Half of children are 'not ready for school', say teachers

Last modified on Thursday 26 January 2023

Parents have been urged to do more to ensure their child is 'sufficiently independent'

Teachers say nearly half of children are 'not developmentally ready' to start school – with some still in nappies.

They say some children are starting school unable to eat independently, communicate clearly, and in some cases can't say their own name.

However, by contrast, a further poll of parents suggests nearly 9 in 10 parents believe their children are ready to start school.

'46% of children not "developmentally ready" for Reception'

A survey of more than 1,000 primary school teachers in the UK by YouGov and Early Years charity Kindred2 found that on average teachers believe 46% of children were not developmentally ready for Reception.

According to the study, more than 9 in 10 teachers reported having at least one child in class who was not toilet trained (91%) or who did not have basic language skills (93%) – such as being unable to say their name.

But a Kindred2 report also found most parents of Reception pupils say that their child is 'school ready', with 89%, saying their children were ready.

Heather Thorne, headteacher of Beccles Primary Academy in Suffolk, said issues with school readiness have 'got worse' in recent years, saying it puts a huge strain on staff.

'It puts extra challenges on staff'

She told the PA news agency: 'It does put extra challenges on the staff in early years because of the time taken and the safeguarding of people changing nappies and things like that.

'Probably the first term is spent very much doing personal development and getting those children in a position where they can cope with being able to learn.'

What should my child be able to do when they start school?

Teachers expect children to be 'sufficiently independent', able to use the toilet, dress and feed themselves when entering Reception, as well as have basic social, written and verbal skills, the report says.

Ms Thorne urges parents to encourage children to put their coats, socks and shoes on independently, as well as recognising their own name, all feature in the guide.

Ms Thorne added: 'We use nursery as a really good starting point to get our children ready for Reception which helps, but there is still a long way to go and the children certainly do enter very low in things like toilet training and independent skills.'

Her comments are echoed by a teacher in the West Midlands who said: 'Teachers often can’t get down to the ‘meat and potatoes’ of teaching the curriculum because they’re doing things like changing wet children, dealing with emotional outbreaks etc.

'Many of our Reception staff, especially this autumn term, have missed out on their lunches and thus their prep time due to supporting children who can’t feed themselves.

'Staff in our school are being pushed to their limit at the moment. Lots of children not toilet trained means two members of staff are having to be released from classes to change a child each time they have an accident.'

Is Covid to blame?

Among the teachers who reported a higher proportion of children arriving at school not developmentally ready, 66% said they believe that less time spent in nursery during lockdowns has played a role.

Teachers identified parents spending more time on electronic devices than with their children and not reading to their children as other factors contributing to the school readiness problem.

Some parents assumed it was a school’s responsibility to teach basic skills, like toileting and dressing, the report suggests, but teachers noted that many parents 'lack understanding and knowledge' about the key developmental milestones that their children are expected to make in the preschool years.

'Too many children are behind before they begin'

Felicity Gillespie, director of Kindred2, said:

'Too many children are behind before they begin because as a nation we are not prioritising the raising of children at the very time in their lives when their brains are most receptive to stimulation and interaction with older children and adults.

'We perpetuate a failure to inform, a lack of support and underfunding that would be unthinkable in the rest of the education sector. We allow this in spite of our knowledge that preschool development is an accurate predictor of later life attainment and health. School readiness is not just an early years issue.'

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

'We recognise that the early years of a child’s life are crucial, which is why we’re investing millions in early years recovery over the next three years, including programmes focused on improving children’s speech, language and communication skills.

'We are already seeing children making encouraging progress with two thirds of primary schools using the Nuffield Early Languages Intervention programme along with nearly three million tutoring courses started through the National Tutoring Programme.'

'Pandemic undoubtedly had an effect'

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union the NAHT, said 'The pandemic and lockdowns have undoubtedly had an impact on the development of some children and led to additional demand being placed on already overstretched services.

'The government needs to invest much more in specialist and universal early years services for disadvantaged families and massively expand its new network of family hubs so all families that need them have access.'

Delaying the school start

In the UK, most children begin primary school at the start of the school year in which they reach school age ( 5 years old ).

All schools must provide for the admission of children from the September following their fourth birthday. A school year runs from September to the following August.

Some parents say their summer-born children are not ready to start school and they apply to defer their child's entry to school by a year. You can read more on that here.

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