School readiness and the partnership between EY providers and schools

Sophie Swales, an Early Years Teacher who trained with us in 2016/17, talks about her placement experience and the lessons she learnt about preparing young children for the transition from pre-school to school.

There are no clear guidelines defining school readiness. However there are many articles suggesting various developmental targets and attitudes to learning that children should have mastered prior to starting at school. 

Before my placement I had many ideas about what a child should be able to do prior to starting school. These mainly centred around the prime areas of development such as communicating with both adults and peers to enable socialising and asking for help, along with being able to share, take turns, and play with peers. Furthermore, I was fully aware of the need for children's independence in self care, such as toileting and dressing.

My work in schools highlighted that it is absolutely necessary that children start school able to:

  • listen to and follow instructions
  • sit still
  • concentrate for periods of time on adult-led activities as well as child-led ones

The children who struggled at school weren't necessarily those who had started unable to read, but those who started unable to listen and follow instructions, sit still or concentrate for sustained periods of time. These children were at a huge disadvantage as they could not focus on any of the structured activities or lessons and so were getting further behind with each session. They were not having positive experiences as they were constantly struggling to behave in a way that was expected and were often receiving negative feedback from their teachers and peers regarding their behaviour. This would obviously take a toll on their emotional well-being and lead to negative views of school life.

Having said that, I do not wish to belittle the importance of other areas of school readiness, such as knowledge and understanding of simple maths concepts, being able to recognise their own name, enjoy books, hold pencils, use scissors, be curious about the world around them and be willing to learn and explore. 

Unfortunately, studies have shown that children who start school behind expected levels of achievement are at a disadvantage from the start and are unlikely to catch up. I witnessed this with a couple of pupils who had started unable to grasp number concepts such as 1 more than and 1 less than, and although they could count quite easily to 100 they could not calculate 1 more than 3. The numbers were simply words learned by rote and had no meaning. As these children had no understanding of the simple concepts of number they were unable to understand the lessons being presented to the class and were therefore being left further behind. A huge amount of extra work went in to helping these children grasp the simple concepts so that they could try to catch up. Although catching up as early as possible was absolutely necessary, it meant that these children did not get as much ‘choosing time’ or indeed free play, which in itself would take its toll on their focus in the afternoon lessons. This highlighted to me the importance of achieving expected levels in literacy and maths prior to starting school.

After my placement I went back to the pre-school where I work and re-wrote our school readiness list to include being able to participate in adult-led activities as, until now, we had focused hugely on child-led activities to aid development. I introduced regular school readiness sessions to promote the necessary skills, with activities such as ‘Simon says’, re-telling stories and using scissors to create jigsaws of their names.

I also introduced regular phonics sessions for the children in pre-school and we worked with all the children on phase 1 phonics. We were aware that we needed to work with all the schools that our children would attend and so contacted them and discovered that they all use the same phonics system. We were, therefore, starting teaching the letter sounds in line with this system, using the same actions when discussing the letters in their names and singing the accompanying songs. In this aspect the placement was invaluable for extending our expectations of, and provision for, the children.

Although there are no children from our pre-school feeding in to my placement school this year, we have built on our bonds with the setting school and with other schools as a direct result of my placement. We now have a clearer view of the expectations schools have for children leaving our setting. 

This is particularly valuable for the children in our care now and into the future as we are a relatively new setting and need to develop strong bonds with our local schools. Last year the teachers came to our setting once and we provided them with reports regarding the children, but that was the extent of their involvement with us in the transition process for children.

Whilst I was in my placement school we had a new child transition in and it was interesting to view it from the school's perspective. They wanted as much information on the child as possible and welcomed any visits; in fact, they would have liked more involvement from the original school. As a direct result of this, I have contacted the schools that our children will be attending to arrange to accompany the children on visits. I only hope that they are as willing as we are.

The school where I did my placement had fabulous transition procedures in place, both for children joining reception at the start of the year and for those moving up the school. The teachers regularly went to teach lessons for different classes or the children went to share lessons and assemblies in different classrooms, allowing the children to get to know and feel nurtured by all the teachers within the school, making the transition up through the school not such a huge issue.

My school placement experience has highlighted the importance of the need for strong relations between schools and early years providers. Furthermore, it has highlighted the necessity of clear guidelines being drawn up in conjunction with schools and early years providers regarding school readiness.

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