HUN­DREDS OF CHIL­DREN ‘MAY NOT BE READY FOR SCHOOL’

Five year-olds could lack ba­sic skills such as go­ing to the toi­let by them­selves

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - by HAR­RIET CLUGSTON Data Re­porter

HUN­DREDS of chil­dren in Buck­ing­hamshire could be start­ing school this month with­out ba­sic skills such as be­ing able to hold a pen­cil or go to the toi­let by them­selves.

Pub­lic Health Eng­land mea­sures a child’s ‘school readi­ness’ ac­cord­ing to whether they have reached a good level of devel­op­ment at the end of re­cep­tion, be­fore en­ter­ing their first com­pul­sory year of ed­u­ca­tion at age five.

Just 74% of chil­dren in Buck­ing­hamshire were at a good level in the 2016-17 aca­demic year, the lat­est year for which data is avail­able.

This means around 1,700 chil­dren - more than one in four - may not have been ready for school by the time they en­tered Year 1.

Chil­dren who don’t reach a good level by age five are likely to strug­gle to catch up in their later ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to Of­sted.

Boys were far less likely to have reached a good level than girls - in Buck­ing­hamshire, 34% of boys fell short com­pared to 19% of girls.

Pupils from poorer back­grounds also fared worse, with just 57% of those on free school meals in Buck­ing­hamshire achiev­ing the bench­mark.

Sub­ject ar­eas as­sessed in­clude com­mu­ni­ca­tion and lan­guage, phys­i­cal devel­op­ment, and per­sonal, so­cial and emo­tional devel­op­ment.

These cover skills such as be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate thoughts and feel­ings, so­cialise with others, go to the toi­let un­aided, and per­form ba­sic phys­i­cal tasks such as hold­ing a pen­cil or kick­ing a ball.

How­ever, lit­er­acy and maths are also as­sessed, in which chil­dren score lower than they do in the other sub­jects.

A child has to be at a good level in ev­ery in­di­vid­ual area to be as­sessed as be­ing at a good level over­all.

Michael Free­ston, direc­tor of qual­ity im­prove­ment at the Pre-school Learn­ing Al­liance (PLA), said it was “deeply un­help­ful” to fo­cus too much on lit­er­acy and maths at so young an age.

He added: “The fo­cus should be on schools be­ing ready for chil­dren and be­ing able to meet their needs, not the other way around.”

Pub­lic Health Eng­land says that par­ents read­ing books to their chil­dren and talk­ing to them as ba­bies can im­prove their readi­ness for school.

A 2014 Of­sted re­port on school readi­ness also said that a lack of “good par­ent­ing” as well as high qual­ity early ed­u­ca­tion providers can im­pact on a child’s early ex­pe­ri­ences.

At the time of the re­port, only half the chil­dren in Eng­land were at a good level of devel­op­ment at the end of re­cep­tion.

By 2016-17, the num­ber had risen to 71%.

There is wide vari­a­tion across Eng­land, rang­ing from a low of 61% in Hal­ton in Cheshire, to a high of 79% in the Lon­don bor­ough of Lewisham.

How­ever, the PLA said the mea­sure was “hugely con­tentious”, and that there was no na­tional con­sen­sus on the def­i­ni­tion of school readi­ness.

“The early years foun­da­tion re­sults are not ob­jec­tively as­sessed,” Mr Free­ston said.

“There’s an is­sue with stan­dard­i­s­a­tion be­cause it is as­sessed in­di­vid­u­ally by schools and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

“That’s not to say cer­tain lo­cal au­thor­i­ties don’t do early years learn­ing bet­ter than others, but it’s in a school’s in­ter­ests to mark chil­dren down when they be­gin so they look bet­ter when they im­prove.”

Gill Jones, early ed­u­ca­tion deputy direc­tor at Of­sted, said: “More and more chil­dren are ready to learn when they be­gin the Na­tional Cur­ricu­lum in Year 1.

“How­ever, gaps be­tween poorer pupils and their peers re­main stub­bornly wide.

“Good par­ent­ing cer­tainly makes a dif­fer­ence but schools have to step in to help those pupils who do not en­joy the ben­e­fits of lots of talk and a bed­time story.”

Nad­him Za­hawi, Min­is­ter for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, said: “The Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary has pledged to halve the num­ber of chil­dren start­ing year 1 with­out early speak­ing and learn­ing skills by 2028, and will con­vene a sum­mit in the au­tumn of busi­nesses, broad­cast­ers and a broad range of other or­gan­i­sa­tions as part of a coali­tion to ex­plore in­no­va­tive ways to boost early lan­guage devel­op­ment and read­ing in the home.”

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