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.