‘Rules, rules, rules and we’re not allowed to skip’
McNair, Lynn Jacqueline
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Despite the breadth of research on the educational transition of young children, there has been little evidence, in Scotland, of this knowledge impacting on every day practice. The overall contention that emerges from the literature is that some children positively embrace the experience, while others face challenges and risk failure and regression. There is a need for research into the transition from the early years setting to school, which holds promise that the findings will be disseminated to stakeholders locally, nationally and internationally with the aim that the perspectives of young children are heard. This ethnographic study is an examination of the perspectives of 16 young children as they transition from an early years centre, Lilybank, to four primary schools, Northfield, Southfield, Eastfield and Westfield, in a Scottish city. Seven key qualitative questions were asked which explored how children, parents and professionals experienced this educational transition. Data was gathered from empirical methods such as participant observations, mind–mapping sessions, interviews and documentation – e.g., council procedures and school handbooks. Participant observations took place in the early years setting and the participating schools. Most of the interviews took place in the children’s homes, or in a convenient environment for the family, such as a local cafeteria. An analysis of the data shows that power is a central concept in understanding transitions. The voices of children, and their families, are often silenced by policy-makers, bureaucrats and professionals during the process, or overshadowed and undermined by mainstream procedures. Children are expected to become acquiescent, adjusting to coercive practices used in the school institution. However, the findings also show that some children find ways to creatively resist organisation. Unique life journeys involve differences and from their individual experiences, children construct elaborate knowledge. The views of children can (and do) add nuance to our understanding of how power impacts on their transition experience. Children’s accounts of discipline strategies used by the schools were insightful. The concept of power is under-theorised and under-explored in transitions. This study, therefore, adds to the growing body of transition research. Further, the findings of this study stress the need for policy makers and institutions to reflect on and question the complex role of power in young children’s transitions.