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Social skills essential for school

PACEY's latest research report calls for stronger focus on social skills to prepare children for school.

Our research highlights that the majority of parents, teachers and childcare professionals believe that developing social skills and independence are the most important factors in helping children to be “school ready”, in contrast to the Coalition’s increasing focus on educational attainment.

Key findings from the research conducted in partnership with Netmums and the National Union of Teachers include:

  • The majority of parents and teachers and childcare professionals agree that a definition of school ready should include children with strong social skills and the capacity to be away from their parent/carer for a number of hours
  • The majority of childcare professionals and teachers also cited curiosity and the desire to learn as essential qualities, whilst parents placed more emphasis on their children’s ability to be independent with personal care, such as the ability to use the toilet without assistance
  • Only 4% of teachers, a third of childcare professionals and a quarter of parents said that a basic understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic is essential to school readiness
  • 40% of parents feel that a major barrier to preparing their children for school is difficulty finding time given the competing priorities of work and other activities.

Liz Bayram, PACEYLiz Bayram, Chief Executive of PACEY (pictured right) commented:

"It is clear that childcare professionals, parents and teachers have a shared understanding that supporting young children to develop socially and emotionally is critical not just to them being school-ready but life-ready too. Our research shows there is growing concern about the “schoolification “of the early years. Whilst no one would deny that supporting all children to achieve their fully potential is critical, PACEY is concerned that educational attainment is becoming the dominate force in early years. Our research shows that teachers and childcare professionals are concerned that the importance of play and how it supports children to be confident, communicative, sociable and curious individuals is being lost. We want policy makers in England to look to other countries, not just Nordic countries, but closer to home in Wales, to see how a truly play-based approach not only supports children to achieve in their early years but throughout their school life and beyond."

Cathy Ranson, editor in chief of the UK's largest parenting site Netmums.com said: "With the explosion in pupil numbers and soaring levels of so-called Titan primaries teaching more than 800 kids, starting school at just four years old can be a daunting experience for any child. Judging whether a child is school ready can be a difficult process as children mature at different rates in different skills. Some education experts may claim children are ready when they can sit still and concentrate long enough to learn, but most parents feel there is much more to it than that.

"For parents the term school ready is not about how proficient their child's handwriting is or what stage reading book they are on - it's more about the practical aspects such as whether they can do up their own coat, open their lunchbox easily, or simply have the maturity to be able to listen and understand instructions from teaching staff."

When questioned about specific skills: 16% of parents and 24% teachers rated the ability to be independent away from parents or carers and make themselves understood clearly as the most important skill for school ready children to possess. Only 2% of teachers rated either the ability to recognise letters or the ability to count up to 10 as an essential school ready skill.

Parents feel they are most responsible in preparing children for school but over two thirds (68%) stated that a lack of time with work and other responsibilities was the main barrier to preparing children for school. A third of parents (27%) and a fifth of teachers (19%) (and childcare professionals please) say that another important barrier for preparing children for school is too much early focus on reading and writing for preschool children. 65% of parents felt that it is necessary for children to attend formal childcare settings to prepare them for school. 

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers added:

"Play is central to childhood and children’s development. It is a fundamental part of early years teaching and learning. Teachers oppose the introduction of more ‘academic’ activities for pre-school children because a focus on reading, arithmetic and writing will not result confident and curious pupils who will have a firm foundation for future learning."

About the research:

  • PACEY conducted research with their members, and in partnership with NUT and Netmums
  • Sample sizes included 1,474 parents, 500 childcare professionals and 160 teachers.  
  • The qualitative elements include interviews and case studies from childcare professionals, stay-at-home mums, children and head teachers

A copy of the report will be available here on Monday. It is being discussed at this morning's PACEY LIVE event by Penny Tassoni, PACEY's President, and academic David Whitebread.