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SEND focus: What do we mean by ‘school-readiness’?

It's schools that need to prepare for children with SEND – not the other way round, says one academic

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It's schools that need to prepare for children with SEND – not the other way round, says one academic

"Can your preschool child go to the toilet, talk and listen, learn and play? Are they ready for school?"

When a local authority posted the above tweet from their official Twitter account, they prompted a small storm. The author of the tweet probably didn’t think that they were saying anything controversial; after all, the concept of "school-readiness" is well established, and popular with politicians and policymakers

Why is it controversial to say that we want children to be able to use the toilet, put their own coat and shoes on, and be ready to learn and play? It’s just common sense, isn’t it?

If you are the parent of a child with a special educational need or disability (SEND), then the answer to that question may be "no". With or without early intervention and support, there will always be some children who cannot meet the perceived standards for school-readiness

There will always be some who can't use the toilet, who can’t put on their own coat and who find it difficult to use spoken language to express themselves. 

And if you are the parent of one of those children, you may feel that no one is thinking about a child like yours when a local authority carelessly tweets "Is your child ready for school?" 

Continued exclusion

The Equality Act (2010) requires early years settings to make "reasonable adjustments" for pupils with SEND. No provider should be able to deny a child a place because they are still in nappies, and nor should they ask the parent to come in to school every time their child has an accident. Yet parents report that these forms of exclusion continue. 

Parents are still told by settings that "we don’t do toilet training" or are directed to the school down the road that is good at "inclusion" and is better for children like "them".  In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the school-readiness mantra is used to exclude children with SEND, despite provisions made under the Equality Act.

Perhaps we need to change the way we think about school-readiness.  Rather than simply asking: "Is the child ready for school?", we should ask instead: "Is the school ready for the arrival of all the children in the next cohort?" 

Schools and local authorities need to work in partnership with parents to ensure that adjustments can be made to meet individual children’s diverse needs in the context of a busy early years classroom.

So let’s stop worrying about whether the children are "ready" for school; it’s the schools who need to be "ready" for the children.

Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole is senior research fellow in disability studies and psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University

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