What does it mean to be ready for school?

This week we seem to have been talking to lots of people who are experiencing (or whose children are experiencing) transitions – into nurseries, childminders’ settings, primary schools, secondary schools and universities. Transitions can be an unsettling and uncertain time – taking on a new challenge, meeting a lot of new people and absorbing a lot of new information. Several of our guest posters have wrote about this topic before; Karen Matthews has reflected on how children transition into primary school from her perspective as an early years practitioner. Caroline Lampard-Shedden has thought about how the child’s voice is considered when making the transition to school. And Kerry Holman has thought about whether the transition between the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 (and from a play-based to a formal curriculum) is being overlooked.

One phrase often used when talking about how to support children with school transitions is “school readiness”. But what does this mean? Definitions are widespread, often combining two main elements of (1) ensuring that young children beginning school have some basic skills and (2) that transitions for children into school are smooth and well-prepared (OECD, 2006).  This description of school readiness, the OECD believes, most commonly fits with how children are supported to start school in France and the English-speaking world, where significance is placed on children to develop academic skills, and acquiring “a range of knowledge, skills and dispositions that children should develop as a result of classroom experiences” (2006:65).  It’s described by the OECD a “pre-primary approach” or a “readiness for school approach” (2006:57).

However, this interpretation of what it means to be ready for school is at odds with that of Scandinavian countries, which are described by the OECD as having a “social pedagogy” approach to early education. In this approach children are provided with “excellent results in terms of readiness for school” (2006:63) as a result of their holistic approach to early education that focuses on preparing the child for life by learning through play, encouraging personal interests and social interaction. The Scandinavian approach to early education and care differs vastly in their aims to that of France and the English-speaking world, with the former aiming more to support the family unit and the development of young children, whereas the latter has a stronger focus on the “schoolification” (2006:62) of early education. This schoolification approach more explicitly promotes academic readiness for school, valuing more school-like areas of development, such as mathematics, language and literacy (2006:64). We can see the difference between the “readiness for school approach” and “social pedagogy approach” through looking at ECEC curricula –whilst the UK’s EYFS (2017: 5) claims that it “gives children the broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for good future progress through school and life” (our emphasis), Sweden’s pre-primary curriculum – The Curriculum for the Pre-School Lpfö 98 (2010: 4) states that preschool education must “lay the foundations for lifelong learning”.

We’d be interested to know what you think. What does “school readiness” mean to you? And what advice would you give to those starting new places (whether it’s nursery, school or university) at the moment?

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