Half of all children not ready to start school – according to national survey

In November 2021, Kindred² commissioned YouGov to conduct our second annual ‘school readiness’ survey of school professionals. Almost a thousand primary school teachers and staff responded. They reported that on average, 50% of all children are not ready to start school. 88% of primary school teachers and teaching assistants reported having to spend additional time with those not achieving their developmental milestones, with the result that they have less time for the rest of the children in their class.

In addition, 90% of teachers surveyed had at least one child in their class who is not toilet trained and 91% of teachers surveyed had at least one child in their class who doesn’t have basic language skills (i.e., cannot say their name, answer questions, etc.) 97% of teachers surveyed had at least one child in their class who doesn’t know how to listen/respond to simple instructions.

The full report is available here.

Vicky Hogg, Headteacher of Clements Primary Academy Haverhill said:

“None of our children in reception this year were developmentally ready. In the previous year, only one was developmentally ready. Covid has been a great challenge for us all, but the school readiness crisis isn’t a covid issue. It’s been getting worse: previously 75% might not be ready for school but in the last couple of years there might only be one or no children ready.
The lack of school readiness incurs great financial cost to the school. We have a Speech and Language Specialist Assistant 5 days a week to provide support. We have to pay 3 full-time members of staff to enable nappy changing, to support the behaviour challenges and meet the huge level of need some of the children present who just can’t cope.”

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee said:

Lockdown and schools’ closures has not just had a dramatic effect on school children in terms of the education, mental health, safeguarding risks and life chances, but also for younger children who haven’t even started school yet. 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”. This latest report now shows that 50% of children aren’t school-ready. Prioritisation must be given to early years support and there needs to be a catch-up programme specifically designed to support families and nurseries to teach children practical and social learning, as well as better support their educational development. We should also provide better parental engagement and look at the examples of schools across the country who are working with parents to become mentors to other parents in the area.”

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel De Souza said:

“We know the vital importance of a child’s early years. It’s always crucial to hear from the professionals working with very young children. 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.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and Chair of the Sutton Trust and Chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Today’s report shows that when children miss out on access to early education and opportunities to play and learn with their peers, it puts them at a huge disadvantage. This is having knock-on effects in schools, at a time when teachers are already stretched with recovery from the pandemic.
“So as to give every child a fair start, there has to be a major focus on the early years, with support for the most disadvantaged children to develop before they start school. But under the current system, the poorest three- and four-year-olds are locked out of accessing crucial government-funded early education. This needs to change. Today’s report documents the need for low-income children to have access to high-quality early years provision.”

Sally Hogg, First 1001 Days Movement, said:

“This survey demonstrates that we, as a nation, are failing nearly half of our children who start school already at a disadvantage. These shocking results show that it is time for Government to make early childhood a priority. There is no “silver bullet” that will address the issues highlighted here. Concerted action is needed to reduce the disadvantage and adversity faced by young children and their families, and to support parents to give their children the best start in life. This requires a cross-Government strategy, beginning in pregnancy, and supported by sufficient investment to transform our children’s life chances. The Start for Life Vision is a fantastic step forward, but this survey shows that the Government needs to act with greater commitment, ambition and pace.”

Neil Leitch, CEO Early Years Alliance, said:

“Many young children have now spent much of their lives under some form of Covid-19 restrictions, missing out on vital opportunities to socialise with their peers and develop key skills. We know how vitally important the early years are for children’s future learning, so it is sadly not surprising that we are now seeing an increasing number of them facing additional challenges. With just 3% of the education recovery funding announced so far going to the early years, the government is missing a huge opportunity to address these concerns before children start school. We urge the government to give early years providers the support they need to deliver the quality early education and care that will help children recover from the difficulties they have faced during the pandemic.”