10 Tips for Running Transition Events

Home From Home Care go to around 100 Transition, Moving On, Parents Evenings and Groups, College Open Days and Opportunities Fairs every year.  Over the years we’ve seen so many formats and different approaches, some great, some not so effective.  It’s not unknown for us to drive 3 hours to an event, meet one parent and drive home without even being offered a cup of tea.
We don’t mind because as parents ourselves, talking to another parent and offering them hope, talking about options for the future and helping them start the process of getting better informed is worth the trip, however, for many organisations, they simply won’t come back next year.
At other events we may meet 30 parents and have conversations that change someone’s life forever.  Either way, many organisations and parents will travel long distances to your event so it is a good idea to plan ahead to ensure the maximum success.


1.  Plan Well in Advance

Give parents and organisations plenty of notice of when your event is – there’s no reason not to let them know a few months or even a year in advance.  Publish the date on your website, include the event in parent newsletters, email all parents and the database of organisations you would like to attend, asking them to reply and confirm they will be coming along.

In busy times of the year, e.g. November and March, it is not unusual for Home From Home Care to have three teams on the road for two days covering six or seven events.


2.  Get the Timing right

The time of your event is really important.  Allow for both the schedules of parents that are primary carers after school hours and those that work.  We usually find events that run from 3pm until 7.30pm are the best as those times cater for both groups; parents who need to be home after school can pop in before they pick up, parents who are busy during the day can come along after work.  We go to many events that end at 5.30pm and we see harassed parents rushing through the doors straight from work to get there in time.  This is obviously not the best state to be in whilst discussing your child’s future.


3.  Attracting Parents

As parents ourselves, we know how busy and time stretched parents of children with special needs are.  Time is precious and often there’s simply no slack in the diary to attend all the events they might want to.  One good way to attract parents at your first event is to combine it with another reason for parents to come to the school e.g. a parents evening.

At one school in Birmingham, we are invited on Annual Review evenings where parents discuss the options for their child’s future with Connexions and teachers, and then come and chat straight away with colleges, local organisations and providers that might be appropriate.   This works very well because parents can start gathering information straight away.  At another school in Berkshire they invited a benefits advisor who had queues round the hall all night.


 4.       Have a Focal Point to the Event

The best school event we attend every year has a focus point that gets everyone in the room at the same time.  The event starts at 6pm and all parents are invited for that time.  The Head of Post-16 introduces the event and asks each exhibitor to say a few words about their organisation in under 5 minutes.  This gives parents a quick overview of who is there, what they can offer and if they are relevant.  Parents can then go directly to the organisations they want to speak to without wasting their time on services that might not be appropriate.

At another event we regularly attend, there are key speaker sessions run every ½ hour in a hall adjacent to where the organisations are.  This brings parents to the event throughout the day, provides them with more information than just what they can find out from the stands and in some instances, the speakers are already there as they are from the organisations so are free!


 5.       Get Together with Other Schools and Colleges 

Many schools have under 30 pupils in the post 16 department so may not think it efficient to run a transition event.  Why not get together with other schools in your area to put on an event.   Not only does this mean you can get more organisations to come along because there will be more parents, it also means you can share all the organising!  We go to ones where the venue is rotated every year so one school will only be hosting the event every three years.

If you still don’t feel you can put on an event, why not encourage your local Council to do it for you. Bedford are an example of a very proactive Authority and put on two great events every year.


 6.       Open up Your Event to Everyone

The objective of running a Transition Event should be to inform parents and give them as much information on what’s out there as possible.  All too often, organisers bar out of county services from attending.  In our opinion, this does not represent providing choice, either for parents or for the person at question.   We feel that it is wrong to deny someone attending a special college in another county when you or I could choose to go to university or college wherever we wanted.


 7.       Help Parents Along

Most parents we talk to are so daunted by thinking of the future, it’s easier for them to bury their heads in the sand and we can completely understand this.  Thinking about the future, thinking about your child leaving home, thinking about the next big fight for funding, it’s almost too much to bear. Why not assign each parent a member of staff to go round the stands with them or to point out which ones might be relevant.

Another way to help parents is to encourage them to start the process early on in their child’s transition, as early as when their child is 12 or 13.  We speak to parents who start looking when their child is 17 or even 18.  This often doesn’t leave them enough time to visit places, to gather information or to put their case to the Local Authority if they are having to go to a funding panel to get what they want.  By starting early they can really consider all the options in what is probably the biggest decision they will ever make for their child’s future.


8.       Produce an Event Leaflet

We are often asked to provide a little bit of information on HFHC for an information leaflet on the event.  This could simply be an A4 printout with each organisation providing around 150 words.  They can provide you with this information when they reply to your invitation to the event.

This is a great idea because it tells parents what each organisation does as well as giving them all the contact details, websites and addresses if they want to get in touch with them after the event.  It’s also great because if any parents cannot make the event you can send them a copy in the post or send it home in their child’s school bag.  That way, they still get a little bit of information.


 9.       Refreshments

Being on your feet for five hours without a cup of tea sound familiar?  A really great event we go to involves all the school making cakes, sandwiches and biscuits for a couple of days before the event.  Parents, exhibitors, staff, pupils can all help themselves and are charged a nominal fee that goes to the school’s charity.  A bit of sustenance during the process helps parents keep going during the conversations.


 10.   Organisations

So you’ve got your parents, you’ve got your date and time, who should you invite to exhibit at your event?  Great events provide a wide range of information across a number of services.  Here’s who we think should be at your next Transition Event:

Residential Colleges (e.g.DerwenCollege)

Local Mainstream Colleges with SEN Provision

National Charities (e.g. MENCAP)

Local Charities

Day Services

National Support Groups (e.g. NAS)

Local Support Groups (e.g. XX in Cambridge)

Local Connexions

Supported Living organisations

Home From Home Care!

The easiest way to find out if organisations are interested in exhibiting is to send a letter via the post or via email with a reply slip that they have to send back by a certain date.   Remember to ask them for their 150 words for your information guide for parents on the evening or if they cannot make it.