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School readiness in Tower Hamlets

School Readiness in TH cover imageWhat is school readiness?

In Tower Hamlets we adopt a concept of school readiness which involves three areas of focus:

  • Children’s readiness for school
  • Schools’ readiness for children
  • Families and communities’ readiness for school.

A child who is ready for school has the basic minimum skills and knowledge in a variety of domains that will enable her or him to be successful in school. 

Children’s long term attainment in school is crucially shaped by their progress in four key areas:

  • language and communication
  • personal, social and emotional development
  • physical development
  • characteristics of effective learning.

These areas form the foundation for learning including literacy and numeracy.

In Tower Hamlets, some of our children start school at the age of two years old, so we have given a great deal of thought to what we mean by the term “school readiness”. There are many competing definitions, based on the point at which a child starts school. The rapid rate of development birth to five means that we must take into account the different needs of children at different ages. 

School readiness is supported by everyone involved in early years: parents at home when they read stories with their child, sing songs and talk about things that interest them and their child. It is supported by health professionals as they work with parents and children to ensure that everyone gets the best start in life. It is supported through Children’s Centres, where many of these health professionals are now based, and by the universal and targeted offers (early intervention and early help). As children move into early years settings – with child minders, nurseries, play groups or schools – the support continues.

We measure school readiness at the end of the reception year. Teachers assess whether children have achieved the early learning goals. If they achieve the goals for personal, social and emotional development, communication and language, physical development, literacy and mathematics, then they have reached a good level of development and are ready for school. They will be able to take full advantage of the statutory curriculum in Key Stage 1.

We work with parents, families, settings, and the community from as early as possible to make sure children are ready for school by the term after their fifth birthday when they must attend school. To do this, we look at the biological foundations of school readiness - working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive or mental flexibility. This is also called “executive function”. These attributes are developed by three of the curriculum areas already mentioned: personal, social and emotional development, communication and language and physical development. We call these the prime areas.

Children’s executive function skills provide the link between personal, social and emotional development and readiness for school and early school achievement. Executive function skills are a common denominator for both learning and social interaction. Young children who struggle to stay focussed and resist urges to respond impulsively to core executive function skills not only have difficulties in school but also have difficulties following directions generally and are at risk of displaying aggressive and confrontational behaviour with adults and other children.

The most important thing we do in early years is to ensure that children are learning through play because research tells us that this is the most effective way of supporting children’s development.  The process of development is sometimes portrayed as one in which children gradually manage more and more aspects of their environments and lives on their own. We would not trust two-year-olds to stop going after a ball just because it rolled into the street, get ready in the morning (brush their teeth, find and select their clothes, and get dressed) by themselves, or even clean up their toys without reminders.

A very important part of ensuring that children will thrive and flourish is discussing a child’s achievements around the age of two with parents and families. This is called the Two Year Old Integrated Review and is an opportunity for early identification of needs, accessing services and implementing interventions if there are concerns about a child’s progress. Early intervention has a significant impact on the outcomes for children and is the start of the process that leads towards school readiness.

The Integrated Early Years Service has produced a publication for parents and professionals. This document aims to give greater detail on School readiness in Tower Hamlets

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