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Children start school unable to use toilet or speak in full sentences

Article By: Melissa McAlees

Many children are starting primary school ‘not ready’ to take part in classroom activities, a new survey has found.

Credit: Africa Studio/

Headteachers are concerned that children are starting school lacking the basic skills, including using the toilet independently, speaking in full sentences and making friends.

The findings come from a new ‘School Ready?’ survey commissioned by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Family and Childcare Trust.

’Worst in five years’

Ellen Broomé, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, said: “Four fifths of school leaders said that children who had no previous early education demonstrated the most challenging issues.

“There is strong evidence that early education can help to boost children’s outcomes and narrows the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers – but only if it is high quality.

“The Government must make sure that every child can access high quality early education and that parents can get the right support to help them to give their children the best start in life.”

Children lack basic physical and communication skills

Almost a quarter of the 780 school leaders surveyed said that more than half of their intake was not ‘school ready’.

Speech and communication skills – such as children finding it difficult to express themselves and describing their needs – were the most common difficulties, with 97 per cent of leaders saying they were an ‘issue’.

Personal, social and emotional development – or being able to develop new friendships – was also cited as a problem by 94 per cent of leaders.

The most common reasons highlighted by school leaders for children not being school ready were; failure to identify and support additional needs early enough; parents having less available resources/pressure on parents and family life; reduction in local services to support families; reduction in local health services to support families; and funding barriers.

To help improve school readiness, two thirds of school leaders said they use home visits prior to the child starting in Reception and more than half engage with health and social care services.

Improving transition into school

Credit: takasu/

National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) is urging schools to work closely with early years settings when children are making the transition into school.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said: “This helps teachers to understand a child’s starting point and where development is needed. Early years practitioners are also best placed to identify those children at an early age who need extra support to give them the best start.”

However, she points out that there is often a delay in acquiring additional support which means many children are not helped until they start school, and by this time, the ‘gap in development is much harder to bridge’.

She added: “The Early Years Pupil Premium, which helps disadvantaged children, is also too low in early years, which is exactly the time of a child’s life when this early investment could make the most difference. If this amount was equal to levels given to children in schools, it would help to fully support these children prior to starting school.”

Schools should be ‘ready’ for children

According to Liz Bayram, chief executive of Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), the challenge is not that children aren’t ready for school but that ‘schools are not ready for young children’.

She commented: “Better partnership working between schools, parents and early years settings in the months leading up to a child starting in Reception as well as shared language and expectations are all key to ensuring a smooth transition. We should also remember that the EYFS runs up to and includes the Reception year.”

Funding concerns

The NAHT said the findings highlight the need for ‘greater Government investment’ in education, particularly for early years.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “We want to see extra money for education, including early education before children start school, and renewed investment in critical services for families. Without proper investment, the youngest and most vulnerable in our society will be starting off behind, with uncertain chances of catching up.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, has welcomed the call for additional funding, adding: “The Government talks a lot about social mobility and life chances, but if children are being left behind as the result of a continued lack to investment, it’s all just meaningless rhetoric.”


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David Smith

David Smith

05 Oct 2017 8:57 AM

Many schools are expecting 4 year-olds to be "school ready" in the same way that children of statutory school age (the term after fifth birthday) used to be if they had attended a good pre-school setting. We should remember that it is not that long ago that children stayed in nursery / pre-school until they were five. It is only in response to funding for four year-olds being ring-fenced that local authorities have effectively lowered the age of entry to school. This was a demonstrably backward step that should be reconsidered.