News

Report calls for extra early-years funding

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Family and Childcare Trust (FCT) published a report to coincide with the beginning of the new school year. Entitled, School Ready, it did not make entirely comfortable reading. Here’s a summary of its contents and conclusions

The joint authors of the report said that school leaders and practitioners have been raising concerns with them about children’s school readiness for some time.

So, in June and July they issued a survey to delve further into the matter, to better understand the issue of school readiness and test the perception of 780 school leaders across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A foreword to the report signed by Ellen Broomé, chief executive of FCT, and Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT outlined the reasoning. “The start of term in September is a new beginning for everybody in the school community, especially its newest members: children starting primary school,” they said.
”For many of these children and their parents, school is an unfamiliar environment, which is why schools spend a lot of time, effort and resources on making sure that they settle in quickly.

“And in most cases, that’s exactly what happens.

“But, school leaders and practitioners have been raising concerns [with us] about children falling behind in the early years. Our survey finds that the majority of schools are worried about the school readiness of their youngest children.”

In fact, 83% of respondents reported that they have an issue with school readiness and a majority believes this has become worse in the last five years.

What is ‘school’ ready’

Recognising that children develop in different ways and at different rates, that there is a debate surrounding the definition of ‘school readiness’ and that different interpretations exist of when a child is ‘school ready’ and when indeed that should be assessed, the research asked respondents to consider a child to be ‘school ready’ if the child was able to begin to participate in the curriculum and wider school life upon reaching the current compulsory school age.

Issues facing children who are not ‘school ready’ included:

• Communication and language – finding it difficult to express themselves and describe their needs, or to understand what others are saying

• Physical development – issues with coordination, control and movement, for example with putting on outdoor clothes or using the toilet independently

• Personal, social and emotional development – finding it difficult to form relationships with others, or not having a positive sense of themselves

• Literacy and mathematics – not having a simple understanding of numbers, or of the link between letters and sounds

• Understanding the world – having a limited understanding of the physical world and their community

Having been asked to assess school readiness using those criteria, respondents came up with the following key concerns.

• More than four fifths of respondents (83%) said that they believed that there is an issue with the school readiness of some pupils starting school.

• Of those people, 86% believed the issue of school readiness has become worse over the past five years and revealingly, 24% said that more than half of their intake was not school ready.

• Speech, language and communication issues were of greatest concern with a massive 97% of respondents identifying this as a problem and almost half (47%) saying it was the most significant

• Two thirds (67%) said one of the likely reasons children are not school ready is a failure to identify and support additional needs early enough and 66% said that they think parents have fewer available resources or that there are more pressures on family life.

• Some 88% said that funding was a barrier to improving school readiness and 56% said that funding is the greatest barrier they face.

To help improve school readiness, almost two thirds (61%) of school leaders are already using home visits prior to the child starting in reception and more than half (54%) said that they were engaging with health and social care services.

Broomé and Whiteman said there needs to be a more joined-up approach and that schools and families need more support from authorities. They called on government to prioritise funding to support families in the early years to help set children up to learn at school and beyond.

“This includes additional funding for education, including early education, before children start school and renewed investment in critical services for families. These measures will help to level the playing field at the beginning of children’s education,” they said.

“The abiding message of this report is that schools and families must both be ready for each other in order for the first steps of a child’s journey through school to be successful. “Our survey findings emphasise how important it is to have adequately funded support services in place for young children and families. Reductions in local authority and health budgets, combined with pressures on school budgets as a whole, would appear to be having a knock-on effect on children’s school readiness and schools’ abilities to help support their children’s transition once in school.

“Support for parents, early-years providers and schools is essential to help tackle the issue of school readiness as early as possible, especially for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Partnerships between early-years providers, schools, parents, local authorities, health services and other services need to be adequately funded and well-coordinated to help support all children who may find starting school challenging.

“The first years of school education are vital to making sure that all pupils have equality of opportunity in later life. So, just as schools need to be ready to welcome pupils on day one and meet the various needs that they have, having a school full of children ready to learn and participate right at the beginning of term can make a real difference to the progress children are able to make during the year.”

They admitted that there isn’t “a simple, cookie cutter fix” to get children ready for school. “However, we know that high quality early education can help to boost children’s outcomes and narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. Recent investment in extending early education is welcome, but making sure that every child can access early education of this quality must be a priority,” they said.

“In recent years we have seen the sources of support that families regard as essential being cut back or disappearing entirely. Without adequate investment, more and more children will be starting off at a disadvantage, with uncertain chances of catching up.

“It is our belief that the government now needs to prioritise funding for support for families in the early years or face paying the much higher cost that a poor start to school can have on our children’s futures.”

Autumn 2017

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