Are Children Really Ready for School?

Are Children Really Ready for School?

A SIGNIFICANT percentage of children will start school in September below age-related expectations.

In the academic year 2014-2015, 73.4% of girls and 58.6% of boys achieved the Government’s benchmark of a Good Level of Development (GLD) at the end of the Foundation Stage. This means a significant number of children are starting Year 1 when they are not ‘school ready.’

School readiness at age five has a strong impact on future educational attainment and life chances. It is in the first five years of a child’s life that the foundations for language, academic abilities, habits, attitudes, social and emotional development are acquired.

In England, the term ‘school ready’ is used to describe a child who has acquired the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in school. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Profile is used as a measure of school readiness: in other words, how prepared a child is to succeed in school cognitively, socially and emotionally.

Children are defined as having reached a Good Level of Development (GLD) at the end of EYFS if they have achieved at least the expected level in the early learning goals in the prime areas of learning (personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language) and in the specific areas of mathematics and literacy.

Anecdotal evidence from practitioners working with the youngest children supports research findings that gaps in communication and language skills emerge before they reach the age of five. Practitioners comment that many children begin school without the language necessary to learn and make friends.

The Millennium Cohort Study found that by age five, children from low-income households were over a year behind in vocabulary compared with children from high-income households. Other research has demonstrated that the literacy gap emerges before school. One study found that by the age of three, children from the most prosperous households had heard 30 million more words than children from impoverished households.

The Save the Children report, ‘Read On Get On,’ emphasised the importance of early intervention for children with a deficit in communication and language development. The report found that children with poor language skills at five years old are about six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English. They are also about 11 times less likely to reach the expected standard in Maths at age 11.

The Effective Pre-school and Primary Education 3-11 project found that high-quality early years education significantly improves child health and educational outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children.

If these children’s needs are identified early and appropriate intervention is part of the broad balanced curriculum, the gap in achievement can be narrowed.

Physical activity for young children is also an important component of early brain development and learning. Research has shown that today, young children are less active when compared to previous generations.

Providing children with daily opportunities to crawl, run, jump and balance in an open-ended stimulating outdoor environment will develop both gross and fine motor skills. The development of good communication skills is dependent on well-developed physical skills. But only one in 10 children aged two to four meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of being physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (three hours), spread throughout the day.

The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) was introduced last year and provides an additional funding of £302.10 per child. The purpose of this funding is to improve the provision that disadvantaged three and four-year-olds receive. There are no restrictions on the use of EYPP and providers have the freedom to decide how to make best use of the funding to support the eligible children in their care.

If practitioners identify children who are working below age-related expectations in the Prime Areas of Learning and Development on entry to the Foundation Stage, then they can provide a structured, systematic intervention programme for children. Children would be more likely to make better progress and be ‘school ready.’

With the right intervention, children make better progress. The longer-term impacts are minimised and many can even catch up. We were delighted to find out this week that our early intervention toolkit, the itkit, has been voted as a finalist at the Nursery World Awards 2016 in the staff resources category.

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