Nearly one in three children who start primary school in England at the age of five are not “school ready”, according to new analysis by Teach First.
The education charity looked at the number of new reception pupils who fail to meet the level of social and emotional development, knowledge and skills needed to provide the foundation for good progress through school.
The figures vary dramatically between regions. As many as four in 10 children in Liverpool and Halton in the north-west are not considered ready. In comparison, two in 10 children are unready at age five in the London boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich, and Richmond upon Thames.
On Monday, half a million families will find out whether their children have got a place at their chosen primary school.
School readiness is assessed when children start primary school and takes into account factors including children’s communication skills, their ability to listen or pay attention, and how they play and share with other children.
The biggest difference society can make is getting brilliant teachers into primary schools across the country
Teach First gathered the findings by analysing school readiness data from the Department for Education’s early-years foundation stage statistics for 2015 and 2017.
The research also showed that poorer children in every part of the country are more likely to start school behind their better-off peers.
Just under half of all children eligible for free school meals (FSM) are not school-ready by the time they start primary school, compared with just over a quarter of wealthier pupils.
In Halton, York, Leicestershire and Cumbria, this rose to just over half of FSM pupils starting primary without being school ready.
The school readiness gap between poorer and wealthier children was at its worst in York and the district of Bath and north-east Somerset. Some areas in London, such as Haringey, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, and Hackney, had almost no gap between pupils on FSM and their peers.
If gaps in school readiness are not addressed, inequalities can persist and grow throughout a child’s school life. Previous research by the Education Policy Institute in 2016 found that the school readiness gap at five years old explains 40 per cent of the attainment gap at the end of secondary school.
“All children start school with a different level of individual development, and that’s inevitable and normal. But it’s not right that whole groups of children are twice as likely to arrive at school behind, just because of where they were born,” said Russell Hobby, the chief executive of Teach First.
“There are lots of factors at play here, but we’re convinced that the biggest difference society can make is getting brilliant teachers into primary schools across the country. That’s particularly important in areas where poorer children are starting behind.”
The charity’s analysis showed that in some areas with the most unequal intake, the poorest pupils had made impressive progress by the end of key stage 1, when they were seven years old.
Stockton-on-Tees, for example, had the smallest percentage of disadvantaged children who were school ready in the country in 2015, at just 38 per cent.