EYFS: Do we still need a staggered start to the year?  

Half days are the tradition for the start of the Reception year, but some argue they should end. Helen Pinnington says doing that would be a huge mistake        

Helen Pinnington


The mum decided to ask Facebook: she was struggling for childcare in September because the school where her child was joining the Reception year was running half-day sessions for the first week. What should she do?

Many responded, and the overwhelming consensus was that she should just demand a full-time place from the school.  

This is happening more and more. We are increasingly under pressure to offer new children a full-time place straightaway. Here’s why I think that is a bad idea. 

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While there is still a huge variation in the pattern of entry to a school, I have noticed from recent conversations with teachers that there is now a trend for the induction phase to be shortened.   

Why is this happening? Put simply: parents need to work.

Early years transition

More parents are working and they need childcare arrangements stretching beyond the school day. When they are faced with the shorter school day in comparison to the luxury of a day nursery offering much longer hours – and then add in the staggered start of half days – pressure inevitably falls on to the school to come up with a solution. 

If that is not forthcoming, I have known many parents who have sent their children to their pre-school childcare for the first few weeks to fill the gaps when their child is not in Reception class for their settling in sessions. 

Is there any point in offering a “gentle” start if this is happening? It’s something I have had to think about. 

Certainly, the impact of the 30-hours childcare provision has meant that many more children – I would argue the vast majority – are now attending a nursery or pre-school setting before starting school, many for full days or even full-time. Where does that leave the need for a staggered start at school?

Fundamental purpose

Unfortunately, it is easy, under this pressure, for parents and teachers to forget the fundamental purpose of a staggered start. We need to remember that we are here for learning and nurture, not childcare. 

We are not all sitting drinking cups of tea while the children are attending part-time. It is a very busy and exhausting couple of weeks for the staff, with home visits forming a huge part of the process. These visits are an extremely valuable exercise and offer considerable benefit to each child.  

And when the children are in, we use the part-time timetable to ensure we have lower numbers in class so that we can offer a bespoke experience in those first few days, with a high ratio of adults enabling us to fully meet their needs.  

Nurture priority

This is essential. Often in the early days, children need a lot of nurture and reassurance. Some can regress a little with independence and need additional support with things like toileting.  

It is also in those first few hours and days that, as Reception teachers, we make assessments and fine tune our radars for children who may need more support than expected, because we never really know how they will respond. 

I have also had the odd “runner”, and I find that such issues are always more manageable with a smaller group of children so that we can quickly respond.  

Ultimately, if we don’t get things right in the first few days, it is very difficult to recover and rebuild the experience as a positive one or to regain a parent’s trust.  

So stay strong, keep the staggered starts – the pressure from outside the school will be short-term but the benefits of a well-organised transition really pay off in the long run. 

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Helen Pinnington

Helen Pinnington is early years foundation lead at St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School in Bedhampton, Hampshire

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