Transition for Pupils with Special Educational Needs

Implications for Inclusion Policy and Practice

by Geraldine Scanlon (Author) Yvonne Barnes-Holmes (Author) Michael Shevlin (Author) Conor McGuckin (Author)
©2019 Monographs X, 214 Pages


Moving from primary to post-primary school and moving from post-primary to further/higher education pose significant challenges to many young people. Both transitions force young people toward greater personal autonomy, self-awareness and ideally self-efficacy. For students with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND), these challenges are potentially greater, and continuity in, or access to new, support may be necessary to facilitate these transitions in a manner that gives all students equal opportunities for taking charge of their own lives, including their education. The existing empirical literature on the transitions of students with SEND at these levels is limited. This book reviews the conceptual, policy and research evidence on young people’s experiences of these transitions. The book also reports on new research conducted with young people with SEND and relevant stakeholders (including parents, educational professionals and voluntary agencies) involved in these transitions in Ireland. In so doing, the book provides a framework of evidence-based practice that can enable schools and professionals to develop effective and inclusive transition policies and programmes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of illustrations
  • 1 The UK and Irish Policy Contexts of the Education of Students with SEND and the Transition of Students with and without SEND from Primary to Post-primary School (Geraldine Scanlon / Yvonne Barnes-Holmes)
  • 2 Pupil Experiences: Moving from Primary to Post-primary School in Ireland (Geraldine Scanlon)
  • 3 The Role and Impact of Parents during Transition from Primary to Post-primary School (Yvonne Barnes-Holmes)
  • 4 Making the Move: Smoothing the Path to Post-primary Education (Michael Shevlin)
  • 5 Transitions through the Education System: From Primary School to Higher Education – The Role of the Professional (Conor McGuckin)
  • 6 The International Policy and Research Context of Transition from Post-primary School to Third-level Education for Students with SEND (Geraldine Scanlon / Yvonne Barnes-Holmes)
  • 7 Moving to Further and Higher Education (FE/HE) in Ireland: Student Experiences (Geraldine Scanlon)
  • 8 Transition Practices and Programmes in the UK and Ireland: Implications for Developing Practice and Policy in Schools (Geraldine Scanlon / Yvonne Barnes-Holmes)
  • Bibliography
  • Index

← viii | ix →


← x | 1 →


1   The UK and Irish Policy Contexts of the Education of Students with SEND and the Transition of Students with and without SEND from Primary to Post-primary School

Transition is a deceptively simple concept. In its everyday guise, it defines any process of change from one state to another, or the move from one setting to the next. Transitions are an inherent feature of lifespan development, as all individuals experience distinct turning points, ideally followed by adjustment and stabilisation (Levinson, 1996). Because educational transitions encompass layers of intellectual, sociological, cultural and career change, they are no less multifaceted, multidimensional or multidirectional (Baltes, 1993) than other types of transitions and are thus an integral part of the broad unfolding of an individual (Sugarman, 2002).

Education typically comprises several distinct transitions, typically driven externally by the schooling system within which an individual participates. These include moving from pre-school to primary school; from primary to post-primary; from post-primary to Further and Higher Education (FE/HE, also referred to as third level); and finally, from FE/HE to employment. These types of transitions are described as horizontal because they involve transferring from one level of education to another (Pietarinen, Soini, and Pyhalto, 2010). They are distinguished from vertical transitions which involve moving up through consecutive ranks, but remaining within the same level of education.

As the course of educational training has typically elongated in recent decades (i.e. pre-school and FE/HE are now accessed by the majority of Western populations, see OECD, 2014), transitions have naturally become more frequent and visible. As a result, resilience and adaptation are now essential features of navigating the modern world from an early age, because ← 1 | 2 → educational transitions have ramifications that are much broader than educational alone. Indeed, many Western governments have invested in mental health programmes to help young people cope with the on-going changes in the global educational landscape (WHO, 2013).

The presence of more transitions for a larger proportion of the population ideally raises levels of educational attainment. Nonetheless, it is widely accepted that attainment at any one level is strongly influenced by attainment at the prior level (Fabian and Dunlop, 2006). For example, effective transitions from primary to post-primary school can facilitate: progress in learning and attainment; school enjoyment; preparedness for the future (Dockett and Perry, 1999); and aspirations many years later to move to FE/HE (Wray, 2013). On balance, a more problematic transition at this juncture can increase the risk of educational disengagement and subsequent drop-out (Darmody, 2008; Numminen and Kasurinen, 2003), as well as reduced opportunities to engage in the labour market in later years. Furthermore, attainment at one level of education is also influenced by the transition from the previous level (Anderson, Jacobs, Schramn, and Splittherber 2000). For instance, students who do not adjust well to post-primary school, and who struggle to adapt upon entering third-level education, are considerably less likely to be fulfilled and successful therein (Evangelou, et al., 2008; Hargreaves and Galton, 2002; West, Sweeting, and Young, 2008). Students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) may be particularly vulnerable in this regard, if adequate learning support is not available.

The current volume is primarily concerned with the transitions of students with SEND, specifically as they move from primary to post-primary school (the focus of the current chapter) and from post-primary to third-level education (the focus of Chapters 6 and 7) in the UK and Ireland.1 However, it is essential to first appreciate the broader policy contexts within ← 2 | 3 → which students with SEND can access education, particularly with regard to their inclusion in mainstream classrooms.

The Policy Context for the Education and Inclusion of Learners with SEND

In this section on education and inclusion for students with SEND, we briefly review key international directives, followed by more detailed summaries of the legislation and policies established in the UK and Ireland. Before proceeding, it is important to explain why the current volume focuses on the relevant educational and policy contexts found in the UK and Ireland. There is a number of reasons why we chose to do so: (1) Ireland and the UK have been closely aligned in a multitude of ways for centuries, and as such there is a long history for each to look closely at the systems adopted by the other country. Education is no exception. (2) The relevant policy and research context in the UK has been comprehensive for many years (commencing formally in 1978), while policy and research in Ireland lagged much behind (the first main policy directive did not occur until 1995). As a result, researchers and policy makers in Ireland looked closely at relevant findings from the UK, given that the close alignment between the two countries may have ensured some level of homogeneity between the two populations. As will become apparent, two key concerns in this area centre around the need for, and mechanics of, appropriate assessment and inclusion. We have also highlighted aspects of this legislation that refer directly to transitions or have implications for same.

In reviewing the two systems in Ireland and the UK, it is worth pointing out the minor structural and age-related differences between them, particularly because the transition from primary to post-primary school occurs at an earlier stage for pupils in the UK in England relative to Ireland. Specifically, the educational system in the UK is divided into five stages: (1) the Early Years Foundation Stage (3–5 years); (2) Primary Years which are divided into Key Stage 1 (5–7 years) and Key Stage 2 (7–11 years); (3) ← 3 | 4 → Secondary Years which are divided into Key Stage 3 (11–14 years) and Key Stage 4 (14–18 years) and after which education is no longer compulsory; (4) Further Education; and (5) Higher Education. The educational system in Ireland is similairy divided into four stages: (1) the Early Years Foundation Stage (3–5 years); (2) Primary Years (5–12 years); (3) Secondary Years (12–18 years) and after which education is no longer compulsory; (4) Further Education; and (5) Higher Education. As a result, pupils in the UK typically transition to post-primary school after Key Stage 2, around 11 years old, while pupils in Ireland typically transition to post-primary school after they finish primary school at around 12 years old.

International directives

Worldwide, legislative and policy changes have recently played significant roles in recognising the educational entitlements of pupils with SEND. And, it has been toward this aim that international policy has focused specifically on the concept of inclusion to seek to maximise the level of participation of pupils with SEND in mainstream education, while still providing specialised supports.

The concept of inclusion is now generally preferred to the term integration. The latter was largely a disability-based concept which focused on the adaptation of the classroom system (i.e. changing a classroom layout or a curriculum) so that learners with and without SEND could be educated together (see Stevens and O’Moore, 2009). Inclusion, on the other hand, requires a much broader reform of school beliefs, ideals and perspectives (Evans and Lunt, 2002), and represents a philosophy of acceptance of all learners by a State, irrespective of the additional supports some may require (Thomas, 1997). According to the Salamanca Statement, inclusion-based measures are the most efficient means of combating discrimination (UNESCO, 1994), and some believe that these measures have the potential to increase self-esteem and independence in society for individuals with SEND (EADSNE, 2008). The concept of inclusion fundamentally challenges the traditional distinction between mainstream and special education. ← 4 | 5 →

This legislative direction reflects other international documentation, such as the Framework for Action on Special-Needs Education (the Council of Europe, Political Declaration, 2003 and Action Plan, 2006; and the United Nations Enable, 2006) – all of which placed strong obligations on governments for educational reform in terms of inclusive education. Critically, the educational provision for children with SEND was also strengthened by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 1989) in Article 23:

A mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community. (p. 7)

In addition, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN, 2006) Article 7 proposed that:

Children with disabilities should have full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom on an equal basis with other children. (p. 7)


X, 214
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
Transition Primary to Post Primary School Further and Higher Education
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. X, 214 pp., 6 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Geraldine Scanlon (Author) Yvonne Barnes-Holmes (Author) Michael Shevlin (Author) Conor McGuckin (Author)

Geraldine Scanlon is an Assistant Professor in Psychology and Education in the School of Human Development in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University Her research interests are underpinned by a human rights agenda which assumes that all individuals are entitled to have access to education and is embedded in facilitating the voice of children and vulnerable populations through research and innovation. She has published several journal articles, book chapters and commissioned reports Yvonne Barnes-Holmes is Associate Professor in Behaviour Analysis and a Senior Research Fellow at Ghent University Belgium. She has authored over 150 scientific articles, book chapters and books, and is Recognised World Trainer in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). She has authored and/or presented over 400 professional presentations, addresses and workshops. Michael Shevlin is Professor in Inclusive Education in the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin. He is currently Director of the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities which offers an education programme leading to transition to employment for young people with intellectual disabilities. Michael was the joint recipient of the Trinity College Civic Engagement Award for 2019 based on his work in inclusive education Conor Mc Guckin, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. His research interests include: psychology applied to educational policy and practices, bully/victim problems among children and adults, and special and inclusive education. He is an Associate Fellow of both the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and has published edited collections on cyberbullying.


Title: Transition for Pupils with Special Educational Needs
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226 pages