Many pupils who start primary school ‘aren’t ready for the classroom’

New research suggests that at least 194,000 pupils could be ill-prepared for the classroom in September

Large proportions of children starting school are not ready for the classroom, according to primary school leaders.

A survey of more than 1,100 headteachers suggests that nearly a third (31 per cent) believe that more than half of their new starters in Reception had arrived underprepared in some way.

Almost four in five (78 per cent) of the heads said they had pupils who were behind in speaking, according to the survey by The Key, an organisation providing leadership and management support to schools. Some heads blamed the impact of new technology.

One primary school leader said: “We are having more and more children entering our early years stage with delayed speech and a lack of school readiness. I feel much of this is down to challenging family circumstances alongside the rise of mobile phones and other mobile technology, which means parents are more often to be seen on the phone than talking to their children.”

A headteacher at another primary said: “There is limited parent/child interaction. Four-year-olds know how to swipe a phone but haven’t a clue about conversations.”

Headteachers said that they had pupils without the social skills expected at age four.

The “State of Education” report, published today, also reveals that almost all (99.5 per cent) of primary school leaders said that a proportion of their pupils were joining school below the level of school-readiness. More than half of primary school leaders also said that pupils were arriving with reading (58 per cent), writing (56 per cent) and numeracy skills (55 per cent) below the standard they would anticipate.

The results come shortly after the three baseline tests, intended to measure the abilities and progress of all Reception-class pupils in English state schools, were dropped because it was found that they could not be compared.

‘Huge burden on schools’

Fergal Roche, chief exectuive of The Key, said: “It’s predicted that 336,000 more children will enter primary school by 2024 – almost half of whom will be entering in the next couple of years. School leaders are already struggling to retain staff and manage their teachers’ workload, so add thousands more pupils arriving ill-prepared for the classroom to the equation, and the burden placed on our schools will be huge.

“To lessen this load more should to be done to ensure children are arriving at school with the skills they need to learn. An agreed definition of what ‘school-readiness’ means could be the first step to helping schools, parents and early years practitioners identify what national or localised support is required to meet this growing issue.”

Pupils arriving at secondary school are more likely to be prepared for the next stage in their education, The Key found. Only one in 10 secondary school leaders believed that more than half of their new pupils were ill-prepared. At secondary school level, the majority of school leaders cited low reading levels (chosen by 76 per cent) as one of the most common reasons for children arriving underprepared.

The problem at both primary and secondary appears to be more prevalent in the North of England. More than a third of leaders in schools in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East (39 per cent, 37 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively) said more than half of their new pupils were not ready for school. London was close behind, with 32 per cent of school leaders believing this, followed by the South West (26 per cent) and South East (21 per cent).

Clare McGread, head of communities and early years at the National Literacy Trust, said: “It’s concerning to see school leaders report that so many children are starting primary school without the skills they need. Parents play a crucial role in supporting their child’s early language and communication development, but many lack confidence in how to support their child’s early learning.

“Early years practitioners can provide valuable guidance to parents, and help families to build rich home-learning environments. Programmes that bring together practitioners and volunteers to engage and empower parents with ideas, tools and confidence to support their children’s development will have a positive impact on their school readiness.”

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