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Supporting School Readiness

Our aspiration is that by the time they start in Key Stage One at school:

  • Children are confident and resilient with an aptitude and enthusiasm for learning.

The Early Years, Childcare and School Readiness service uses the term School Readiness to describe children’s readiness to move from reception year into year one, and the term Readiness for Reception to describe children's readiness to move from preschool or nursery into their reception year.

This page will support all those with an interest in developing children's readiness for school. For Early Years settings, it will also support the following outcomes from the Successful Early Years Settings Framework:

  • Inclusive Practice: Practitioners have high aspirations for all children
  • Inclusive Practice: Settings ensure that all children are provided with opportunities to meet their full potential.

This document UNICEF School Readiness: A Conceptual Framework* was last updated in 2012 but is still a useful summary of worldwide evidence around school readiness. *[Size: 1,558KB File format: pdf]

It is useful to read the whole document when you can for background information regarding school readiness. UNICEF’s description of school readiness states that three elements together increase children’s likelihood of future success. These elements are:

  1. Ready Children

Children’s readiness for a transition affects their learning and development. This is related to aspects such as communication skills, personal, social and emotional and physical development.

  1. Ready Settings and Schools

Early years settings and schools’ readiness for children ensures learning environments are child-friendly and adapt to the diverse needs of young learners and their families. This is related to how early years professionals create learning environments that foster and support a smooth transition.

  1. Ready Families

Families’ readiness focuses on parental and caregiver attitudes and involvement in their children’s early learning, development and transition.

All of these elements are important and must work together as school readiness requires an interface between individuals such as early years practitioners, families and the system. When developing our transition toolkit we used the three elements proposed by UNICEF to shape our thinking and final presentation of the document.

Ready children are not just about the things that children can “do”, children need to be mentally and emotionally ready for school as well.

  • Think about how we can support children to develop an understanding of school and what it will be like. Think about a child who is anxious about leaving mum or dad on the first day of school, we often react to the tears/clinginess rather than the underlying feelings - think about how we can prepare children for thoughts they may experience such as:
    • What if I don’t have a good time
    • What will I be able to play with or do
    • What if Mum and Dad forget where I am or forget to pick me up
    • What if I need….
  • Think about how they can develop relationships with their peers
  • Ensure children are getting the chance to be independent and build resilience - build resilience through things they really enjoy (e.g., throwing a ball) to enable them to do things that they don’t enjoy so much (e.g., putting a coat on)
  • Help children learn to make choices - between one or two things at first, then building up to more, a good book to support this is 'You Choose' by Nick Sharratt & Pippa Goodhart
  • Help children learn to identify feelings (develop emotional literacy) so they are able to talk to you about how they feel about starting school, e.g., by modelling feelings to them, using books and stories such as 'The Great Big Book of Feelings', 'Ruby’s Worry', 'The Way I Feel', and 'The Colour Monster'
  • For children with SEND, you will need to think about the holistic child and their needs very carefully. They may need an individual package of support from both the school and nursery/preschool.

Please note we followed the terminology from the UNICEF research report, but this section should be taken to include any educational setting with early years children including those based in the home.

  • Relationships between early years settings - gathering and sharing information about children prior to any transition will ensure the process is as smooth as possible. This is vital for many reasons:
    • to understand each child’s current level of learning and development,
    • to learn about a child’s characteristics of effective learning,
    • to find out about a child’s fascinations and interests,
    • to identify children who might need additional support,
    • to understand where other professionals are already involved with a child or family,
    • Consider additional conversations/virtual meetings for any children with identified needs.
  • Providing information to parents/carers - when a child starts in a new setting it is natural for families to have some level of anxiety and lots of questions about the unfamiliar environment. Providing the right level of information at the right time is vital. If you are using a website consider having a section dedicated to ‘new starters’. Include FAQs from previous parents/carers and don’t assume anything, e.g., “What do we need on the first day?”. Think about how to share this information with parents who may not have computer or internet access, e.g., post information home and consider translation and support for parents who cannot read or write. If documents need to be returned to you include a stamped address envelope. Ensure parents/carers of children who reside at more than one address have equal access to the information needed.
  • Building relationships - build relationships in as many ways as possible, through tours, events, and new parent meetings. Consider parents who can’t come to visit the school in person for whatever reason - set up an online meeting for new parents, make a recorded video for your website or create a virtual tour of the building. Provide a contact email address or phone number for parents to ask questions.
  • Nurturing Environment - use all the information you gather to make the school or setting as tailored to the needs and interests of the new children as possible. Consider how activities based on social and emotional development will be used to support the children.

The third dimension of the school readiness elements are families that are ready and supporting their child to access education. We use the terminology ‘family’ to mean those who co-reside with the young children, including biological and non-biological caregivers, siblings and extended family members.

As a primary caregiver, being ready for school starts with those that prepare right from birth such as attending antenatal visits, breastfeeding and early stimulation of parenting skills which promote learning and development of children.

The home environment is a key factor that influences a child’s start to learning and development. A crucial factor for success at school comes from the primary caregiver's educational goal for their child through their own beliefs and attitudes to learning. A parent’s perception of being ready for school might be that their child can count from 1 to 20, or recognise the letters of the alphabet. However, we understand readiness for school as being about the child’s willingness to learn, explore and investigate, as demonstrated through the Characteristics of Effective Learning.

The response from a parent to a child’s need and request for attention is an important aspect of family readiness. This increases vocabulary, cognitive skills and enthusiasm for learning. Therefore supportive and responsive relationships within the family are the building blocks for children’s social and emotional development for a child to be successful in school.