Hundreds of five-year-olds in Wakefield ‘not ready for school’

Time to head back to school
Time to head back to school

Hundreds of children in Wakefield could be starting school this month without basic skills such as being able to hold a pencil or go to the toilet by themselves.

Public Health England measures a child’s ‘school readiness’ according to whether they have reached a good level of development at the end of reception, before entering their first compulsory year of education at age five.

Just 68 per cent of children in Wakefield were at a good level in the 2016-17 academic year, the latest year for which data is available.

This means around 1,400 children - almost one in three - may not have been ready for school by the time they entered Year 1.

Children who don’t reach a good level by age five are likely to struggle to catch up in their later education, according to Ofsted.

Boys were far less likely to have reached a good level than girls - in Wakefield, 40 per cent of boys fell short compared to 24 per cent of girls.

Pupils from poorer backgrounds also fared worse, with just 51 per cent of those on free school meals in Wakefield achieving the benchmark.

Subject areas assessed include communication and language, physical development, and personal, social and emotional development.

These cover skills such as being able to communicate thoughts and feelings, socialise with others, go to the toilet unaided, and perform basic physical tasks such as holding a pencil or kicking a ball.

However, literacy and maths are also assessed, in which children score lower than they do in the other subjects.

A child has to be at a good level in every individual area to be assessed as being at a good level overall.

Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA), said it was “deeply unhelpful” to focus too much on literacy and maths at so young an age.

He added: “The focus should be on schools being ready for children and being able to meet their needs, not the other way around.”

Public Health England says that parents reading books to their children and talking to them as babies can improve their readiness for school.

A 2014 Ofsted report on school readiness also said that a lack of “good parenting” as well as high quality early education providers can impact on a child’s early experiences.

At the time of the report, only half the children in England were at a good level of development at the end of reception.

By 2016-17, the number had risen to 71 per cent.

There is wide variation across England, ranging from a low of 61 per cent in Halton in Cheshire, to a high of 79 per cent in the London borough of Lewisham.

However, the PLA said the measure was “hugely contentious”, and that there was no national consensus on the definition of school readiness.

“The early years foundation results are not objectively assessed,” Mr Freeston said.

“There’s an issue with standardisation because it is assessed individually by schools and local authorities.

“That’s not to say certain local authorities don’t do early years learning better than others, but it’s in a school’s interests to mark children down when they begin so they look better when they improve.”

Gill Jones, early education deputy director at Ofsted, said: “More and more children are ready to learn when they begin the National Curriculum in Year 1.

“However, gaps between poorer pupils and their peers remain stubbornly wide.

“Good parenting certainly makes a difference but schools have to step in to help those pupils who do not enjoy the benefits of lots of talk and a bedtime story.”

Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families, said: “The Education Secretary has pledged to halve the number of children starting year 1 without early speaking and learning skills by 2028, and will convene a summit in the autumn of businesses, broadcasters and a broad range of other organisations as part of a coalition to explore innovative ways to boost early language development and reading in the home.”