EYFS: Nearly half of pupils ‘not ready’ for school

Teachers say lack of school readiness is a ‘growing’ problem, with staff having to spend time helping children with basic tasks like dressing and going to the toilet
26th January 2023, 12:01am


EYFS: Nearly half of pupils ‘not ready’ for school

two children eating

Nearly half of children starting school are unable to eat independently, use the toilet or communicate clearly - but almost nine in 10 parents believe their children are ready to start school, according to a new report.

In a survey carried out by an early years charity, primary school teachers reported that an average of only 54 per cent of pupils in their Reception classes were developmentally ready for school when they began.

Teachers believe lack of school readiness is a “growing” problem, according to the Kindred2 report. But most parents of Reception pupils who took part in the survey said that their child was “school ready”.

In a survey of more than 1,000 primary school teachers in the UK during October and November 2022, teachers reported that an average of 46 per cent of children were not developmentally ready for Reception.

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

EYFS: Children starting school without basic skills

But nearly three in five teachers (59 per cent) reported that the number of pupils who were developmentally behind was either higher or the same as in previous years, according to the poll, carried out by YouGov for Kindred2.

In a separate poll of more than 1,000 parents of pupils who started Reception in September 2022, 89 per cent said their child was “ready for school” (out of those who answered “yes” or “no” to the question).

The Kindred2 report warns that “limited school readiness” has meant that schools need more staff to be able to support children to focus on basic developmental tasks, such as being able to dress and go to the toilet.

A senior teacher in the West Midlands 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.”

More than nine in 10 teachers reported having at least one child in class who was not toilet trained (91 per cent) or who do not have basic language skills (93 per cent) - such as being unable to say their name.

The survey suggests 89 per cent of teachers have at least one child in their class who cannot eat independently.

Another teacher in the West Midlands said: “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.”

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

Teachers identified parents spending more time on electronic devices than with their children and parents 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 going to the toilet 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 reach in the preschool years.

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.”

Loss of early childhood support services

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union the NAHT, said that “even before the pandemic” there was a “lack of specialist help for families with issues such as their children’s social development, speech and language”.

“Reductions in early support - including valuable universal services like children’s centres - have taken their toll over the last decade as many local authorities faced cuts to their government funding.

“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.”

Mr Bowen said 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”.

“In the meantime, we would encourage families to continue to encourage children’s social interaction as much as possible, and to seek out support should they have any concerns about their child’s early development,” he added.

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 3 million tutoring courses started through the National Tutoring Programme.”

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