Parents, reception teachers, union leaders and academics rejoiced when the Department for Education (DfE) announced that the ‘Reception baseline assessment will not be used as a starting point to measure pupil progress’ (DfE, 2016). Ministers had realised the tests were not comparable as each baseline test generated different types of data.
However, there could be darker clouds on the horizon, as the DfE explained, ‘Over the coming months we will be considering options for improving assessment arrangements in reception beyond 2016 to 2017 and will make an announcement in due course’ (DfE, 2016).
There have been whisperings that ministers are considering introducing ‘school readiness indicators’ (Vaughan, 2016). Caution is also required when considering the school readiness indicators as academics around the world and those working with children have long debated the concept ‘readiness’ and how to measure it (Meisels, 1999). Although there may not be a shared definition of readiness, there is a consensus between practitioners, teachers and academics that children’s readiness and ‘school readiness’ are difficult terms to define and consequently measure (Brown, 2010).
A recent study which explored parents’, Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) practitioners’ and teachers’ beliefs about children’s school readiness highlights further complexity when referring to the term.
Findings suggest the term school readiness can be associated with two ‘vertical transitions’ during the Early Years Foundation Stage (Wickett, 2016). A vertical transition, is generally linked to a child’s age (Johansson, 2007). During the EYFS, vertical transitions can include the move from the baby room to the toddler room in an ECEC setting, the move from ECEC setting to the reception class and finally the move from reception class to Year 1. School readiness is often associated with the penultimate and final vertical transition during the EYFS.
At each of these transitions there are different expectations of children and how parents, ECEC practitioners and teachers prepare children to be in the state of readiness. The first vertical transition is an institutional transition (Woodhead, 2007:8), which is when children move between two different organisations. For the institutional transition parents and ECEC practitioners prepare children to be ready for the move from the ECEC setting to the school reception class. Children are prepared to be ready for school by supporting them to be independent in their personal and social skills, fostering resilience and positive dispositions and attitudes to change. Skills and knowledge associated with school learning are also introduced during daily activities in the home and ECEC setting.
The final vertical transition that children are prepared for is the curriculum transition which is when children move from an environment guided by the play-based EYFS framework to an environment guided by the Key Stage 1 National Curriculum (KS1 NC). For children to be in the state of readiness, preparations for the curriculum transition generally focus on teaching children the academic skills, knowledge and behaviours associated with the KS1 NC. The study found there was a consensus amongst parents, ECEC practitioners and teachers that the preparations for the curriculum transition were the role of the reception teacher.
Analysis of the EYFS (DfE, 2014) concurs with the study findings, that children are being prepared to be in the state of readiness twice during this phase of their education. The terms that are used to refer to the transitions are 'ready for school' (DfE, 2014:7), ‘school readiness’ (DfE, 2014:5), 'readiness for Year 1' (DfE, 2014:14) and 'ready for Year 1' (DfE, 2014:9). In contexts where children start school before Year 1, such as the reception class, ready for school and school readiness can refer to the institutional transition and readiness for Year 1 and ready for Year 1 are associated with the curriculum transition.
So the term school readiness can be associated with two transitions during the EYFS and each transition has different expectations of children and how parents, ECEC practitioners and parents prepare children.
If it is not made explicit which transition the proposed school readiness indicators are to be used for, this could lead to children being assessed at the wrong transition with the wrong tools. For instance children’s skills, knowledge and behaviours associated with the curriculum transition could be used to test the children at the institutional transition. These tests would then provide unreliable and invalid data as parents and ECEC practitioners have prepared children for an institutional transition and not a curriculum transition.
Testing children’s readiness for school has always and continues to be problematic. Instead of testing children’s school readiness, which often leads to a narrowing of the curriculum, why not trust ECEC practitioners and reception teachers to assess and foster children’s independence, resilience and positive dispositions and attitudes to change, throughout the EYFS and then into Year 1. These will ensure children are ready for now, school and life.
- Department for Education (2014). "Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five". DfE: Cheshire.
- Department for Education (2016) Press release Reception baseline comparability study published https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reception-baseline-comparability-study-published
- Johansson, I. (2007). ‘Horizontal transitions: what can it mean for children in the early school years?’, in A.-W. Dunlop and H. Fabian, (eds.), Informing Transitions in the Early Years Research, Policy and Practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press, pp. 33 - 44.
- Meisels, S. J. (1999) 'Assessing Readiness' in Pianta, R. and Cox, M. (eds.) The Transition to Kindergarten. National Centre for Early Development & Learning, 3 3 pp 39.
- Vaughan, R (2016) Ministers plan 'school readiness' test after baseline U-turn published https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/ministers-plan-school-readiness-test-after-baseline-u-turn [accessed 20/4/2016]
- Wickett, K. (2016) Beliefs and Relationships during Children’s Transition to School: Parents, Practitioners and Teachers. Plymouth Univiersity: doctoral thesis
- Woodhead, M. (2007). Early childhood and primary education In Woodhead, M & Moss, P (eds) Early Childhood and Primary Education: Transitions in the Lifes of Young Children. The Hague: Bernard Van Leer Foundation.