What does 'ready for school' really mean? Ofsted's Early Years Annual Report

3rd April 2014 at 01:00

Today we published our Annual Report on early years. Introducing the report, the Chief Inspector said:

"The capacity for learning development is at its greatest between 0 and 5, and it’s absolutely vital that when children go to a pre-school setting that they’re prepared for school.  We know that more than two-thirds of our poorest children – and in some of our poorest communities that goes up to eight children out of 10 – go to school unprepared.' 

We also published a new survey report on how the most successful early years providers make sure that disadvantaged children are better prepared to start school, so that they can go on to make good progress at primary and secondary school. 

But what do we mean by 'ready for school'?

Sir Michael said today: 'A child who is ready for school must have the physical, social and emotional tools to deal with the classroom, as well as the basic groundwork to begin to develop academically. The minimum requirements that every child needs to have should be so familiar, so well established, so obvious, that you could stop anyone in the street and they could tell you the basics.'

In today's report, we use an example first given by Frank Field in his 2010 report, ‘The Foundation Years’:


1. To sit still and listen

2. To be aware of other children

3. To understand the word ‘no’ and the boundaries it sets for behaviour

4. To understand the word ‘stop’ and that such a phrase might be used to prevent danger

5. To be toilet-trained and be able to go to the loo

6. To recognise their own name

7. To speak to an adult to ask for help

8. To be able to take off their coat and put on shoes

9. To talk in sentences

10. To open and enjoy a book


In our survey of good practice in school readiness, we found that the question of what 'ready for school' means often provoked intense professional debate.

A primary school headteacher gave one view: ‘By four we would expect children to be ready to be separated from their parent or carer, to be able to demonstrate listening skills in being able to show interest and pay attention to a subject or stimulus. To have enough language to be able to express themselves if they need something and be able to communicate something about what makes them who they are, such as name, age and something about family or relevant factors in their life. To be able to interact with an adult and/or a peer. For example, during play to be able to take turns and take some responsibility for their actions.

'We think that children should be able to focus on, and show interest in, their work and the world around them. To make observations, notice things and ask questions. To be able to hold a book, understand some aspects of narrative and respond to some boundary setting.'

What do you think?


Read the Annual Report: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/earlyyearsannualreport1213


Read the survey report, 'Are you ready?' http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/are-you-ready-good-practice-school-readiness


Read Sir Michael Wilshaw's speech about the report: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/ofsted-early-years-annual-report-201213-unsure-start-hmci-speech