Are Children School-Ready When They Start School?

I know that I sometimes bang on about how really important it is that our children are engaged and turned on to learning (and therefore developing) in the Early Years. I really believe that we have to get it right from the very start. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our children are ready for school before they even begin.

Children have seven years in Primary School. We need to make the most of those seven years – to set them up to enjoy learning and to acquire basic skills and knowledge which will be the foundation of learning and achieving later in their lives. Yet head teachers are saying that an increasing number of children are simply NOT READY to take part in activities when they start school in Reception Year. This, for me, is hugely worrying.

In a survey carried out by the National Union of Head Teachers and published today, 86% of school leaders said that the problem is worse today than it was five years ago. There is an argument that says that these children are very young – in some cases children will have only just turned four when they start Reception. But when you see the list of just how are these children are NOT school ready, it’s clear to me that many of us are failing to make sure our children are equipped with some very basic, but necessary, skills. The list includes:

  • Being unable to put coats on/off by themselves
  • Poor basic literacy (i.e. not understanding of what a book is, being unable to follow a simple picture plot line)
  • Poor communication skills and a real deficit of language and vocabulary
  • Being unable to communicate with their peers

All this means children are unable/not ready to access the curriculum. They need a lot of input and time simply to get them to a level where they are ready and able to learn and develop appropriately.

Why is this? Is it just lazy parenting? I don’t think it is, I think there are a few factors that are contributing to this problem.

Sometimes parents have work and time pressures, especially when both are working. Therefore, time to engage with their children is limited.

Children are often given a tablet/phone to keep them occupied, but this is often an ‘isolating’ type of activity with no interaction in the home and that rich environment of vocabulary and language input just isn’t happening.

When my children were young, the battle around screen time simply used to be about keeping children away from the TV. These days, growing developments in technology have meant that now it’s app’s, YouTube, and videogames, as well as TV, that contribute to this screen-time battleground. It’s not easy – especially on rainy days, or when parents are busy – and the amount of screen time increases. Therefore, they are not burning off energy and when screen time finishes, they tend to be quite ‘hyper’, possibly leading to behaviour issues.

It also should be said that this government’s funding cuts have had an enormous impact. The closure of so very many Children’s Centres have contributed to a loss of ‘wrap-around’ care for families and children who need it most.

The lack of funding for schools also means that often there are few in-house family support workers. And there have been cuts to speech and language therapy by schools trying to manage smaller budgets.

The new ‘Free’ 30 Hour Funding for early years providers is massively underfunded, this has led to many nurseries shutting down, some limiting the places and amount of hours they provide and some charging parents for extra services (i.e. food, nappies …). Therefore, although it’s early days yet, parents are unable to afford or access early year’s places for their children. It is often the case that the families that need the help most are being excluded.

It is screamingly obvious that money and support must be put back into the early years, for our young children. If not, we are setting so very many of them up to fail. That is unforgivable.



One Comment

  1. Nuala Wilson

    I agree with much of what you say Jo, however, some parents are just not doing their jobs. Some people have priorities that mean that a pristine house is more important than spending time with their children and that keeping the house like that is more important than the children playing. Some parents are on their phones as they walk down the street instead of talking to their children. Some parents sit their children in front of the TV, where there is no interaction instead of putting on coats and having a walk. Bringing up children is hard work and it’s exhausting. The rewards, however, are immeasurable.
    Having said all that, many parents are trying to bring up children in very difficult circumstances and they’re doing the best they can at that time. Some people are living in poverty, with little space and no safe outside space for the children to play. Cramped, poor living conditions restrict children. There isn’t enough money for food, let alone for bus fair to go on a trip out. Parents can be struggling with their own mental health problems and can’t cope. Those parents need the full support of the state and they’re not getting it. There will have been a lot of hungry children during the last six weeks as the children won’t have got their free school meal, and in most places there is nothing to replace it. These children and their parents are being failed by society and in a rich country like the UK too.


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