The term 'school ready' gets bandied around a lot in early years care settings. Education Secretary Michael Gove has complained that many children arrive in school "totally unprepared to learn" and just like week Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector at Ofsted argued that "a significant minority of children are simply not ready for school".
But beyond the politicians' sound bite what do we actually mean by the term school ready and what should we expect from children starting school? Is it basic concepts of literacy and numeracy or do we value confidence and social skills more? How far should children be self- reliant? Is there some responsibility with reception class teachers to be school ready themselves and in the best possible place to welcome children from a variety of backgrounds and positions?
When PACEY started our project on school readiness we were mulling over these questions and decided it was important for this discussion to have with everyone involved in this issue - parents, teachers, childcare professionals and even children themselves.
Naturally as an association that represents childcare professionals including nannies, nursery workers and childminder the first stop for us was to find out what our members and other childcare professionals think. This week we announced the findings. We will also be working closely with our partners at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to get the teachers' perspective and Netmums to get a parents point of view on these questions, as well as talking to children about how they feel about school. Parents can join the debate here: http://tiny.cc/schoolreadymums.
Our findings from the research with childcare professionals showed that they were quite clear on what it means to be school ready 97% agreed that the term "school ready" should be defined as children who:
• Are curious about the world,
• Have a desire to learn,
• Can cope emotionally with being separated from their parents
• Are relatively independent with their personal care.
In contrast only a third believes that a basic understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic is important. Likewise many expressed a concern that the curriculum for early years is becoming too academic, with 40% saying they would like to see more emphasis on play, and only 4% stating that they would like to see more academic elements.
We also asked childcare professionals what they feel are the main barriers preventing children from being school ready. The vast majority felt that communications could be a barrier, with 51% agreeing that lack of communication with schools could be an issue and 49% rating lack of common expectation between professionals as the main barrier.
The first part of the school ready project really delivers a clear message from childcare professionals. They object to the increasing academic emphasis in early years and want to ensure children have the opportunity to learn through play. Many also told us that they feel children should start school at a slightly older age, as they do in other European countries including the Republic of Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Their experiences and opinion point towards the value of fostering social intelligence rather than academic brilliance at a young age.
The voices often missing from these discussion is the children themselves so our qualitative interviews directly with some of the four and five year olds starting school this September, will really give us a different perspective on what school ready means to those at the heart of this issue.
We want to hear your views on this - please join the debate via PACEY Local [http://tiny.cc/schoolready] and Netmums [http://tiny.cc/schoolreadymums].