Ofsted document reference 140074
The age at which children are expected to be school ready is 4 / 5 – so Ofsted are talking about children going into their reception year at school. However, this age range is taken from anecdotal evidence – I am not aware of a nationally agreed age definition.
The ‘Are you Ready?’ document starts with lots of negatives – Ofsted tell us that children are not ready for school, especially when they come from deprived areas or poor families. I noted when reading that there is no mention of schools being ready for children – the expectation is very much on ensuring the children are ready for school and parents and providers working together to enable them to start learning from their first days in school.
The key to ensuring school readiness, in a nutshell, is to quickly* note the child’s starting points and use strategies to support their learning (the focus is on adult led and adult guided teaching), while also working closely with parents to develop home learning.
* Ofsted inspectors are translating ‘quickly’ as ‘within a few days’. Later in the document it says that the most successful providers start individual planning ‘from the moment children started’.
The settings where children are most ready for school ensure starting points information includes details about the child’s learning, routines, emotions, behaviour, likes and dislikes, developmental milestones etc. They then use this information to immediately respond to their needs because they already know the children well when they start. Most childminders then do a few of their own baseline assessments against the EYFS prime areas of learning and go straight into individual planning.
There are some parts of the ‘Are you Ready?’ document which are not relevant to childminders, such as inviting parents to attend play and language workshops or evening meetings to talk about school readiness… however, there are lots of other good ideas. I intend working through them and making sure I can show evidence of how I use each of the suggestions in our provision. I will then write an action plan to tackle anything I have missed – this is how I do my CPD to ensure our provision is constantly improving and raising outcomes for the children.
The ‘Are you ready? Good practice in school readiness’ document states that in the most successful transitions, the adults involved in the child’s care – including childminders, nurseries etc -
· Provide parents with information about getting their child ready for school.
· Help parents to understand the importance of encouraging independence and self-help skills.
· Engage parents with their Children’s Centre, especially if there is a concern about the child because the CC can signpost them to other agencies.
· Focus on the prime areas of learning until they are well established for every child, using the specific areas to support learning in the prime. For example, books (literacy) will promote communication and language development, as will activities chosen from other areas of learning such as colour mixing (art and design), planting flowers (understanding the world), role play (art and design), counting and sorting (maths) etc.
· Present good role models and promote conversation in all areas of provision – role play, question and answer sessions (using open questions to encourage longer answers) etc. Many childminders use speech and language programmes such as ‘Toddler Talk’ to support children’s listening, language and communication skills.
· Plan one-to-one or small group adult planned sessions with pre-school children to promote their development in the prime areas of learning. At the end of the session, it is always useful to reflect on how well the session met the needs of each child and consider what changes need to be made next day to support the child further. This does not necessarily need to be written down – but you should be able to explain how you aim to continuously improve what you do to raise outcomes for every child.
· Monitor children’s progress very carefully so that, as soon as they have established and practiced a new skill or gained new knowledge, next steps activities are put in place to support them to develop further. This means you need to use Early Years Outcomes as a monitoring tool, regularly checking to make sure the children are making good progress.
· Join in with children’s play and model speaking and listening, playing their games and following their lead. For example, when the children are playing vets, you can be the vet, receptionist or the animal to model language and stretch their learning through their self-chosen play scenario.
· Where possible ‘stretch’ sessions for funded children so children do not disappear for 6 weeks before the start of the school term.
· Offer a wide range of activities to support children’s physical development – both gross and fine motor skills – so that when children start school they can dance, hop, jump, move around and negotiate spaces confidently, drink from a cup, get dressed independently, ride a bike, kick a ball, thread a necklace, understand danger etc.
· Support parents to recognise when their child is ready to be toilet trained and work closely with them to help them to achieve this with their child. Some childminders have a ‘toilet readiness’ bag to loan to families with, for example, a potty and teddy, book about using the toilet, pack of flushable wipes and reward stickers. You might also find it useful to build up a file of useful website links or information sheets that you can share with parents including one on toilet training.
· Work closely with other settings the child attends to share information and note concerns. If you are struggling to get the other setting to engage with you, write to them and explain it is a requirement that they support the child by sharing information with you – and keep pushing until you get information from them. Too many childminders are being downgraded at inspection because other settings refuse to engage with them.
· Monitor speech and language using a nationally recognised programme such as ‘Every Child a Talker’ which links speech and language tracking to Early Years Outcomes.
· Multi agency partnerships – while many childminders will struggle to evidence this because the other agencies refuse to engage, that does not stop us trying and advising parents that they need to access support elsewhere, such as through the local Children’s Centre.
· Support children to learn about school and what will happen when they are there – through books, role play, photos, visits etc.
· Increase the number of adult led and guided activities as the children move towards being ready for school. Care must be taken to ensure outcomes for the little ones are not affected during these sessions which might work well when younger children are asleep or resting after lunch. The sessions should focus on children’s current learning outcomes – the things you are working on with them – to give them the best opportunities to succeed when they start school.
· Are well trained so that they understand how to recognise barriers to learning and support children’s progress. Note that it is not a requirement to do any training except the introduction to childminding course, safeguarding and first aid … and HMRC may not allow you to claim expenses on any extra training you attend unless it can be shown to directly benefit the children.
· Use tools such as visual timetables to support children’s understanding of their day and to help them learn their new pre-school routine.
School ready skills vary depending on who you ask. We do not have any specific information about what ‘school ready’ means and what children need to know before they start school. The closest we have is the letter from Ofsted Chief Sir Michael Wilshaw to his HMIs here.
However, when you ask them, schools say that they want to welcome children into reception class who can –
· Separate from their parent
· Listen / pay attention and focus on what they are doing
· Show interest in things and notice what is happening around them
· Ask for what they need
· Say their name and age
· Talk about their family
· Talk to other children and adults
· Take turns and share
· Ask and answer questions
· Hold a book and understand simple stories
· Understand and follow rules
· Manage personal hygiene and clothing
Some Local Authorities have written transition guidance documents* which they share with parents and settings and which are a guide to the skills they expect children to have mastered before they start school. These can provide useful guidance for childminders who are working with parents and other settings to ease children’s transitions into school.
*For example, this is an example of a transition toolkit from Worcestershire LA –
There is a series of ‘Preparing Children for School’ information Guides on Childcare.co.uk. The first one – an introduction – is FREE to anyone who wants to log in a get it. The others are free for gold members.
I have also written a mini e-book about preparing for school (mini 77) which is on my Knutsford Childminding website.