Half of reception pupils are not ready to start primary school, say teachers

Pupils are not ready for school, a study has found. Credit: PA

A rising number of pupils lack the basic skills they need to start school, according to a new report.

In an online survey of nearly 1,000 primary school teachers carried out during November and December 2021 by YouGov and the early years charity Kindred Squared, half of Reception pupils were not ready to start school.

Schools expect early years pupils to have basic social skills such as being able to share, to write some letters and numbers, to follow simple instructions and to be able to concentrate for short periods of time.

But in the study, one in four teachers said that over half of children starting Reception could not follow instructions and struggled to share with others.

On average, the survey found just 50% of pupils arrived in Reception being “school ready” while over a third of teachers – 34% – said their pupils were not ready to start school, up from 23% in 2020.

Teachers said that the pandemic had impacted pupils’ readiness for school, with parents finding it difficult to access toddler groups.

Lockdowns have meant that young children have had fewer opportunities to develop social skills or enjoy experiences such as a visit to a farm or zoo.

And more and more children are coming to school without being toilet trained, according to one teacher in the East Midlands.

“They [parents] assume we will teach them to read, we will teach them to toilet if they aren’t already, we will teach them their numbers, how to eat, their manners", another teacher in the West Midlands added.

Nearly 9 in 10 – 88% – of primary school teachers and teaching assistants reported that pupils’ lack of school readiness meant they needed more individual attention, which reduced time for other pupils in the class.

Pupils’ nursery attendance has also been impacted. A deputy head in Scotland said that there seemed to be less language development for their pupils because they were “Covid babies” who had been “stuck at home”.

Robert Halfon MP, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said there needed to be a catch-up programme designed to support families and nurseries to teach children practical and social learning, as well as better suport their educational development.

Ofsted have recently reported that some of the hardest hit children had “forgotten how to eat with a knife and fork, or lost their early years progress in numbers and words”, he added.

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said: “It’s always crucial to hear from the professionals working with very young children."

She added: "They are clearly highlighting the effect on pre-school children the pandemic is having, as well as on those who did not have access to the classroom during it.”

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union the NAHT said “It is no surprise that the pandemic has had a major impact on some children.”

He urged the government invest in services including speech and language therapy, and early years services for disadvantaged families.