Suffolk headteacher says lack of school readiness 'isn't a Covid issue'
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A Suffolk primary headteacher has said that none of the children in her reception intake this year were "developmentally ready" to start school.
Vicky Hogg, head at Clements Primary Academy in Haverhill, said independence is "the biggest issue", with multiple children still in nappies and unable to put their coat or shoes on.
The school, which was graded 'Good' by Ofsted at its last inspection in October 2021, employs three full-time members of staff for speech and language support, and to support behavioural challenges.
But despite several challenging coronavirus lockdowns, Mrs Hogg said the school readiness crisis "isn't a Covid-19 issue".
The headteacher was speaking as a national survey revealed that half of all children were not ready to start school.
The Kindred2 commissioned YouGov study also found that 88% of the near 1,000 primary school teachers and staff surveyed reported having to spend extra time with those children not achieving their developmental milestones.
Mrs Hogg said the lack of school readiness "incurs great financial cost to the school".
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"None of our 18 children in reception this year were developmentally ready," she said. "In the previous year, we had 30 children and only one was developmentally ready.
"Covid has been a great challenge for us all, but the school readiness crisis isn’t a Covid issue. It’s been getting worse: previously 75% might not be ready for school but in the last couple of years there might only be one or no children ready.
"Independence is the biggest issue; multiple children still in nappies, unable to put coat or shoes on, or access fruit by themselves.
"Speech and language is so delayed that many are struggling to understand more than one or two work instructions.
"One of the biggest challenges is closing that speech and language deficit before Year 1. Social and emotional development is very poor. Many children are struggling to with expectations in school which can lead to dangerous or disruptive behaviour."
Mrs Hogg said there are a number of factors contributing to the lack of school readiness, including increased use of technology.
"It’s very clear that the parents absolutely love their children. Some have difficult and chaotic lives with multiple children in large families managing on low incomes," she said.
"Haverhill has very limited transport other than an expensive bus to Cambridge. Lots of our families have no car and there’s very little in the town centre to stimulate the children. There’s a cultural deficit with no access to museums, farms, events.
"But there’s also real lack of awareness about what a child should be able to do when they go to school for the first time.
"The impact of technology is huge – many of the young children are given technology to play with instead of toys which is detrimental to their speech and social developments. It is really striking for instance how many children get phones or tablets for Christmas at the expense of other toys."
Speaking following publication of the survey, Essex MP Robert Halfon, chair of the education select committee, said: "Prioritisation must be given to early years support and there needs to be a catch-up programme specifically designed to support families and nurseries to teach children practical and social learning, as well as better support their educational development.
"We should also provide better parental engagement and look at the examples of schools across the country who are working with parents to become mentors to other parents in the area.”