from LS staff, such as weekly one-to-one sessions. Six parents agreed to
participate; five mothers, and one pupil’s grandmother who was their legal guardian.
Four staff members (two males, two females), including teachers, the Special
Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), and Assistant Head teacher were recruited on
the basis that they worked closely with these pupils and knew them well.
Methods and procedure
A photovoice methodology was adopted with pupil participants to provide structure
and visual support during their interviews. Carnahan (2006, p.44) defined photovoice
as ‘…an educational action research tool that embraces visual communication through
photography’. Asking participants to take photographs themselves can lead to more
meaningful participation by actively engaging them (Povee, Bishop & Roberts, 2014),
and reducing traditional power imbalances within research (Ha & Whittaker, 2016).
Four aspects of transitions were also proposed for participants to think about with
regards to what they liked/disliked, and what support worked well/could be improved,
based on the school’s interests and existing research literature:
(1) Moving between different classrooms: Mandy et al (2015) argued this involves a
major ecological shift, increasing demands on the child’s social, intellectual, and
(2) Having different teachers for different subjects: this may be difficult for children
who find routine changes challenging (Neal & Frederickson, 2016).
(3) Break and lunch times: the larger numbers of pupils in secondary school can be
overwhelming for children with autism due to sensory sensitivities (Makin et al.,
(4) Friends and other pupils: positive social relationships have been identified as
key factors in determining the success of a transition (Dillon & Underwood,
2012; Peters & Brooks, 2016).
In the first session, pupils were individually asked to walk around the school with the
researcher, and take photographs that showed what they liked/disliked about the
school, including objects or people that helped/did not help them to settle in during the
transition to school. This took approximately 15 minutes. A second session was
conducted on the same or following day. Pupils met individually with the researcher,
and were asked to look at their printed photographs and write ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ on each
one, and to say more about why they took each picture. These photographs remained in
front of participants throughout the interview so they could be used as prompts where
necessary. This session lasted between 9 and 19 minutes.
Semi-structured interviews were carried out with parents and teachers to explore their
views and experiences about transitions, including the four key areas summarised
above. Questions explored what had helped, what had hindered, fears and concerns, and
strategies used to overcome these. Pupil, parent and staff interviews were conducted
face-to-face in a quiet meeting room within the school, and were voice recorded (with
permission) using a Dictaphone. Parent interviews lasted 12-23 minutes, and staff
interviews 10-30 minutes each.
Ethical approval was gained from the relevant Faculty Ethics and Research Governance
Committee at the University of Southampton (Ref# 31030). Adult participants received
information sheets explaining the research aims and what participation would involve,
and a consent form to sign. A simpler, more visual information sheet was designed for
pupils, alongside an assent form. Participation risks were low, however it is possible
that some participants who may have had particularly negative experiences could have
experienced the discussion as distressing. The researcher reiterated that they were not
required to answer questions they did not want to, and could take a break at any time.
She also provided a contact within the school that the participants could speak with
following the interviews. Data were kept in accordance with the University’s data
protection policy, stored on a password-protected laptop, and kept confidential.
All interviews were transcribed and analysed following Lichtman’s (2013, pp.251)
‘three Cs of analysis; from coding to categorising to concepts’. Firstly, deductive codes
were identified based on previous research including bullying, communication and
teacher knowledge. Then the data were coded inductively to find additional recurring
categories. These codes were then combined into five main concepts/themes that
emerged frequently throughout the data. Transcripts were then reread and colour
coded with each of the five main themes. This enabled key issues, and similarities and
differences both within and between participant groups to be identified.
Findings and implications for practice
Five key themes emerged from the data, which were seen to contribute to successful
transitions: inclusion, child-centred approach, familiarisation, visual supports and
communication and consistency. The notable overview of the data is that every pupil,
teacher, and parent reported the transition as a positive experience. One parent stated
‘it’s been a super positive experience’, whilst another said ‘it couldn’t have gone any
better’. A summary of specific practices identified which support transitions, as well as
implications for practice, is included in Table 1.
***Insert Table 1 about here***
Inclusion and the value of the Learning Support base: Pupils and parents expressed
initial concerns about the structure of a mainstream school. One pupil was concerned
about the schools’ size being ‘very confusing’. Similarly, a parent felt:
‘my biggest concern was that he would just be roaming the corridors of the
school and be totally lost and no one would look after him with sixteen hundred
Other parents expressed concerns about their child being bullied, or ‘overwhelmed’ by
other pupils. Additionally, the SENCo said that the ‘biggest’ question asked by pupils
before the transition is about bullying. Two pupils and two parents discussed incidences
of bullying at school, but said that LS colleagues were very quick to resolve the issues.
All pupils were happy to receive additional support in the LS base, and none expressed
desires to be fully included into mainstream classes. One pupil, who is in mainstream
for most lessons, said ‘LS really does help a lot’. This was also evident in the pupils’
photographs, as every pupil took at least one photograph of the LS area or staff (Figure
***Insert Figure 1 about here***
When asked what they disliked about school, four pupils took pictures of communal
areas (Figure 2), describing them as ‘busy’ and ‘noisy’. Some pupils disliked how busy
the school gets during break and lunch times, and preferred stay in LS to eat their lunch
as it is quieter. Staff and pupils described ‘beneficial’, and ‘helpful’ provision in which
pupils from the LS go for lunch five minutes early to avoid the crowds.
***Insert Figure 2 about here***
However, despite being in LS for most or some of the time, pupils did not express feeling
excluded from the rest of the school. One pupil said ‘in a school we’re all like a family,
you know working together’. Three parents expressed desires for their child to fit into
mainstream, but all six acknowledged the benefits of LS, with one parent saying ‘this
school’s absolutely out of this world when it comes to LS’. Another parent described
how LS is essential for their child, saying ‘he just wouldn’t cope in any other school’. LS
was also beneficial for pupils following the mainstream curriculum, as one parent
‘he just has help every minute of the day, he comes out of class when he has a
problem, he goes straight to LS and they put his mind at rest’.
The LS department allows pupils to be in a mainstream school without having to
negotiate the structural components of secondary school, like transitioning between
classrooms and teachers. As one staff member described: ‘the aim is that they don’t
have to move very far’, ‘everything is catered for up in LS’ so ‘they get to know this part
of the school really well’.
All staff members described how transition provisions are ‘flexible’ and ‘very dependent
on the individual needs’, as ‘what works for one child wouldn’t always work for
another’. Staff discussed various strategies to help pupils settle into the school,
including starting on part-time timetables. All parents were satisfied with the transition
provision their child received, frequently highlighting aspects that were individualised,
such as ‘they arranged for him to take photographs because that’s something he enjoys’.
However, one parent and her son felt their provision was not individualised. This year 9
pupil follows the mainstream curriculum, and has little contact with LS unless there is a
problem. When talking about his taster day ahead of the transition, he explained ‘the
thing that was unhelpful was…I had to do the same thing as everyone else’. Thus, it is
important that those pupils who are fully based in the mainstream are not overlooked
when it comes to additional individualised support and planning.
Another key idea in this category was the importance of staff having good knowledge of
the child and their needs. Four parents described how ‘teachers need knowledge of
autism’, along with knowledge about the individual child in order to ‘get more out of
them’. Parents appreciated teachers making ‘a point of getting to know his personality
and things that he’s really good at’, with another parent saying ‘I think you need to
know the child really well’. All staff members discussed the importance of gathering
information about pupils. One teacher described using an ‘all about me’ unit of work to
‘try and find out what their interests are’. One parent said: ‘they incorporate trains into
his art projects and stories, and they use what’s of interest to him to get more out of
him’. Further, pupils’ interests can be used to help aid the transition process. The SENCo
described how they often ‘work our transition around those interests’ to help engage
One parent highlighted that it is not just the child that the school needs to have
‘me as a parent is an outsider, and they need to understand the parent as well,
and then once the parent’s understood it’s easier to transfer them into a different
school because the parents understand what’s happening’.
However, none of the staff members described efforts to try and actively get to know
parents. Interestingly, the importance of teacher knowledge about individual pupils
prior to secondary school entry was rarely mentioned by the pupils themselves. One
pupil described how he liked his teachers that listened to him, and demonstrated this by
taking a photograph of his tutor during the photovoice activity, whom he said is always
there to listen to him. Another pupil took photographs of a room where he has one-to-
one talks with a teacher, and said he likes being listened to in there.
Familiarisation was highlighted as a way to reduce the anxieties that come with the
transition to secondary school. As one pupil described, ‘that’s what I personally think is
vital for autistic children, you have to prepare them for the environment’. When
discussing effective transition provisions, pupils and parents spoke of school tours and
chances to meet staff beforehand in order to familiarise themselves with the school
environment. Parents appreciated when the primary school ‘would free up a member of
staff that [child] was familiar with so they could come with him’ which ‘helped a lot’ as it
was not a completely unfamiliar environment. Staff spoke about occasionally going to
meet pupils in their primary school first, so they then had a friendly face when they
toured the secondary school. Further, the SENCo described how transition work is done
‘prior to the main… taster day’ so that on the taster day ‘those that need it have had a lot
of input already’ and are familiar with the environment. These familiarisation strategies
were seen as beneficial by staff members and hence, could be adopted by other schools
to help manage the transition.
One issue raised by parents was that they did not have enough opportunities to see the
school and LS department themselves, particularly those parents of children in
‘As a mum I would have liked to have had a tour of the school because then that
would have been easier to have a map and visualise where everything was’.
One parent argued that as autism has a strong genetic component, it is important to
‘cater for the parents as much as the child’, and ensure parents also have that familiarity
with the environment to reduce their own anxieties about their child being there.
Visual supports were emphasised by multiple participants as essential for successful
transitions between primary and secondary school. Three staff members described
using visual supports to aid autistic children through the transition, including sending
photographs of the school to primary schools, and allowing pupils to come and take
photographs themselves. The SENCo felt that visual supports are ‘really important and
powerful in terms of transitions’. They discussed how it is very beneficial for pupils on
the autism spectrum to have photographs of where they will be and the staff they will
be with. Another staff member discussed using Social Stories (Gray & Garand, 1993)
with pupils before they transition. Five parents also praised the use of Social Stories
and other visual supports such as photo-booklets. One parent said: ‘photographic
pictures you cannot get better than that…the more photographic keys you can give them
Another parent discussed how visual supports were beneficial over the summer
holidays before their child started secondary school, as they could ‘put the social story
up in the kitchen so it was there all the time and he could see it regularly’, to help
familiarise them with the new environment. Further, when asked what support would
be helpful for future transitions, ‘more visual support’ was frequently mentioned.
However, one member of staff described;
‘a lot of kids carry visual supports with them and don’t necessarily know how to
use them because they need training and practice, and then the teachers and TAs
[teaching assistants] don’t really know what to do with them’.
Therefore, simply having visual supports does not necessarily imply that they will be
effective. Consequently, schools should provide training to staff and parents on how to
use visual supports effectively, so they can assist pupils in using them in school and at
Interestingly, despite staff and parents discussing the usefulness of visual supports,
none of the pupils mentioned them in their interviews. This may be because they were
not directly asked, and so future research should cue children to discuss visual supports
in order to explore their views about using them. Nevertheless, using photovoice as a
method was beneficial for pupil interviews, which reinforces the point about the value
of using visual supports in general.
Communication and Consistency
All parents were pleased with the communication received from the secondary school,
stating they can always contact staff if they have any concerns, and that this was
ongoing throughout the transition process. Effective communication with school staff
appeared to be an essential factor for a successful transition from parental perspectives,
with one parent saying ‘I did need lots of time to talk things through and you know just
discuss how things were going’. Another parent described ‘I’ve never come up against a
brick wall, they’re always very, very accommodating and helpful’ and went further to
say ‘you’re always made to feel really welcome, that’s another important thing’. This
highlights that effective communication between the school and parents needs to make
parents feel relaxed and supported so that they feel able to contact the school. An
emphasis on effective and consistent communication was also apparent during staff
interviews, as all staff members described parents being able to contact them at any
time. One teacher said;
‘we have that communication right from day 1 so when they arrive there’s lots of
phone calls, notes home and we put on an extra parents evening’.
Parents and staff both expressed the importance of ensuring teachers are well-
informed. One staff member said:
‘we arm teachers with a training strategies booklet to support them, with any
information about individuals coming to their class, so the teachers are very
Parents appreciated staff sending emails to all of their child’s teachers about particular
issues. However, despite staff and parents thinking this is effective, some pupils raised
concerns about the communication between staff, highlighting a lack of consistency in
their methods. For example, one pupil described:
‘with one teacher who had the system of if I couldn’t remember I’d put my
thumbs up, and it was really good, and I don’t have her anymore so the system
went in the end’.
For this pupil, that system was beneficial as he did not have to repeatedly put his hand
up, as this led to stigmatisation from peers. Further, lack of consistency between staff
was also discussed by a staff member, who discussed how ‘teachers are not consistently
using the resources put out to them’, because ‘it requires extra preparation’. Hence, it is
important for school management to ensure not only that they pass information to
teachers, but that teachers are enabled to communicate between themselves about what
strategies they have found effective/ineffective with particular pupils.
This case study aimed to elicit the views and experiences of children, parents, and
teachers to provide insights into effective practices for supporting the transitions of
autistic pupils between primary and secondary school. Many practices were identified
including how to enable communication between parents and the school; using the
child’s special interests to engage and support them; implementing visual supports in a
range of ways; and allowing plenty of time ahead of the transition to allow pupils and
parents to become comfortable and familiar with new staff and the new environment.
While many of these ideas chime with existing literature (e.g. Whitaker, 2007; Peters &
Brooks, 2016; Stoner et al., 2007; Gunn & Delafield-Butt, 2016; Mancil & Pearl, 2008;
Neal & Frederickson, 2016), what is new here are the details that illustrate these
effective practices from multiple perspectives and direct experiences, and the focus on
the Learning Support base as a site for enabling positive experiences. Indeed, there are
many more details about effective practices included here that are not described in the
Autism Education Trust’s Transition Toolkit (Stobart, not dated). In line with Neal and
Frederickson (2016), the current findings confirm and extend the evidence base about
the strategies that can support successful transitions to secondary school.
The Learning Support base, as a particular characteristic of the school (cf. Mandy et al.,
2016), is likely to be central to understanding the overwhelmingly positive experiences
reported by the participants. Such positive experiences were surprising given the
difficulties and challenges in transition identified elsewhere in the literature (noted
above). As a resourced provision, the Learning Support department at the school
reserves places for pupils with a specific type of SEN. Pupils are generally taught mainly
within mainstream classes, but require the support of a base and some specialist
facilities around the school, which may vary depending on need. Resourced provisions
exist in just over 20% of mainstream secondary schools in England (729 schools; DfE,
2017), and are entitled to additional funding for each place in recognition of the
resources required to provide extra support. Thus, this case study illustrates what is
possible in the context of this additional support, and the notable differences it can
make to individuals and families at the challenging and anxiety-provoking time of
transition. Certainly, other literature points to the value of specialist resource bases for
supporting children’s outcomes (OfSTED, 2006) and as a type of provision preferred by
parents (Frederickson, Jones & Lang, 2010; Barnard, Prior & Potter, 2000).
The role of resource bases within the context of debates on inclusive provision is a
contentious one; space precludes exploration of the main issues here but readers are
referred to Hornby (2015) for an overview. In a nutshell, some critics argue that such
resource bases are on a continuum towards anti-inclusion by maintaining specialist
provision rather than enabling all children to be educated in mainstream provision (e.g.
see overview by Huefner, 2015). Ravet (2011), discussing children and young people on
the autism spectrum specifically, characterises this view as a rights-based approach to
inclusion. By contrast, Ravet (2011) discusses needs-based inclusion, which
acknowledges the heterogeneity of need across the school population and supports the
preservation of a range of provision to meet distinctive learning needs. Ravet (2011)
highlights that an understanding of autism is essential if teachers are to be able to meet
children’s needs effectively otherwise teachers may rely on general teaching
approaches, or neurotypical assumptions, that would then act as exclusionary practices
for those children.
A needs-based approach to inclusion comes through very clearly in the findings
presented here. From the pupils’ perspectives, the understanding and flexibility of the
LS base was vital for making them feel comfortable, included, settled and ready to learn.
From parents’ and teachers’ perspectives, understanding the child as an individual, with
personalities and special interests, was central to the approach taken by the staff in the
LS base. What is clear is that this is about seeing and knowing the whole child and,
therefore, it is about understanding and responding to what autism means to that child
and to the family. Autism cannot be separated out, as a label or a distinctive category of
need, from the provision that is made available and to do so would potentially
undermine the successful transition practices that are illustrated here.
These findings, and indeed methodology, also have value in relation to the wider policy
context for supporting children with SEND in England, following the implementation of
the Children and Families Act 2014 and the provisions of the SEND Code of Practice
(DfE/DoH, 2015). Therein, schools have mandatory responsibilities to ensure that
children and families are included in decision-making about education and that their
voices are heard. The use of a photovoice methodology shows that the views of these
autistic pupils could be appropriately accessed and contribute to an understanding of
what matters to them, although of course such a methodology would require adaptation
for those who do not communicate verbally.
There are, of course, limitations to the study. As a case study of one school, with a small
number of participants, it is not possible to generalise from the data (Yin, 2009).
However, generalisation about other contexts is never the point of a case study; instead
its value lies in exploring individual pupils or schools and the issues they have in
context (Thomas, 2015). By illuminating particular practices it is feasible that at least
some of these could be implemented in other schools, albeit in different (context-
sensitive) ways. The focus and small-scale nature of the study do not undermine the
validity of what has been revealed for these individuals at this school. The participants
could have been selected for inclusion on the basis that they would give a particularly
positive view of their transition experiences. This is unlikely given the discussions had
with the Assistant Head and the impossibility of knowing in advance what individuals
would actually say; indeed, some participants also highlighted aspects of provision that
they felt could be improved. However, even if this was the case, the collation of
experiences and practices that highlight positive and successful transitions is important,
as they provide a basis upon which this school, and others, can reflect on what has been
achieved thus far, and what can be achievable in the future.
We very gratefully acknowledge the engagement and interest of everyone who took
part in this study, as well as the ACoRNS team more widely for supporting, and
contributing to, the research. ACoRNS was established with funding from the University
of Southampton’s Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu).
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Table 1: Summary of successful practices identified, areas for improvement, and implications for practice
Successful practices for supporting
Areas for improvement
Implications for practice
Using the Learning Support base for
break and lunch times
Leaving for lunch 5 minutes ahead of
Able to come out of class if there is a
problem and access support from
Learning Support staff
Minimising the number and distance of
transitions between lessons / activities
Having Teaching Assistants available to
help transitions between classrooms
One-to-one sessions with Learning
Support staff to discuss how the pupil is
Starting with some lessons in mainstream
and adapting access to mainstream
Ensuring pupils who are mostly, or
completely within mainstream
classes can access this support and
not just those in Learning Support
Support flexibility for pupils with regard
to the ending of lessons and start of
Be clear with all pupils and when, where
and from whom support can be accessed
Plan the location of lessons carefully to
minimise ‘horizontal’ transitions where
Schedule a place in the timetable when
pupils can communicate their views
about the support they receive and why /
how this has been helpful to them.
Starting on part-time timetables
More differentiation needed with
respect to taster days
Using special interests to help to frame
and plan transition activities, including
Arranging for pupil to take photographs
of the school when preparing for the
vertical transition to secondary
Gathering personalised information
about pupils, including their special
Having patience to allow the pupil to
settle in at their own pace
Providing pupils with opportunities to
voice their views
Asking parents to provide bullet point
lists about their child to give to school
Identify any special interests, or
preferred communication, prior to
taster days so that this information
can be incorporated where possible
Ensuring that parents’ knowledge of
their child, and own preferences and
needs for communication, are
elicited by staff as part of the
Ensuring information is gathered
about the parents as well as pupils
Using special interests to support
engagement with the taster days and the
Provide time in the timetable for pupils to
meet with staff and be encouraged to
share their views about their individual
needs and preferences
Support flexibility and have patience
during the first weeks of the transition
Encourage parents to share information
about themselves as well as the pupil
Having school tours and chances to meet
staff members during year 6 (final year of
Primary school staff coming with pupils to
tour the secondary school
Secondary school staff going to the
primary school to meet pupils in their
Implementing these familiarisation
strategies before the main year 6 taster
Ensure that parents have
opportunities to visit/tour the school
Doing more bridging work between
year 6 and 7, so there are some
familiar aspects that pupils already
Provide pupils with opportunities to
meet other pupils who will be in
Learning Support before they start
Providing multiple opportunities for both
parents and pupils to tour the school
Ensure parents and pupils have
opportunities to meet key members of
staff before the transition
Schedule a session as part of the
transition planning for pupils coming
from different schools to meet each
other within the Learning Support
Having staff names and pictures in pupils’
Starting term with familiar topics that
have been covered in primary school
Arranging for pupils to take photographs
of the school ahead of the main transition
Sending photos of the school to primary
schools to show the pupils in year 6
Having photos showing the rooms and
staff members that the pupil will be
Using Social Stories about transition
during the summer break before the
Providing maps of the school layout
Ensuring staff members know how
to use visual supports effectively
Ensuring all pupils who would like
them receive photos of the school –
particularly including those in
Provide visual supports before the
Provide training to staff and parents on
how to best support pupils to use their
visual supports effectively during the
summer break and then into the new
Ongoing communication between
parents and school staff
Having an open doors policy so parents
can contact school staff at any time
Providing teachers will booklets
containing information about the needs
of individuals coming to their class
Ensuring teachers are consistent in
their methods of supporting pupils
Ensuring teachers are
communicating between themselves
between parents who have a child
School Management should pass
information down to teachers as well as
ensuring they communicate between
themselves about effective/ineffective
strategies for particular pupils
Having open, consistent communication
with parents before, during and after the
School staff meeting parents before the
with autism going through the
Providing teachers with
opportunities to speak to the pupils’
primary school teacher to better
understand how to support them in
Work with parents to develop a group or
contact point for peer support
Continue to emphasise a learning culture
whereby teachers and other
professionals from the different schools
can learn from each other
Figure 1: Pupil photographs of Learning Support area (liked)
Figure 2. Pupil photographs of communal areas (disliked)