We are now in the 10th month of our involvement in a 30-month-long international research project with several other countries in Europe. The START Project focuses on how pre-school children’s transitions from their early childhood care and education (ECEC) settings into Reception classes in primary schools are experienced by the children along with their families, ECEC practitioners and Reception class teachers and how this important, and for some critical, phase in the lives of young children can be more effectively supported. The Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families, Our Lady’s Primary School and Rockingham Primary School in Corby form the Project team from England in the START Project and we are working with other teams of researchers, early years practitioners and teachers from Ljubljana and Tisina in Slovenia, Bologna and Vignola in Italy and Ghent and Aalst in Belgium. At this point in the research process:
- Representatives from each research team met for an initial START Project planning meeting in Bologna in September 2016
- The Project was represented by two research team members from Italy and England at the European Commission’s ‘A Great Start in Life’ international conference’ in Brussels in November 2016
- The Research Teams from all four of the countries involved in the Project took part in a week-long study and training week at the Pen Green Centre in December 2016
- Representatives from research teams met for a second and interim meeting to review the progress of the Project in each national location in Ghent in June 2017
Further opportunities to disseminate the work of the START Project will take place in September 2017 at the European Early Childhood Research Association (EECERA) annual international conference in Bologna, the theme of which is ‘Early Childhood Education beyond the crisis: social justice, solidarity and children’s rights’ and also at the International Step by Step Association’s (ISSA) conference in Ghent in October 2017k, the theme of which is ‘Local Responses, Global Advances: Towards Competent Early Childhood Systems’. Another study and training week is planned for December the Research Teams in Tisina, Slovenia in December 2017.
Preliminary work on the START Project identified several critical issues which the Project aims to address, i.e.:
- the fragmentation of educational systems at different level (split ECEC systems as well as the splits between pre- and primary school) produces discontinuity in pedagogical approaches and practice implemented within such institutions
- during transitions from one setting to another children are therefore required to make great efforts to adapt to new relational and learning environments
- this has negative repercussions on children’s learning and socialising experiences which, in turn, have a detrimental impact on their school achievements in the long term
- children belonging to vulnerable/marginalised groups are particularly at risk of experiencing negative transitions which lead to lasting relational difficulties and poor educational performance
- practitioners and teachers are rarely supported to develop new practices for smoothening transitions
In the context of the needs identified at local and transnational levels by the partners involved, this project aims to develop innovative practices for facilitating children’s transitions across ECEC services and school institutions by sustaining local experimentation through staff professional development and participatory action-research.
The Project teams in each country are working with children and their families who are transitioning between settings in order to better understand how they are experiencing this process with the following intended outcomes:
- valuing the exchange of good practices elaborated in different contexts rather than transferring best practices from one context to another
- existing transitions practices will be examined and rethought within a slightly different focus at each location, taking into account the diversified needs of the children, families, practitioners, teachers and communities in each context
- maximising the impact of pedagogical, educational and didactic innovation that can be generated by joining the diversified research and professional expertise deriving from each national location where the research is taking place
- providing ECEC practitioners and school teachers with access to high quality training activities aimed at increasing professionals’ competence in the development of innovative transition practices that are responsive of the needs of children, families and communities at each location
- each national location will be focusing specifically on those children who are most at risk of ‘low achievement’ and social exclusion
The START Project Research Teams will be publishing a final report about the research study and its findings in early 2019 but intend to offer co-authored papers to suitable peer-reviewed journals for publication as the Project progresses. The Research Teams will also work collaboratively on producing and developing a training kit for use by early years practitioners and primary school teachers based on the START Project’s findings which will support and facilitate their work with children and families in making children’s transitions as smooth and as unproblematic as is possible.
The Project is funded by the European Union via their Erasmus funding stream and more information can be found at http://start.pei.si/