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Concern over 'schoolification'

Pre-school childResearch among childcare professionals reflects concern at ‘schoolification’ of childcare and early years.

New research conducted by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) has found that childcare professionals interpretation of the term “school ready” is in stark contrast to that often stated by policy makers and regulators in England, with 97% [1] agreeing that the term “school ready” should be defined as being children who

  • are curious about the world,
  • have a desire to learn,
  • can cope emotionally with being separated from their parents
  • are relatively independent with their personal care.

Only a third of childcare professionals [2] believe that a definition of “school ready” should include a child having a good basic understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic.  

Almost half of childcare professionals think that the Early Years Foundation Stage (the minimum standards that Ofsted requires registered childcare settings to meet) would benefit from a greater focus on play [3], with only 4% [4] suggesting the curriculum would benefit from more academic elements.

The findings suggest that childcare professionals believe there is too much academic focus at an early age.

Childcare professionals also agreed that two of the main barriers to preparing children for school were a lack of communication with the school (51%) [5] and lack of common expectations across different children's professions (49%) [6].

These results are the first stage of a research project PACEY is running over the summer to better understand what “school readiness” means for everyone involved in supporting children through this vital transition. PACEY will be working in partnership with Netmums to gain the views of parents and with the National Union of Teachers to hear the views of primary school teachers. The study will also undertake qualitative research with children starting school this September.

Liz Bayram, Joint Chief Executive at PACEY, said: “Our research with childcare professionals gives a clear message, learning through play is by far more important than formal learning for pre-school children. This view is backed up by research and is in stark contrast to what is increasingly seen by many in childcare and early years as Government and Ofsted’s schoolification of their profession.

“Recent proposals for the new entry qualification for anyone working in a nursery and for the new leadership qualification [7] include no emphasis on understanding the theory of play. Ofsted is proposing children should be tested even before they start in Reception and has said the current EYFS Profile is ‘too broad an assessment’. The Childcare Minister has praised the more formal French system of ecole maternelle and in “More Great Childcare” has proposed schools  take children from as young as 2.

“Our research shows that childcare professionals working every day with young children strongly disagree. School readiness and the role of play is an issue close to the heart of many PACEY members. We are looking forward to hearing the views of parents and teachers. In doing so PACEY hopes to build a shared consensus on what matters most for our youngest children and, through this, make recommendations to government on this and and how to improve collaboration between teachers, childcare professionals and parents at this important point in every child’s life.”

Parents can now take part in the research project and discuss the issue of school readiness via Netmums. Childcare professionals can debate these findings at PACEY Local.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has also joined the Practice Debate and they will be sending out our "What is 'school-ready'?" survey to their early years and primary group members to get teachers' views on the subject.

The research project’s findings and recommendations will be published in September and debated at PACEY LIVE 2013, taking place at the Childcare Expo this September.


[1] 97% rated the following statements as very important or important to the definition of school ready

[2] 36% rated the following statement as very important ‘A basic understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic’

[3] 40% would like the Early Years Foundation Stage to ‘include more elements of play’

[4] 4% of childcare professionals would like the Early Years Foundation Stage to ‘include more formal academic elements’

[5] 51% rated ‘lack of communication with the school’ as the main barrier to preparing children for school

[6] 49% rated ‘lack of common expectations across different children's professions’ as the main barrier to preparing children for school

[7] The proposals for the Early Years Educator and Early Years Teacher qualifications have been consulted on by the Department for Education’s National College for Schools and Leadership. The final qualifications are still to be made public with the first intake of EYT students expected September 2013.