Transitioning children with learning support needs

Children with learning support needs, along with their educators, family and whānau, benefit from an effective plan for transitioning from early learning into school.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • All early learning services
  • Boards
  • Principals and tumuaki
  • Service managers
  • Educators, teachers and kaiako
  • Parents, caregivers and whānau

This information can help you develop a plan for transitioning children with learning support needs into school. No school can refuse to enrol a child because of their learning support needs. 

Section 34 Education and Training Act 2020 – New Zealand Legislation(external link)

Plan the transition to school

Planning should begin 6-12 months before the child is to start school or kura (or earlier if changes to property such as fences, toilets or steps are needed). An agreed timeline is critical so everyone knows what to expect.

Decisions about the type, number and length of school or kura visits need to be made jointly and may vary from situation to situation.

Planning for the transition should include:

  • the parents
  • the school or kura
  • the early learning service
  • Ministry of Education staff.

Others may also be involved where appropriate, for example early intervention (EI) providers and cultural supports. Cultural supports, such as kaitakawaenga or other advisers and interpreters, may need to be organised well in advance.

Strong relationships based on open communication between the early learning service and the school or kura are at the heart of achieving effective transitions. For example, the child’s teacher might want to visit the early learning service or kōhanga reo to see the child in their current settings.

Planning should aim to provide continuity of learning across both settings. For instance, successful learning plans and strategies are shared.

Clear and shared understanding about resourcing, such as specialist support and para-professional help, is required to ensure they are used effectively.

Graduated transition to school

For children, aged 5, who would benefit from a graduated transition to school, a transition plan needs to be agreed between the child’s parents, the school principal and the Ministry of Education.

Once a child has started school if issues emerge that full time attendance is difficult then a transition plan may be put in place.

Once a transition plan is in place, the child will then be required to attend school in accordance with that plan. Schools are to use the ‘J’ (justified absence) attendance code in their Electronic Attendance Register to record absences that align with the transition plan.

A template has been developed to support the process of agreeing a transition plan. We note there is no requirement to use this template, a simple email trail showing the parents, principal and Ministry of Education have agreed to the plan is sufficient to meet the legislative requirements.

Contact your regional Ministry service manager for help with developing a transition plan.

Local Ministry offices

Have clear roles

It’s important that there is agreement about who’s coordinating the transition and that everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities. These roles may change over the period of transition, so some negotiation may be needed.

All parties need to be clear about who is responsible for applying for resources or setting dates so there are no misunderstandings.

Communicate clearly and openly

Transition to school involves many complex changes for all involved, so it can be a time of stress. Clear and frequent communication contributes to success.

Information about the child’s interests, strengths, needs and the best ways to support their learning need to be shared between all involved, for example, portfolios and assessment reports.

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