By removing transitions, Little Beehive boosted occupancy by 30%

Part 1 of 2: Why Little Beehive’s Kirkcaldy setting moved to a new occupancy model with fewer transitions
Matthew Martin of Little Beehive nursery in Scotland
March 2, 2023
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In a rush? here’s the quick run-down.

  • In September we spoke to Matt Martin, the business manager of Little Beehive Nurseries in Scotland, about a pilot scheme to remove transitions. Long story short, it’s a success. 
  • 6 months later, in part one of this two-part series Matt is back to tell us about why they made the changes they did.
  • Remember to check out part two of this series, where Matt tells us about the results of this pilot, including successfully boosting occupancy and staff wellbeing.

There are lots of ways to approach transitions. If you ask your local nursery how many rooms they have, it will probably be three: Babies, Toddlers and Preschool. With this setup, children usually transition into the next room when they reach a certain age. 

This three-tiered aged-based system and the subsequent transition policies, for me, are the most damaging expectation in the Early Years sector in Scotland (and potentially the UK). 

I know that's a broad statement, and to many people might seem preposterous because “it’s how it’s always been done”. Children move to the next room when they turn the right age or when they are ‘ready’.

But why do we do it like this? Is it not a bit inconsiderate? It almost certainly doesn’t place value on the relationships that children have with their peers or key workers, not to mention how disruptive a process this can be for the staff and the classrooms.

When children were moving up the nursery as they became ‘ready,’ we had 25 to 40 transitions between rooms each year, and more than 30 new starters, who also required a settling process. That’s a lot of transitions.

What about the impact that all those transitions have on the child, the staff and on the other children in the room?

After speaking to staff it became clear that in a nursery with an age-based transition model, they weren't getting to be Early Years Educators. And that makes sense. How can you plan for the next day, let alone the next month if you don't know all the children that are going to be in the room and if they will be settled?  

The impact of too many transitions

Many people have told me that when a transition is done well and correctly, it won’t cause much disruption, if any. And, on the face of it, this might be true. The vast majority of children will transition absolutely fine. But what about those who don’t? 

The Scottish government's policies are supposed to focus on "getting it right for every child". But, what if doing something for one child has a negative impact on another child?  What about getting it right for every other child? What about the staff?

  • Focusing on individual children’s transitions can mean the rest of the class suffers. This isn’t intentional, or because our team aren't skilled, but because there is a lot of work required in transitioning children between rooms. While we are focusing on the child who's transitioning, the rest of the class gets less support. 
  • If we need to bring another person in to support the class while this is happening, it quickly gets time-consuming and expensive. 
  • And for the child? Moving rooms is scary! They might need a lot of 1-on-1 time with a staff member, they might not settle at all, or we have to restart the process by inviting the parents in. 
  • Worst of all, we often have to do a transition regardless of "readiness". 

In the age-based transitions model, we may have a child waiting to transition into a room on the back of another child transitioning out of that room. And, even if the older child isn’t ready to move up, we can’t keep both children in the room because we don't have any flexibility in ratios.

The big ideas

Why transitions can get complicated quickly

In one of our other settings (still operating under the old model) a child in our toddler room recently became very unsettled, to the point that our Head of Child Development was called in to assess the situation. She observed his day at nursery, what he was engaging in, and how upset he was. She concurred that he “wasn't a happy boy". 

Staff told her that this was very out of character, as he'd been settled in the room for the past five months. The team asked the little boy’s parents if anything has changed at home and if there were any changes in behaviour that we should know about. But there was nothing.

Everyone was stumped until one of our Early Years Practitioners had a lightbulb moment; a peer that he had been very close with had turned three recently and had moved up to our preschool room. 

Surely it couldn't be that simple - so they checked. For one afternoon, they moved the little boy’s friend back into the room and staff observed, "We haven't seen him smile like that in weeks."

Sadly, there wasn't room for the older child to stay as another child had filled his space, having moved from the baby room. But, at least a mystery has been solved and a lesson was learned.

When asked about the older boy, who’s transitioned up to the preschool, ample documentation and staff testimony were enough to convince the Head of Child Development that his settling process was in fact great. 

But for our little friend who remained in the toddler room, there wasn't much support when his best friend moved to another room. For no reason that he could comprehend, his friend now walked into a different door at the start of the day. 

This is just one example of a process that takes place, in one of our nurseries, 40 times per year.

The problem with occupancy under the traditional model

Historically, our nurseries would be occupied by about 65%, on average, over the academic year. At our Kirkcaldy setting, our previous occupancy model was as follows: 

  • 12 babies 
  • 15 toddlers 
  • 32 pre-schoolers

The more pre-schoolers you have (compared to the younger children with higher ratio requirements), the more occupancy you can have over the academic year. 

But the problem is, with this traditional model, each child occupies two spaces in the academic year: the space they are currently in, and the space they will be moving into. For example, if we had 15 toddlers in August (ages 2-3), they must transition into the preschool room at some point within the new academic year. 

This means that we had to keep 15 spaces (of our 32-capacity room) open for these children. These toddlers might move within the first couple of months, but some might not have moved until the following June or July – it depends entirely on their birthdays and "readiness". 

But the short and long of it is, we have a room that is at 50% capacity at the start of the year. 

Now, you could fill it up with part-time or temporary contracts, but what parent wants to take a place that they will be ‘kicked out’ of in 8 months?

That's the problem. Now, let's look at solutions.

This, in a nutshell, is the trouble with transitions. In part two of this series, Matt will look at solutions to the problem — you can check that out right here.

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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