Too few reception pupils are ready for school, heads claim

The vast majority of headteachers do not believe their reception pupils are “school-ready”, according to a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers, as the government prepares to announce its latest plans for primary testing.

Of the 83 per cent of heads who said there was a problem, 97 per cent said it lay with pupils who arrived with speech and language skills that are too poor to participate properly in classroom activities, and 86 per cent said the problem had got worse in the past five years.

Two thirds of heads said their schools made home visits, while almost half liaised with childminders and nurseries, but the NAHT warned these strategies would become “increasingly unaffordable” without more funding.

The survey is particularly timely, as Schools Week understands that the government’s response to the consultation on primary testing is imminent.

In March, Justine Greening, the education secretary, launched a consultation on primary testing, which included questions on how pupils’ school readiness might be assessed in future.

READ MORE: The 13 ways MPs want primary tests improved

The consultation asked for ideas on how to improve the early-years foundation stage (EYFS) profile – the testing framework used by early years educators for under-fives – so schools can know more about pupils’ capabilities before they start reception.

Mark Lehain, the director of the campaign group Parents and Teachers for Excellence, said teachers would get a better idea of pupil readiness if the EYFS was less broad and focused more on reading and phonics.

The current EYFS framework has 13 headings, ranging from washing hands to recognising sounds, he said, adding: “It’s trying to cover so much – by asking for less we might get a much clearer idea of where pupils are at.”

The early years foundation stages are trying to cover too much

Focusing the framework would also allow for more accurate comparison with phonics testing in year 1, he went on, while any changes to assessment must be manageable within teachers’ workloads.

Jan Dubiel, the director of early-years testing specialists Early Excellence, said his team had also heard reports that pupils were arriving with worse language skills than in previous years.

He said the EYFS should focus more on communication, using high-quality stories, poems and “lots of talking”.

The government’s consultation response is also expected to include specific proposals about baseline testing. Greening has outlined plans to scrap key stage 1 SATs and replace them with a baseline, following calls to this effect from headteachers.

However, the government’s previous attempt to introduce a baseline test ended in disaster, and ministers were forced to abandon it after a study found there was “no comparability” between the three chosen providers.

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

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