Throughout their education, all students face a variety of transitions, including the transition from home or from an early years program to school, from one grade or level of schooling to another, from one school to another, and from secondary school to an appropriate postsecondary pathway. Such transitions can pose a challenge for all students, but they can be particularly difficult and confusing for students with special education needs and their families. The coordination of planning well before the transition takes place can ensure that the student has all the necessary supports in place to make a successful and smooth transition.

Since 1998, transition plans have been required under Ontario Regulation 181/98, “Identification and Placement of Exceptional Pupils”, as part of the IEP, for exceptional students over the age of 14 who were making the transition from secondary school to postsecondary activities and community living, if they were not identified solely as “gifted”.

In 2000, the ministry policy document Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning, and Implementation set out additional requirements for the IEP, including the postsecondary transition plan. This policy document stipulated that the transition plan, as part of the student's IEP, must include the following components:

  • specific goals for the student's transition
  • the actions required, now and in the future, to achieve the stated goals
  • the person or agency responsible for or involved in completing or providing assistance in the completion of each of the identified actions
  • timelines for the implementation of each of the identified actions

In 2007, with the release of PPM No. 140, “Incorporating Methods of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) into Programs for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)”, it became a requirement for school boards to provide transition planning, as appropriate, between various activities and settings, for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This policy also required that, where appropriate, relevant applied behaviour analysis (ABA) methods be used to support transitions.

More recently, evidence gained from research and practice has confirmed the value and benefit of transition planning for all students, including students with special education needs, whether or not they have been identified as exceptional by an IPRC. Successful transition experiences help build resiliency, support improved student achievement and well-being, and, for students with special education needs, result in improved continuity of programs and services.

As of September 2014, PPM No. 156, “Supporting Transitions for Students with Special Education Needs”, requires all students who have an IEP, whether or not they have been identified as exceptional by an IPRC, to have an up-to-date transition plan at every stage of their journey through school.footnote 3 (For more details on the legislative and policy requirements for transition plans, see Part E.)

The key transitions in a student's schooling can include the following:

  • entry to school
  • a change from one school to another
  • the move from elementary to secondary school
  • the transition from secondary school to postsecondary activities
  • a move to a school following a prolonged absence for medical reasons or after receiving care, treatment, or rehabilitation at another institution

The development of a coordinated and detailed plan for each key transition will help ensure that school and board staff are prepared to meet the needs of the student, contributing to smooth transitions and paving the way for the student's future success. The physical, emotional, and learning needs of a student must be considered when a transition plan is being developed as part of the IEP. For more information on this process and on the components of a transition plan, see Part E.

To ensure successful transitions, schools and school boards can implement a number of strategies, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • encouraging parents, and community partners who have parental consent, to notify the board about a student with special education needs well in advance of the student's entry or transition to school
  • encouraging parental involvement in the entry or transition to school planning process
  • establishing and maintaining links with community partners that provide services for students with special education needs and their families
  • identifying key individuals who will play a role in the student's transitions – for example, individuals who have worked with the student in the past at preschool support services or other community agencies and who will continue to work with school board staff;footnote 4 those who will play a role in supporting the child in the new school environment; and one person who will coordinate the transition process
  • holding a case conference to share and review information and develop a plan involving, as necessary, the principal, the classroom teacher(s) and early childhood educator, special education staff, the guidance teacher/counsellor, secondary subject teachers, the educational assistant, community agency staff, and parents
  • gathering information from parents and any community agencies or professionals who might have worked with the student (e.g., relevant assessment reports, documentation and records, program and service recommendations)
  • providing orientation opportunities for students and parents
  • providing training for school staff to ensure they are familiar with effective strategies

In addition, a school board can develop, in consultation with community service agencies, a detailed protocol for the transition process, and can regularly review the effectiveness of the process, using feedback from community agencies and parents.

On the following pages, some of the key transitions are described, as well as methods to ensure that they are as smooth as possible.

Entry to School

Children arrive at school with different backgrounds and experiences and at different stages of development. It is important to plan early to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. Whether the child is coming from home or has been in child care, a successful transition depends on the ability of all those involved to communicate effectively and to share information about the child.footnote 5

If, when a child is registered in the spring for first–time attendance at school in the fall, the parents and board staff agree that the child could benefit from a special education program and/or services, a case conference with the appropriate people could be held. At the conference in the spring, the child's program and service needs could be discussed, so that the agreed-upon program and/or services could be provided to the child when he or she starts school. After the child arrives at school, it may also be determined that an IPRC meeting is necessary.

Once a child with special education needs has been registered, the school and parents should continue the process of collecting and reviewing information related to the child's needs and should communicate regularly about the child's progress. Early documentation of a child's strengths, needs, and developmental stage will be useful in establishing records.

Teachers, early childhood educators, members of the community, and families must work together to provide constructive and consistent learning experiences that will build children's confidence, encourage them to see learning as both enjoyable and useful, and provide a strong foundation for their future intellectual, physical, and social development.

School-to-School Transition

Many students change schools, whether because of program considera¬tions or relocation of their family. Regardless of the reason, or whether the move is within the same school board or to another board, the transition can be made more smoothly with advance planning. Such planning is particularly important where students who have special education needs are concerned. To the extent allowed under applicable legislation including the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and in accordance with The Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guideline (2000), pertinent information about the student should be shared with the receiving school prior to the student's arrival so that appropriate supports are in place.

In planning programs and/or supports for a student with special education needs who is transferring from another board, the new board should use any assessments available from the originating board.

The new school will receive a copy of the student's IEP, including the transition plan, as part of the student's Ontario Student Record (OSR). Parents may also provide the school with a copy of the student's IEP at the time of registration. As described in Part E of this guide, the IEP contains a variety of information (e.g., the student's exceptionality, relevant medical information, details on special education services, information on the student's strengths and needs, a record of any accommodations needed, a list of any modified and/or alternative learning expectations) that will enable the new school to start planning the student's program without delay.

Transition from Elementary to Secondary School

The transition from elementary to secondary school is among the most challenging periods of adolescence.... Effective transition planning to secondary school begins for all students in Grade 7 and continues into and sometimes beyond Grade 9. A smooth transition contributes to a strong foundation for success in secondary school and beyond.

Creating Pathways to Success (p. 21)

Students in Grades 7 to 12 are supported in their transition to secondary school through the required development of an Individual Pathways Plan (IPP) under the education and career/life planning program outlined in Creating Pathways to Success: An Education and Career/Life Planning Program for Ontario Schools – Policy and Program Requirements, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (2013). With the support of educators and parents, students focus on planning, in various ways and in various areas, including course selection, for this major transition.

To support students with special education needs who are planning for a successful transition from elementary to secondary school, educators need to provide these students with information about:

  • the requirements for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), the Ontario Secondary School Certificate (OSSC), or the Certificate of Accomplishment, where appropriate;
  • the Ontario Student Transcript (OST);
  • types of courses offered, and how best to design their personal secondary school program based on their interests, strengths, needs, and aspirations;
  • specialized programs and board-wide programs, extracurricular activities, and additional support programs;
  • strategies for completing the community involvement requirement;
  • the full range of postsecondary opportunities (apprenticeship training, college, community living, university, and the workplace);
  • the education and career/life planning process and strategies for the effective use of education and career/life planning resources.

The information individual students share from their IPPs may provide additional insights into their particular learning strengths, needs, interests, and aspirations, which may be useful when developing their IEPs, which include transition plans.

Transitions from School to Work, Postsecondary Education, and Community Living

The transition from secondary school to postsecondary destinations – whether further education or training, work, or independent living – can be intimidating for many students. But this transition can be particularly challenging for some students with special education needs. The probability of a successful transition is significantly increased when schools work with the student, parents, employers, community agencies, and providers of further education to develop coordinated plans for exceptional students, as required under Regulation 181/98, “Identification and Placement of Exceptional Pupils”.

Information shared with educators by students as documented in their IPP, as noted above, provides valuable information for developing the secondary–to–postsecondary transition plan. Creating Pathways to Success notes that “planning for the transition from secondary school to postsecondary endeavours must be included as part of student learning in the compulsory Grade 10 Career Studies course and must also be made part of the school's established process for course selection by students, in consultation with their parents, for Grades 11 and 12” (p. 22).

In addition to the above, to support a student with special education needs in making the transition to work, further education, and/or community living, this process could include making provisions to help the student connect with postsecondary institutions, community agencies, and/or the workplace, as appropriate. In some cases, this supportive information may have been provided during the transition–planning process. If so, the ongoing transition–planning process provides an opportunity to review this information with the student.

Transition to School Following a Prolonged Medical Absence

When a student is ready to return to school after a long medical absence, advance preparation with staff and other students could be helpful in enhancing awareness of and sensitivity to the student's needs, depending on the student's medical condition. It is essential to discuss the transition with parents and, after proper consent is obtained, with medical personnel who have been involved with the student. In addition, organizations that support persons with specific medical conditions may be able to provide useful in–service training for teachers and other school staff.

The following strategies may be helpful in meeting the needs of the student making the transition to school:

  • Arrange for remedial sessions for the student after initial assessments of the student's level of functioning are completed.
  • Set up a buddy system to ease the student's adjustment to school life.
  • Shorten the school day, at least initially, for the benefit of the student. Such a strategy may be helpful in some cases where endurance is a problem. This option should be exercised only when it is in the student's best interest to do so.

Transitions to and from an Education and Community Partnership Program (ECPP)

For students who are transitioning to and from an ECPP, school board and facility staff should make every effort to ensure that these students receive continuous programs and services with a minimum amount of disruption. At each stage, transition plans are to be developed and monitored by the students’ teams, which may include but are not limited to parents, students (where appropriate), educators, facility staff, and community service partners, to address the students’ strengths, interests, and needs and to support a seamless transition into and/or out of the ECPP. Elements of transition planning include sharing of documentation and records, in keeping with the information outlined in The Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guideline (2000), regular communication with parents, and gradual reintegration into the school system, where appropriate.

For more information on ECPP education programs, see Part F of this guide or see the ministry document Guidelines for Approval and Provision of an Education and Community Partnership Program (ECPP).


  • footnote[3] Back to paragraph At the discretion of the school board, students who are receiving special education programs and/or related services, but who have not been formally identified as exceptional by an IPRC and who do not have an IEP, may also have a transition plan.
  • footnote[4] Back to paragraph For many students, including those with autism, the transition to school is of particular importance. For example, if a student is currently working with a community service professional, that professional should be involved in the transition process.
  • footnote[5] Back to paragraph Any exchange of information must be in accordance with freedom of information legislation and appropriate regard for confidentiality.