Preparing for the Transition to High School

teacher and student laptop

Graduating from Grade 8 and moving to high school is one of the most significant milestones of childhood. The move marks an important step to becoming an adult. The expectations at high school are quite different with a greater emphasis on independence and self advocacy.

Students need to prepare for this transition starting in Grade 7 and 8. At high school there will be more specialized teachers and rotation between subjects and classrooms. There will be fewer reminders about home work and higher expectations that work will be completed independently. At high school students will be expected to manage their time, complete assignments and hand them in on schedule. Students are expected to seek help if they need assistance.

In addition, there are differences between elementary and secondary school that relate to course modifications, progression to graduation and self advocacy.

For students with disabilities or special education needs, there are many things to plan in the transition for elementary to secondary school because of the student needs for:

    • Accessibility
    • Specialized equipment or Assistive Technology
    • Health and/or personal care supports at school
    • Special education programs and services

The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is an important tool in planning for high school, as it includes transition plans as a required component. The IEP is reviewed each term or semester and the regular review provides an opportunity to talk about the transition plan to high school, and to life after high school.


To determine the accessibility of the school and classrooms, a school visit will be helpful. For a student using a wheelchair, the building exterior and interior will need to be evaluated. Parking lot and entrances will need to be assessed to make sure it is easy for the student to move into the school. Individual classrooms, especially those that are specialized such as science and computer labs, will need to be checked to make sure that furniture and fixed elements allow room for wheelchair movement. Communal spaces such as gymnasiums and auditoriums will need to be checked to ensure there is a safe space for wheelchairs during events, as well as access to the stage and back stage areas.

For more information about accessibility planning during transitions, check the article, Parent Tips for Accessibility during Transitions .

Specialized Equipment and Assistive Technology

Transition planning is needed to ensure the specialized equipment and Assistive technology required by the student is in place for the start of the school year. The equipment needed by the student should be documented in the IEP and a plan made to ensure equipment moves from Elementary school, or is obtained by the new school. For more information on transition of equipment, check the article, Parent Tips on Transition of Equipment.

Health and Personal Care Supports

Planning for health and personal care supports should identify who will be responsible for providing supports, and what training may be necessary. For example, if nursing care is required the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) should be contacted by the school to enable them to have the support in place In September. If there are is a therapy program in place, rehabilitation therapists may need to see the student at the beginning of the school year and provide training to staff who will be providing personal care activities such as range of motion exercise, or transferring the student.

NOTE: Referral processes will be changing this September as the School Health Support Program rehabilitation services transfer from the LHIN to the local Children’s Treatment Centre. School staff may need to check the referral process to find out about any changes, and make necessary referrals. For more information on changes to the school Health Support Program, see the latest Update on the Special Needs Strategy for Integrated Rehabilitation Services.

Modifications and Accommodations

In high school, students must meet the learning expectations of each course to obtain a credit. Students need to obtain course credits in order to progress to graduation. Credit courses may only be minimally modified with the consent of the Principal. This may create a challenge for students who have had their program modified at Elementary School.

In selecting course for Grade 9, it is important to know the students goals, and the course options. Students who have had a significantly modified program at elementary may want to consider Essential or Locally Developed Courses, or Secondary Learning Strategies (GLE) Courses for students on IEPs that need to develop the skills they need for learning at high school.

For a student who has been on a modified program at elementary school, accommodations will be important to success at high school. There are three types of accommodations:

    • Instructional (note taking assistance, extra time for processing, assistive technology, such as text to speech software)
    • Environmental (use of headphones, special lighting or quiet workspace, adaptive equipment)
    • Assessment (Verbatim scribing, speech to txt software, oral responses, including audio or video recordings)

Accommodations should be listed in the IEP. A referral to an occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist may be necessary to investigate addition assistive technology or adapted equipment that could help the student.  For more information on High School Options for Students who Had a Modified Program at Elementary School

Progression to Graduation:

Progression to graduation is not guaranteed. Students must meet the graduation requirements for an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. This includes achieving 30 credits, passing the Ontario Secondary Literacy Test, and completing 40 hours of community involvement activities.  For more information check the article, What you Need to Graduate from High School.

Students who are not working toward the Ontario Secondary School Diploma may meet the requirements of the Ontario Secondary School Certificate or be awarded a Certificate of Achievement. For more details on secondary school certificates, check the article, High School Certificates.

Students with physical disabilities may have health challenges, or tire more easily. One consideration is a reduced course load. Students with special education needs may take up to 7 years to complete high school. Instead of the usual 8 courses each year, they may select to have a reduced course load, and include time in each day for rest and to complete course work.

For a small number of students, the Secondary School Diploma or Certificate may not be a feasible goal. These students may be on an Alternative Program and work on K courses. K courses are not courses for credit but have learning expectations that support skill development in key areas such as, Creative Arts for Enjoyment and Expression, Money Management and Personal Banking, Exploring the World of Work or Personal Health and Fitness.

Self Advocacy:

At elementary school parents, or guardians, are actively involved in advocating for student needs, and participating in planning for programs and supports. Parents may attend school team meetings, Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) meetings and meetings about the Individual Education Plan (IEP). Parents will continue to be involved in secondary school but the student may also start to be involved in these meetings.

As students mature there are increased expectations that they will be involved in advocating for themselves and contributing to the IEP planning and the IPRC annual review. Parents have a key role in helping students to become more independent and advocate for themselves. Check the article, Self Determination and Self Advocacy in the IEP , for ideas on how to develop these skills.

The IEP can also assist with the development of self advocacy through goals for self advocacy skills, or an Alternative Program with self advocacy learning expectations, and explicit teaching of the skills.

Students with Special Education Needs

Students with special education needs will continue to have access to special education programs and services in high school, however, the way they are delivered may change. For example, the Special Education Department may have classrooms or work space where students can work on their own with access to a special education teacher. Students may use this room, during class time or when they are not attending a class.

The transition to high school is a big step and some students struggle with change. Transition planning should identify any activities that will support a smooth transition. Most students visit the new school once or twice, but some students need to visit more frequently and spend time with their new teachers. Students who are comfortable in the new school, and know where they are going, or who to ask for help, are likely to settle in more easily. Each individual student will have different needs and it is important that all aspects of the transition are planned carefully.