Early years expert concerned about sending children to school ‘too early’

Olivia Rook
Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Trying to become ‘school ready’ is a source of great anxiety for some young children, particularly those that have formed a strong attachment to their nursery.

Most children start full-time in primary school the September after they turn four.
Most children start full-time in primary school the September after they turn four.

A leading voice in the early years community has announced that children are being sent to primary school ‘too early’ and when ‘they are clearly not ready for it’.

June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), said that if children stayed in a good quality nursery until they were five, they would be more psychologically secure and ‘school ready’.

In the UK, children must start full-time education once they reach compulsory school age. This is on 31 December, 31 March or 31 August following their fifth birthday – whichever comes first.

Children born between 1 April and 31 August can start the September after they turn five. However, most children start full-time in primary school the September after they turn four.

Speaking to daynurseries.co.uk, Ms O’Sullivan said: ‘We shouldn’t be putting them into big school at four; we shouldn’t even be having this conversation that they are being pushed into reception classes and school when some of them have just turned four.’

She believes that trying to become ‘school ready’ is a source of great anxiety for some young children, particularly those that have formed a strong attachment to their nursery, which they may have been attending since they were six-months-old.

Ms O’Sullivan is not alone in her belief that children are attending primary school too early. Kathryn Solly, an early years consultant and regular contributor to EYE, said on Twitter: ‘Feeling positive as our first grandchild starts in Reception today at her small village school. Just wish she was a bit older than her 4.5 years……I feel she has been deprived of part of her earliest years.’

Schools can introduce transition activities and resources that will support children during this move from nursery to school. Ms O’Sullivan recommends reading resources with storylines that tap into children’s anxieties, such as I am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Chid.

She added: ‘One of the things we try to do is to understand things from a child’s perspective, so we made a film about going to school that was designed and directed by children from our Soho Nursery. They did this themselves with the support of their teacher.’

Reception Baseline Assessment
Ms O’Sullivan’s comments follow the announcement that the Reception Baseline Assessment will be reintroduced in 2020, with trials already taking place in primary schools across the country this week.

The Assessment is designed to provide a snapshot of children’s abilities when they start school, enabling teachers to measure their progress by the end of year 6.

Headteachers have spoken out about their reservations in implementing a standardised and formal assessment of Reception-age children, believing it may be placing premature and unnecessary pressures on them.

 

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