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Flip the Focus: from school ready to child ready

In an online survey of nearly 1,000 primary school teachers carried out during November & December 2021 by YouGov & Kindred Squared, it was reported that half of reception children were not ready for school. 

Jayne Carter helps us understand the report and shares what her trust are doing to help and support their students

The full report is available here.

Being ready for school, as included in this report, was characterised by being able to write some letters & numbers, follow simple instructions, be able to concentrate for short periods of time, being able to share & being able to manage dressing & toileting independently. Teachers taking part in this survey also acknowledged the impact of the pandemic as the most significant factor in this lack of ‘school readiness’, with 90% of them stating that they had ‘at least 1 child in their class who was not toilet trained’.

Key points included in the report include:

  • One in four teaching professionals indicated that more than half of the children starting in Reception at their school in 2021 could not follow simple instructions and struggled to play/share with others.
  • The average proportion of children who were ‘school ready’ at the start of Reception in 2021: 50%. Teachers in the south of England report a higher rate of ‘school readiness’ than those in some of the regions in the north of the country.
  • Due to COVID, in the 2021 intake, many teachers feel they have seen an increase in the number of children arriving unprepared for school in comparison to previous years. Reduced support for parents, impact of nursery attendance & lack of child experiences included here as significant factors.
  • Parental support at home, despite Covid, was also cited as a factor in children not being school ready with parents not reading to/with children (66% of staff included in the report) rating the highest factor but with parents spending more time on electronic devices than with their children achieving 65% of the vote.
  • COVID aside, the survey found that limited school readiness was generally fuelled by home challenges, lack of parental support and parental assumptions that certain skills will be taught in school.
  • The most cited impact upon a school of having one or more children who are not ‘school ready’ is teachers and teaching assistants needing to spend more time with certain children with the report showing an increase in personalised time from 2020 to 2021 (78% to 88%)
  • Limited school readiness has a significant impact on staff resources and can reduce the time available for teachers to facilitate learning for all. Specific statements here include: ‘additional staff time/resources required to deal with limited school readiness can have a negative effect on staff morale and job satisfaction – many teachers highlight the significant additional stress and worry that limited school readiness can cause.’ ‘A lot of teacher/TA time can be taken up by the provision of catch-up support to those who are less school ready – additional staff time is required in order to ‘reduce the gap’ as much as possible before the child moves into Year 1.’ ‘I spend most of my lunchtime sorting out behaviour issues so that I rarely get enough time to prepare resources as I would like. I have a lot of communication with parents about behavioural issues too.’
  • Teachers stress that limited school readiness can lead to children feeling frustrated, exhausted and developing low self-esteem. ‘Limited school readiness can lead to frustration and poor behaviour. Teachers note that this can negatively influence the child’s view of school, which can stay with them as they progress through the years.’
  • The report states that the limited school readiness of some students has an impact on the whole classroom, and those who are less school ready can struggle to catch up. Impact beyond the reception years was also explored with key findings including: “Bridging the gap is very, very hard and those that start behind really struggle to catch up and if they have a poor reception year this impacts their behaviour throughout school. It means that Year 1 has to blend EYFS/KS1 education which is challenging.” “The aim is always to plug the gaps, to close the gaps, but if a child is so low to begin with, they can’t even start accessing the curriculum, so that gap can widen even further.”
  • The necessity for additional staff and interventions can have a significant financial impact on a school. The main financial impact of limited school readiness is the requirement for additional Teaching Assistant support. Over the past year, many teachers have mentioned the necessity to hire an extra one or two Teaching Assistants for the 2021 Reception cohort, which cost between £17k-22k each per year. We’ve had to move an adult to reception, which is around £18,000 a year. We’ve also redeveloped outside for around £40,000 – to help them develop gross motor skills by climbing, going over and under things. We’ve had to buy more books for storytime which was £1,000. We’ve had to re-look at how we do things.”
  • The report highlights the displeasure from the majority of staff of how the government have supported schools & their dedication to improve children’s life chances. ‘Teachers with five or fewer years of service are less likely to assign the Government a U grade (20%) in comparison with those who have been working for 6-15 years (36%) or 16+ years (30%).
  • The report also asked: What can be done to improve this picture? Increasing overall awareness of what school readiness means and providing additional support to parents and schools were the most called for government interventions from school staff, advocating for a national initiative of what school readiness means so both families & schools work towards the same goal. Other suggestions included: providing additional funding solely for school readiness, increased access to nursery/child centre provision & additional targeted support to those who need it the most. A renewed dedication to develop a multi-agency approach to school readiness was stressed as crucial to improved outcomes.

The appendix includes case studies exploring the ‘school readiness’ story in a variety of schools. The recommendations included here: 

  • lobbying for additional school funding 
  • raising parental awareness of the importance & ongoing impact of school readiness for their children
  • increasing the school starting age (to 7 potentially) to enable more time in early years provision with a commitment to enhancing quality in these settings
  • greater access to a family link worker to support an early intervention agenda
  • greater opportunities for parents to access more sessions of early years provision (through increased funding)

I’d like to celebrate some of the fantastic ideas which the Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust (LAAT) schools have put in place to make sure that their children (including their families) continue to flourish & live our vision: SCHOOLS SERVING THEIR COMMUNITIES THROUGH EXCELLENCE, EXPLORATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT WITHIN THE LOVE OF GOD’

  • Focus on school vision: of course, school visions should continuously be evaluated & modified but even more important now as schools start to return to a pre covid state (* many continue to be severely impacted by rising positive cases*). Where this works well, school teams (not just SLT) have had the opportunity to shape the ‘why’ using their own professional knowledge, pedagogical strengths & appreciation of local & national research.

This site has proved to be so helpful in knowing the local context from different perspectives which then can be included in the school’s vision of intent. It is really useful too if children come from outside your immediate locality (input your school postcode to collate data). Developing this vision securely then provides an authentic framework to move into implementation & impact. For our Early Years classes, the revised EYFS from Sept 21 features highly in the whole school vision – it’s not just the domain of the EYFS teams but is discussed & understood by all- after all it is called the foundation stage for a reason! These professional conversations are a true 2-way discussion. Schools have the autonomy to decide what is important for their school community with a coaching model being used to shape & design the vision. 

  • Focus on speech & language development: Elkan training is currently taking place for all our schools to ensure that the process of becoming a competent communicator is included in quality first teaching in order to plan appropriately. It is anticipated that staff who achieve their Elklan level 3 accreditation can then go on to deliver similar sessions with their families so there is a consistency of approach to improving children’s SLC skills.

A Padlet of SLC strategies/approaches/research has been developed which provides examples of how to either enhance current provision or how to support children with specific difficulties.

Additional training sessions are included in the Trust CPD plan to ensure that this remains high on everyone’s SDP (these include Communication Friendly Spaces from Elizabeth Jarman & Dialogic Talk in the Classroom). Many of our schools are also using vocabulary as the golden thread which weaves through their curriculum frameworks in order to both increase the number of words children are immersed in & strengthen their understanding of what these words mean. Inspiration for this was taken from our curriculum conference which took place in November 2021 with keynotes from Christine Counsell & Bennie Kara.

  • Focus on PSED: network – we are fortunate in our schools to have a number of trained mental wellbeing practitioners who take the lead on supporting children’s social & emotional development. At our recent network meeting, many talked about children finding it hard to verbalise their feelings which as a result, sometimes presented instead anger, increased anxiety, disengagement & difficulties with concentrating. This recognition consequently led to an increase in nurture type sessions taking place, with more time being included for these within the timetable. Early Years teams have also made the commitment to continue the wellbeing rich timetable implemented through the first lockdown & through the various stages of bubble arrangements as they can see the value of these investments, not only to children’s wellbeing but also in overall learning. For example, the wellbeing libraries have continued. as have the cosy/quiet areas in rooms. Other ideas have included lots of input in using stories to explore feelings & emotions, use of small world play to re-enact scenarios to initiate discussions as well as explicit teaching inputs to model experiences & guide children in making sense of new concepts/vocabulary/situations.  
  • Focus on PD: to enrich the children’s opportunities for physical development, many of the Early Years teams in our schools have decided to dedicate additional time for gross motor skills (circuits & forest school activities are the most popular) & have also included ‘finger gym’ type provision into their learning environment to improve children’s fine motor skills. They are finding that many children also need support with improving their physical stamina & have considered how these skills can be incorporated into their ongoing provision (use of challenges to support prolonged engagement in learning for example). It has also been interesting to see that many of our schools have made the switch to including snack which needs to be cut & eaten with a knife & fork rather than ‘finger food’. Probably the shift in thinking which has made the most significant change to children’s PD skills is not preparing everything for them! It has been fascinating to observe the difference in both the children & the grown-ups when shown a neatly arranged, all ready creative area to one which has key resources which children need to cut, tear, fold, scrunch for themselves. Not only are they being scaffolded to use their PD skills for a purpose, but there is also much less reliance on the adult to be the ‘giver’ of experiences. Instead, they become a co-partner in learning.

  • Engagement of families: even though there were difficulties in engaging parents during covid, many of our schools & especially our Early Years teams were surprised with how much their families embraced the new way of working, with many of them choosing to keep some of these in place now. These include the enhanced use of their school online portal platform (especially if previous ‘harder to reach’ families contributed) – staff videos to model specific concepts/approaches/strategies (reading aloud/phonics/challenges) One of our schools started a reading library, originally for children but due to its popularity with their families are now including books for both children & adults to increase their reading for pleasure agenda. Many of them spent the time making packs for some of their families too. Now schools are opening up to more visitors, our schools are keen to start again the ‘play & stay/look & learn’ sessions so families can see for themselves how their children learn through play, as well as the more formal information meetings where key points are explained (such as the schools’ approach to reading). It has been interesting to listen to both SLT & Early Years teams explain the creative ways that they want to develop a partnership approach with their families. I can appreciate more than ever that they take the time to get to know their families & take the time to share initiatives with them with the goal always to make a difference to the children. Here are more ideas for parent partnership in this padlet.

We know that this isn’t a completed picture…. children & families change, new research & information is produced to change our thinking further & different priorities emerge. There are more things we want to put in place to continue supporting our EYFS teams…. further support for SLT & subject leaders in knowing the key principles of EYFS & strengthening the consultancy team by developing a Trust role of associates.

We are always guided by the EYFS principles we developed together:

Excellence, Exploration, Encouragement within the love of God

‘Each child is unique & made in the image of God.’

We achieve this by….

• Placing the child at the heart of all the decisions we make; particularly our children with SEND & our PP children.

• Supporting all the adults in school to be knowledgeable in how children learn.

• Understanding the significance of cultural capital for our children & families; planning a diversity of experiences to enrich, scaffold & excite.

• Working in respectful partnership with our families to ensure that we can work together for the best outcomes for our children.

• Understanding the importance of both listening to our children & following their interests as well as taking the lead in teaching through explicit direction. 

• Using a wide range of approaches to provide both support & challenge to our children- we are both facilitators & guides.

• Supporting all adults in understanding the observation, assessment & planning cycle effectively so it makes a difference for the holistic development of all our children.

• Planning for a learning environment (indoors & outdoors) which offers our children the opportunities to apply core knowledge, skills & attitudes.

• Being ambassadors for our children by ensuring that others understand why EYFS is an integral part of a whole school vision.

Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust

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The author

Jayne is a committed shoe lover and School Effectiveness Advisor for Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust. She loves discussing all things Early Years with anyone who will give her the opportunity and prides herself in looking after the adults in the hope that they can also look after the children. Achieve your potential! Winner of ‘Literacy / Numeracy Blog of the Year’ at the 2019 Nexus Education Awards.

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