Is your new intake ‘ready’ for school?

Written by: Anne Lyons | Published:
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There is on-going concern about the extent to which children arrive at school ‘ready to learn’. Anne Lyons looks at the challenges for school leaders

Most people only get to celebrate the New Year once a year. Teachers get to do it twice.

The start of term in September is a new beginning for everybody. The whole school will be looking fresh, bright and tidy. Walls will be brightly coloured, ready for the displays, the clutter of a year of heavy activity is yet to accumulate and who knows, if your budget has stretched to it some much-needed refurbishment may have been tackled over the holidays.

Some late summer sun may still be blessing the playground as pupils eagerly or nervously wait for their day to start, while a good proportion of parents give thanks that the long summer holiday is over and the school routine can kick in again.

The autumn term is a long one, but there will still be a few weeks to enjoy before the clocks go back.

Actually, given the summer we’ve had this year a few beams of sunshine in September and early October are long overdue.

Everyone in the school will be making new year’s resolutions in September. This is the time of year when everything seems possible and when a whole new group of pupils walk through the door for the first time.

And it’s really important for everybody to be ready.

The first assembly with the whole school is a great example. Here’s your chance to kick off the year in the right way, to set the tone. What will your key message be? What do you want the children to be thinking about?

It is really important not to underestimate how momentous the start of term can be for parents, too. There will be a fair number of parents of Reception children who are walking through the gates of your school for the very first time. They will want to know that the school will look after them, nurture their talents and open their eyes to the world around them. Whatever the enquiry, you have to be ready.

Just as schools need to be ready to welcome pupils on day one, having a school full of children ready to learn and to participate right at the beginning of term can make a real difference to the progress they are able to make during the year. Of course there will be exceptions. Of course there will be pupils and families with complex needs. Of course I’m not talking about classrooms full of finished articles, requiring only the minimum effort from teachers.

But concern about the extent to which pupils arrive “school-ready” is something that both school leaders and practitioners have been raising for some time with NAHT and one of our partners, the Family and Childcare Trust.

A report that we have published together to coincide with the start of this term reveals that eight out of 10 school leaders believe that school readiness has got worse over the past five years. Almost a quarter said that more than half their intake was not ready for school.

Now, this is a difficult message. It implies criticism of families, parents and carers. But the root cause of this lack of readiness is driven by different factors. Our survey found that cuts to childcare services and parental support groups are having long-term effects on the development of children.

The sources of support that families regard as essential are being cut back or have already disappeared.

For example, more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010, with only eight new centres opening over that period. These centres are lifelines for many families. Let’s not forget that it’s much more common now than ever for both parents to be working. The quality and availability of the childcare that they can access is under extreme pressure.

Because of real-terms cuts to school budgets it’s getting harder for schools to plug the gap. In my own school, I always look for ways to maximise the funding that comes my way. Making sure that we don’t miss any children who might be eligible for the Pupil Premium is a worthwhile effort. The government needs to finally agree to automatically registering those children from the DWP and HMRC information that they already hold, otherwise many children will continue to miss out.

No matter how tight the budget, the outreach work that you can do with new families is a vital down-payment on creating a strong bond between the home and school that can last for a child’s entire education. However ready your new intake of children appear to be, being ready for them is the best way to get that relationship off to a good start.

  • Anne Lyons is the current president of the National Association of Head Teachers. Visit www.naht.org.uk


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