In this article, Emily Greaves and Dr Jen Jackson from the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) remind us that some transitions happen every day—like that from school to outside school hours care (OSHC). AERO and its partners are working to enhance this transition to support the learning, wellbeing and development of Australian children.
Transitions are often associated with the changeover between the year before formal schooling and school. But many children make another important transition every day: between school and outside school hours care (OSHC). These transitions can occur regularly over years of a child’s life, are often two-way—both into and out of before-school and after-school programs—and, when managed well, can help strengthen connections between schools and OSHC programs to support children’s holistic learning, wellbeing and development.
OSHC programs play an increasingly significant role in the lives of young children and their families. Close to 500 000 children access OSHC in Australia, mainly in the early years of primary school (DESE, 2021). OSHC educators may work with the same children and families from year to year, providing a point of consistency, even as children change teachers and classrooms. Children attending daily OSHC and vacation care may spend almost as many hours per year with their OSHC educators as they do with their schoolteachers.
While children’s experiences and outcomes drive OSHC practice, OSHC services also help families to balance work and caregiving responsibilities. This dual purpose creates an ongoing need to build awareness of the benefits of OSHC as not simply ‘childcare’, but as an important partner in the learning, wellbeing and development of Australian children. Quality OSHC benefits children’s social and emotional learning and engagement in school, which are also linked to better academic learning (Cartmel & Hurst, 2021; Dockett & Perry, 2014).
Conversations about OSHC-to-school transitions can raise awareness of the value of OSHC to children and families and help OSHC to be seen as partners with schools in achieving outcomes for children. The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) is working with Monash University and the National Outside School Hours Services Alliance to develop resources to enhance these transitions.
Research on OSHC is limited, but insights from practice are strong
There is very little research evidence about the role of OSHC as a contributor to children’s wellbeing, learning and development in the early years (Cartmel & Hayes, 2016; Dockett & Perry, 2014). Much of the available evidence comes from international contexts where OSHC programs operate quite differently from those in Australia, which makes researching evidence-based practices in Australian OSHC particularly challenging.
Despite the limited evidence base, a clear view has emerged in Australia about effective practices in OSHC, based on the extensive research and consultation that underpinned the development (and recent review) of the framework for school age care, My Time, Our Place (MTOP) (DEEWR, 2011). OSHC services are also required to deliver quality play-based programs in line with the National Quality Standard (NQS) (ACECQA, 2018). These foundational documents—along with consultations with OSHC coordinators, educational leaders and school leaders—set out the framework for quality, evidence-based OSHC practice and helped us to adapt insights from available research for the Australian context.
Supporting effective transitions
Two key practices are critical to successful OSHC–school transitions.
- Child-centred approaches
Child-centred approaches treat transitions as opportunities to enhance wellbeing, learning and development by building upon the unique strengths and needs of each child. They consider the importance of creating child-centred physical environments. They also look for points of connection between OSHC and school, while acknowledging and celebrating differences.
For OSHC services, MTOP emphasises ‘play and leisure’ as the foundation of quality OSHC programs; this signals how the purposeful nature of OSHC is fundamentally different from the structured learning that occurs during school hours. For schools, professional standards require teachers and leaders to know every student and how they learn and take opportunities to extend their learning (AITSL, 2017a and 2017b). Working together on OSHC–school transitions with the child at the centre can help both achieve their goals.
2. Collaborative partnerships
Collaboration is essential for facilitating safe, effective processes for supporting children’s movement between school and OSHC services. It enables everyone involved in the transition to work together to support the child, including the OSHC service, the school and the family. Collaboration is most effective when everyone involved maintains clear expectations and communication and recognises what each party can contribute to the partnership, demonstrating respect for different ways of working.
Quality Area 6 of the NQS requires OSHC services to work collaboratively with other services and professionals and families (ACECQA, 2018). Standards for schoolteachers and leaders also require professional engagement with the wider school community (AITSL, 2017a). Meaningful collaboration around OSHC–school transitions helps fulfil both these expectations.
Towards a sense of belonging
Research shows that any transition is most successful when a child feels a sense of belonging in their new environment (AERO, 2022; Dockett & Perry, 2014). Focusing on building a sense of belonging on both sides of the transition can help schools, OSHC services, families and children work together every day to monitor how transitions are going and identify and resolve issues as they arise. A sense of belonging supports children’s learning at school as well as their play and leisure in the OSHC context, ensuring that they get the best out of both worlds as they move between them.
Emily Greaves currently works on a range of projects as a researcher at AERO and has a background working with teachers and educators in early childhood settings and schools across Victoria. Emily has experience working as a speech pathologist across a variety of practice settings and research projects in the education sector and is interested in how educational opportunities can improve outcomes for children.
Anna Razak is a Researcher with AERO. She is an experienced early childhood educator and previously worked as a quality advisor across various early childhood services, mentoring educators, teachers and service leaders and supporting quality practice. Her experience and interests include parenting and early intervention for families with young children, community engagement and partnership, and continuous improvement.
Dr Jen Jackson has worked in a range of research and policy roles in early childhood, school and tertiary education and training. Before AERO, Jen was Associate Professor of Education Policy at the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University and led the Early Childhood Development Initiative at the Centre for Policy Development. Jen was an inaugural Lead Assessor when the National Quality Standard was introduced and completed her PhD on diversity in the Australian early childhood workforce.
Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2018). National Quality Standard. ACECQA. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/national-quality-standard
Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO). (2022). Measuring effective transitions to school. AERO. https://www.edresearch.edu.au/sites/default/files/2022-06/measuring-effective-transitions-school-discussion-paper_0.pdf
Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2011). My time, our place: Framework for school age care in Australia. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-05/my_time_our_place_framework_for_school_age_care_in_australia_0.pdf
Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE). (2021, March 28). June quarter 2021. DESE. https://www.education.gov.au/early-childhood/resources/june-quarter-2021
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). (2017a). Teacher standards: All career stages. AITSL. https://www.aitsl.edu.au/standards
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). (2017b). Lead & Develop: Unpack the principal standard. AITSL. https://www.aitsl.edu.au/lead-develop/understand-the-principal-standard/unpack-the-principal-standard
Cartmel, J., & Hayes, A. (2016). Before and after school: Literature review about Australian school age child care. Children Australia, 41(3), 201–207. https://doi.org/10.1017/cha.2016.17
Cartmel, J., & Hurst, B. (2021). More than ‘just convenient care’: what the research tells us about equitable access to outside school hours care. Griffith University and NSW Department of Education. https://education.nsw.gov.au/content/dam/main-education/early-childhood-education/information-for-parents-and-carers/OSHC_PolicyLiteratureReview_CartmelHurst.PDF
Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2014). Continuity of learning: A resource to support effective transition to school and school age care. Australian Government Department of Education. https://www.education.gov.au/download/2577/continuity-learning-resource-support-effective-transition-school-and-school-age-care/19755/document/pdf/en
ECA Recommends: Transition to School Professional Learning Bundle
This professional learning bundle comprises two ECA publications to support educators and families to build knowledge and contemporary practices around the first year of school and transitions to school. The publications are:
- Research in Practice Series ‘Transition to school: Communication and relationships’ by Dr Kathryn Hopps (hard copy)
- First Year at school: Essential tips for parents and carers by Jenni Conner and Pam Linke (hard copy).