Supporting children’s transitions to school by Sarah Neville

1st September 2017

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Love it, hate it or believe it is inappropriate, the term ‘school readiness’ has now entered early years common usage and is bandied about by Ofsted inspectors with great abandon.

The Early Years Inspection handbook tells us that inspectors will be looking for evidence of ‘whether children are developing skills in the prime areas that help them to be ready for their next stage of education, including school’; and the effectiveness of leadership and management inspection outcome checks that providers ‘successfully plan and manage the curriculum and learning programmes so that all children get a good start and are well prepared for the next stage in their learning, especially being ready for school’.

Ofsted attempted to clarify what they mean by school readiness in the report ‘Are you ready? Good practice in school readiness’ (April 2014). The report talked about children learning phonics, getting a ‘firm grounding’ in mathematics and being provided with ‘daily specific adult-directed sessions to address weaknesses’ but agreed that there is no ‘nationally agreed definition’ of the term.

Interestingly, when a forum of childcare providers were asked to define ‘school readiness’, they didn’t talk about things like literacy and maths. They talked about children who had developed good communication skills so that they are socially aware, able to make friends, take themselves off to the toilet, wash their own hands and generally know how to cope in a busy classroom.

What the recently published Ofsted report ‘Unknown Children: destined for disadvantage’ showed was that joined up working is not happening. They could have asked any childminder and we’d have told them that – without commissioning a new report! For example, it is not a requirement of the EYFS to write a transition report for children starting school – and the reports we write have to be send into school via parents which rarely happens – and even if they do make it to school it’s not often the teacher has time to read them! I have never, in 20+ years of working in early years, had feedback from my lovingly crafted transition reports despite putting a lot of effort into them and ensuring they reflect the child and family’s voice as well as my own…

In the early years, we teach children through playful interactions and we do our very best to ensure they are prepared for the busy classroom. We do not, like Government policy makers, put an emphasis reading and writing because we know that there are so many other skills they need to underpin school learning and prefer to concentrate our few hours a week with the children on those. Indeed we have read many different and highly respected reports which clearly show there is no benefit to beginning formal schooling at an early age.

So we visit the school and chat to the teacher, role play schools, read books about school to the children, take photos to make a little personalised ‘I am starting school soon’ booklet with the child, listen to children’s worries, make sure they are independent and confident about what is happening in their little lives, play together and have fun and provide parents with lots of starting school tips and reassurance.

What we do not and will not do is put pressure on children to be something they are not. If some Government bureaucrat says they are not yet ready for school then… school will simply have to be ready for them!

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