School Ready

28 Jan

In recent years teachers have reported a rising frequency of young pupils starting school without basic life skills.  A greater number of pupils are entering school without the expected speech skills; without the capability to use cutlery and most concerning, in nappies without the independence to use a toilet themselves.  Educationally this causes a significant concern to schools, both on a practical and professional level.

Some schools do not have the proper facilities; teachers do not always have the required training and with every nappy that a teacher changes they are taken away from the rest of the pupils, depriving those who are capable of vital teaching time.  Given how important these early weeks and months are for children this can have a noticeable impact on pupil attainment.

A further issue is that this problem is taking place side by side with other factors that add to the complex picture.  We’ve seen historically underfunded school budgets pushed even further to breaking point.  This has reduced staffing levels in many schools while class sizes are increasing.  There is a reduced compliment of support staff supporting teachers in covering some of those nappy changing tasks and an increasing the number of pupils seeing the time they spend with a teacher limited.

The Welsh Government has now introduced expectation targets for pupils in the Foundation Phase, something that contradicts the stage-not-age philosophy of that policy.  It is difficult to see how all children are expected to reach the same targets when there is clearly a vast difference in school readiness between individuals entering school.

All the above begs the question where’s the line between the role of a teacher and the responsibility of a parent.  There are of course numerous factors that can impact on a child’s readiness to start school.  Teachers are mindful of that and will always work with families to tackle them.

This isn’t really a new issue.  No doubt teachers have had similar concerns for generations, but it is one that is being highlighted more and more.  In fairness to the Welsh Government they clearly acknowledge the need to ensure support for parents and have established specific policies and guidance such as Flying Start, Communities First and Education Begins at Home.  However, the fact we are still having this discussion suggest more can still be done by all.

Teaching is more than simply imparting knowledge.  It is also about the personal development of a child.  However, at a time where pressures on teacher’s workloads account for a significant number of stress related illnesses among the profession, can we really also be expecting individuals to take on increased social care responsibilities. The focus now must be on what can we do to support schools; what can we do to support parents and how can we monitor this situation to ensure we have the full details of its impact.

I originally wrote this piece for the BBC online site (hence it is short and a little constricted) but I can’t seem to find it published.  You can however see coverage of the issue, including an interview with me, on the BBC site here and in Welsh here.  There is also the authored piece I produced for S4C’s Y Sgwrs, while it remains on Iplayer, here.

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