Children starting school years behind expected development level

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Children are arriving at school still in nappies, some do not respond to their own names and cannot speak, reveals a think tank report.

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The Centre for Social Justice’s new report, ‘Requires improvement', which examines the root causes of poverty and social breakdown in Britain highlights how children are unprepared to start school.

The report forms part of a larger study - 'Breakthrough Britain II' -  being carried out by the CSJ between now and 2014. It follows on from the original 'Breakthrough Britain' report in 2007.

It warns that children trapped in some of the most severe disadvantage are starting school drastically behind the levels of development expected of their age. This leaves them not ready for learning and potentially, permanently disadvantaged.

Former primary school teacher Sir Robin Bosher, chair of the working group which drew up the report, estimates that in a school with over half of children receiving free school meals about 25 per cent of reception children will be at this ‘extreme end’.

He says that he has come across some children at four years old who are developmentally nearer to two when they start school and require a lot of help if they are to catch up.

Headteachers and school principles also told the CSJ that they are increasingly expected to deal with basic development issues like potty training and in some schools it is common for pupils to need help going to the toilet.

One headteacher said, ‘In the last three years we have had to toilet train children who came to school in nappies at age five. Parents ask me how we managed to do it. Many of them just can’t be bothered, they think its our responsibility to do it for them.’

Another told the CSJ that in her experience it is very common in deprived areas for three- or four-year- olds to start school unable to cope. She said that when they get the children at age three, they commonly act like 12-18 month olds.

‘They don’t have the concentration to talk and say an answer in any kind of sentence. We’ve had children that don’t answer to their name.’

Mark Edwards, principal of Manston St James Primary Academy in Leeds, added, ‘Sometimes I see children arriving at school aged four or five unable to string a sentence together, almost completely unable to speak. I can easily spot which children have not gone to nursery. They may not have benefitted from strong interactions with adults or with other children. This means many start school much less developed in their abilities to share, cooperate and communicate. These children then get easily frustrated, explaining why some bite or lash out in the classroom.’

The report goes on to highlight further examples of ‘educational failure’ and reveals how certain ethnic groups fare, with white working class boys falling further behind other groups of children at GCSE.

In contrast, it also highlights examples of where poor performing schools have been turned around and there has been a marked improvement in the number of pupils achieving good grades in English and maths.

The report concludes that while there is significant political commitment to the reform of the educational system, far too many children are still being failed.

The CSJ says that the next stage of reform must look at how greater support can be given to disadvantaged children and their families prior to arriving at school and how educational reform can be further extended into primary schools.

Sir Robin, director of primary education at the Harris Federation of Academies, said, ‘Educational failure is too common in our current system. It affects disadvantaged children and makes reform urgent. This is about social justice. We need to do more to make sure all children are given a good education.

The Centre for Social Justice will publish its main report on findings from the Breakthrough Britain II study next spring.

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'This Government is taking decisive action to support disadvantaged pupils and close the unacceptable attainment gap between them and their peers. We are increasing the Pupil Premium to £2.5 billion a year and doubling the number of disadvantaged two-year-olds eligible for free nursery places to 260,000.

'We've turned round more failing schools than ever before and are setting up new free schools to give all parents, not just the rich, the choice of a good school. From this week all pupils will study English and maths to 18 if they don't achieve a C at GCSE, meaning thousands more young people will have the chance to leave school, college or training with a good grasp of these vital subjects.'

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