Transitions between school and outside school hours care: Evidence summary
This evidence summary supports AERO’s practice guide for transitions between school and outside school hours care (OSHC). It describes the evidence base behind the guides, synthesising insights from available research to connect to policy and practice.
This summary is derived from a systematic review conducted with our partners at Monash University and with support from the National Outside School Hours Service Alliance (NOSHSA), in May 2022, using the Preferred Reporting Items of Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines (Moher et al., 2009).
The importance of a sense of belonging
A key feature of an effective transition is when a child and their family establish a sense of belonging in their new environment (AERO, 2022; Allen et al., 2018). This sense of belonging may include feeling that:
- their educators, teachers and peers like, value and accept them
- the curriculum is interesting, appropriate and relevant
- they are capable of succeeding •their cultural identity is welcome and valued and they can ‘be themselves’ (AERO, 2022).
Sense of belonging plays an important role in transitions as it is:
- one of the strongest predictors of positive development in young people (O’Connor et al., 2010) •a powerful protective factor for mental health and wellbeing (for example, Allen et al., 2022)
- a core component of student success at school (Allen et al., 2018)
- the basis for secure attachments from the earliest years of life (Over, 2016)
- a central part of My Time, Our Place (MTOP), the Framework for School Age Care in Australia (DOE, 2022).
Practices to support transitions
Increasing participation in OSHC services signals their growing importance within Australia’s education and care systems (Cartmel & Hurst, 2021). OSHC-to-school and school-to-OSHC transitions occur every day for many children, over many years. Effective, well-supported transitions can, therefore, have significant lasting impact.
The practices described here and within the accompanying practice guide are based on the best evidence we have from our synthesis of research and AERO’s consultations. However, more rigorous evidence that can provide high and very high confidence of the effectiveness of certain practices is needed (see AERO’s Standards of evidence). While specific evidence about the OSHC-school transition process is scarce, other bodies of research can help identify promising transitions practices. There is increasing evidence about the connection between benefits associated with OSHC and positive outcomes in school (see Dockett & Perry, 2014, for a review). This supports the contemporary view of OSHC as not simply ‘childcare’ (Cartmel & Hurst, 2021; Dockett & Perry, 2014), but an important partner in achieving a range of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits for children (Cartmel & Hayes, 2016).
At the same time, other research indicates that the quality of relationships between OSHC services and schools in Australia varies widely (DEEWR, 2012). This suggests an untapped potential for schools and OSHC to work together to improve transitions; a view reinforced in AERO’s consultations with school and OSHC teachers, educators and leaders. Two key practices to activate this potential are detailed below – collaborative partnerships and child-centred approaches.
Collaboration between schools and OSHC services is important to effective transitions (DEEWR, 2012), as well as partnerships with others involved in the education and care of each child. Family involvement also supports more effective OSHC programs (Milton et al., 2021; Simoncini et al., 2015), just as it does for schools. Research points to 3 ways to improve collaborative partnerships in transitions.
1. Positive professional relationships
Overcoming perceptions of OSHC as being of lesser status has been identified as a major challenge in Australia (Simoncini et al., 2015). Some key considerations in creating mutually respectful collaborative partnerships include:
- recognising the important caring role that OSHC plays in children’s lives by providing trusted adults to support transitions to and from school (Demircan & Demir, 2014); as well as the caring role also played by schools (Cartmel, 2007)
- raising awareness among families of the importance of quality OSHC programs, not just in supporting parental working arrangements (Winefield et al., 2011)
- acknowledging the specific structural challenges faced by many OSHC services, including limited planning time (Haglund & Boström, 2020); difficulties with staff recruitment (Simoncini et al., 2015) and retention (Cartmel & Hayes, 2016); and limited access to training or professional development (Beets et al., 2013).
2. Shared responsibility for children
Effective collaboration is underpinned by a sense of shared responsibility for the care and education of children between OSHC, schools, families and the community. Insights from research analysis on creating this sense of shared responsibility include:
- OSHC services are often an ‘invisible’ partner in children’s education and care within schools, resulting in missed opportunities to work collaboratively in the best interests of children and their families (Cartmel, 2007).
- Professionals from partnering agencies can also help OSHC services identify how they can support children (Earl, 2013), including during the transition process.
Child-centred transitions build the process around the unique qualities, strengths, dispositions, interests and needs of each child (DOE, 2022). During transitions, educators and teachers can come together to make decisions about what will work best for each child, based on their needs, and with consideration of their interests and perspectives. While OSHC services were historically designed primarily to support families (Hurst, 2019; Westoby et al., 2021), contemporary OSHC services focus on 5 learning outcomes – children and young people:
- have a strong sense of identity
- are connected with and contribute to their world
- have a strong sense of wellbeing
- are confident and involved learners
- are effective communicators (DOE, 2022).
Research points to 4 ways that schools and OSHC can work together to achieve better outcomes for children through the transitions process:
1. Treat transitions as opportunities for learning and development
Children’s transitions between education and care settings offer rich opportunities for learning (Kennedy, 2013). The potential for transitions between OSHC and school to contribute to learning and development is supported by research that shows:
- Children develop and apply a range of skills during transitions, including self-efficacy, social skills, and coping with stress (Clafferty & Beggs, 2016). These skills align with general capabilities that schools aim to nurture (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], n.d.), as well as skills associated with OSHC participation in research literature (Cartmel & Hayes, 2016).
- OSHC and schools can use transitions to reinforce each other’s learning goals and send consistent messages to children. For example, educators and teachers can share information about children’s reading levels and interests to ensure that the OSHC program provides engaging, accessible reading material (Tamborello, 2017).
- OSHC services can intentionally build children’s capabilities in ways that support their academic achievement and wellbeing. One Australian study found that targeted professional learning for OSHC educators equipped them to increase children’s cognitive flexibility and physical activity levels (Veldman et al., 2020).
2. Connect practices across OSHC and school, while celebrating differences
A shift between the more structured learning environment at school and the play-based learning environment at OSHC is important to give children space to relax, socialise and play (Simoncini et al., 2015). Additional insights from a research review suggest:
- Overly rigid rules and procedures for managing risks in transitions may feel restrictive or unsatisfying for children (Simoncini et al., 2015).
- Children in OSHC enjoy opportunities to participate in adult-led activities, as well as child-led free play (Simoncini et al., 2015).
3. Listen to children’s perspectives
A child-centred approach involves children in decisions about the OSHC program (Earl, 2013; Hurst, 2019; Westoby et al., 2021), including transitions. The ability to balance children’s interests with adult-led goals is a key skill for OSHC educators (Beets et al., 2013). Listening to children’s perspectives can involve:
- showing children unconditional positive regard, empathy, and authenticity to foster belonging, trust, and positive relationships (Westoby et al., 2021) •ensuring transitions reflect what children value about OSHC, including a sense of community, trust, belonging and recreation (Westoby et al., 2021)
- recognising that transitions to and from OSHC can be experienced very differently by each child, depending on what time they arrive and depart, and the presence or absence of friends or preferred activities (Hurst, 2019).
4. Create child-centred physical environments
The quality of the physical environment is important to children who participate in OSHC (Simoncini et al., 2015) and can play an important role in OSHC participation, including the experience of transitions. Considerations raised in reviewed research include the following:
- The benefits of involving children in designing OSHC physical environments can also promote learning and belonging (DOE, 2022; Hurst et al., 2019).
- The risks of tension arising over shared or scarce resources (Haglund and Boström, 2020). Overly restrictive or permissive rules about the use of shared spaces can have adverse effects on OSHC or school programs (Cartmel, 2007).
- The need for schools and OSHC services to work together to ensure that OSHC settings include adequate space for physical activity (Maher et al., 2019).
Our practice guides provide more information about the practical strategies educators, teachers, school and service leaders can use to support transition between school and OSHC.
|Our transitions resources were developed in partnership with Monash University and the National Outside School Hours Services Alliance (NOSHSA). AERO appreciates the valuable input from the Transitions Project Advisory Group (PAG) members, the Practitioner Working Group (PWG) and expert reviewers Dr Jennifer Cartmel and Dr Bruce Hurst.|