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School Readiness – A Definition and How Early Years Key Workers Can Help

‘School readiness’ is a phrase used throughout the profession – from teachers, carers and parents to Ofsted officials, but what does it actually mean and what can those who are involved with the transition into starting school do to help in practice?

What does school readiness mean?

There are many ways to define school readiness which can lead to some confusion – is it more important for a child about to start school to hold a pencil and write their name, or are speaking and listening skills at the top of the list?

The revised EYFS framework (September 2014) says school readiness ‘gives children the broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for good future progress through school and life’. 

Research carried out by Ofsted (April 2014) tells us that there are several key elements that help to support a successful transition from early year’s settings into the school environment:

  • Using a transition document 
  • Involvement of parents and carers
  • Developing communication skills
  • Personal, social and emotional development
  • Physical development

Here we’ll look at each of these elements in turn to see how they can be used in a practical setting to help children get ready for school.

1. Using a Transition Document 

In order for children to feel comfortable and confident in their new setting, it is important they are given activities suited to their needs and abilities.

Early years key workers definitely should know what stage a child is currently placed across different areas of social, physical and learning ability factors. 

For those working with children about to move into a new school setting, completing a record showing their child’s progress in these different areas helps in two key ways:

  • The document will pull together information from the EYFS professional, the parents or carers and the child to form a more complete picture which can then be taken into the new school to inform those who will be responsible for the child. 
  • If this is initiated at the earliest possible opportunity, it can be used to identify any gaps which the pre-school setting can then work to help advance before the child starts school.

It is recommended that a baseline record should be completed for each child during the spring, which is then shared with the parents so they are encouraged to contribute and help their child develop new skills. 

Nursery Resources provides a Getting to Know Me booklet that can help with this process. The booklet contains areas for both the child and parent to contribute, as well as a section for key workers to record important information, giving them a simple, standardised way of recording a child’s progress towards being ‘school ready’. 

2. Involvement of Parents and Carers

Ofsted’s ‘Are You Ready?’ report highlighted that the settings who most successfully encouraged ‘school readiness’ were those that involved parents in the process.

Creating and maintaining an effective relationship with parents during this time of transition makes sure the parent or carer understands the process, has understanding of their child’s development, and has the information they need to work with their child at home to prepare for starting school. 

Working with parents ensures that these expectations can be managed in a consistent way across both home and the pre-school setting, which will help build a child's confidence and get them school ready.

EYFS settings that succeed at school readiness:

  • Complete transition records that are accessible to the parents and easily understandable
  • Give parents clear and accessible information about how they can help
  • Provide support through informal and formal meetings in the run up to the transition, with extra support for vulnerable families
  • Create and communicate specific action plans in the lead up to the transition 
  • Facilitate communication between the parent, key worker and any other professional (such as speech and language therapists) where necessary
  • Provide alternative arrangements if parents or carers are not able to attend organised events or meetings relating to the transition

3. Developing communication skills

Children with limited speaking skills often struggle when they get to school and this can have a lasting effect throughout their education.

The ‘Are You Ready?’ report notes that the settings who were most effective at addressing this issue regularly tracked a child’s progress and used the information to assess any barriers to learning by working with children to help develop their skills. 

A greater impact was seen in settings where every member of staff understood the importance of allowing children to speak in sentences and initiate questions. They also noted that imaginative role-playing scenarios involving key workers were another successful method of helping children develop their communication skills.

4. Personal, social and emotional development

Being ready to play, cooperate and share in groups is an important aspect of a child’s development, as these skills further facilitate the development of language and communication.

Settings that are effective at developing these skills ensure that there are areas and times where group interaction is a key part of the activity. Children are then monitored, and those who seem to struggle with this type of activity can be identified and encouraged, perhaps in smaller groups, to build their confidence with communication and cooperation.

5. Physical Development

Starting school is both an exciting and stressful time for children and their parents or carers. The ability to care for themselves, for example when going to the toilet or using tableware, can contribute greatly to a child’s self-confidence and their ability to settle into the new setting. 

Motor skills (both fine and gross) such as hand to eye coordination will also be key to their ability to write, draw and continue their development throughout their first years at school.

Early years settings can help children develop these motor skills by providing both indoor and outdoor play environments. Progress can also be achieved when key workers make assessments of a child’s progress and share this information with parents or carers on a regular basis. Key to developing these self-care skills is encouragement, praise, support and positive reinforcement – both in the early years setting and at home.

‘School Readiness’ In Summary

To be effective in preparing a child to start school, early years settings and professionals need to work with parents to ensure progress is made towards a number of key skills. The easiest way to do this is to assess where each child is in relation to these skills, and identify their individual needs and where they might need a little extra support. 

Key skills to look out for:

•    Is the child able to separate from their carer and interact independently?
•    Can the child communicate their wants and needs?
•    Can the child dress themselves and put on their own shoes?
•    Can the child sit still and concentrate for a short period of time?
•    Can the child play and share with other children in a safe and positive way?
•    Is the child curious and happy to explore new activities or environments?

Other skills which will help a child progress into a more formal school environment:

•    Showing awareness of the alphabet and understand phonic sounds
•    Recognising numbers in written form and being able to count a number of objects
•    Recognising their name when written down
•    Being able to hold a pencil and make marks on paper

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