School Readiness: What's All the Fuss About?

It is timely to have this month's editorial focus upon the issue school readiness; this is a time when many parents are feeling the angst about making the right decision for when their children start school; Kathy's latest book Ready Set Go? has just been released (for parents and teachers on the issues of readiness for school and preparation for school) and our organisation continues to speak to the media, parents and teachers across the country on the issues and confusion about school readiness.

Some key points:

  • Australia continues to have one of the world's youngest age entries into school
  • Major international studies including the Cambridge University Primary Review (2009) strongly recommend increasing the school entry age
  • The academic expectations of children in the first years of school have significantly increased in the past 10 years.
  • Successful education is more than an academic score at the end of year 12 of secondary school.

It is with great frustration and disappointment when preschool teachers, schools and other organisations report hearing comments such as:

  • "There is no point providing an additional year for a preschooler as they all catch up eventually".
  • "There is no point having the extra year because they get the same score in year 12"
  • "Why don't schools just get more ready for children?"

These comments significantly undermine, undervalue and misconstrue the essence and key components of quality of education and schooling.

If life and schooling was only about a score at the end of 13 years then no one would bother much about anything in relation to teaching and learning!!!

Readiness for school is about maximising the quality of the journey. It is about ensuring that as much as possible all children have the right to start and sustain a high quality experience of themselves as a learner; where the messages they receive about themselves is that they are "thriving and flourishing!" - Not enduring an endless game of "catch up" - "not just "coping"!

Our organisation works in schools across Australia every day of the week introducing personalised and play based curriculum  in order to ensure schools are more ready than ever for children as they move from preschool to school.  We still maintain however that as ready as some schools may be, some children simply need the benefit of time and to be able to benefit from more experiences in the rich and stimulating environments of early childhood programs which are staffed by highly expert teachers trained and qualified in early childhood education.

What is society thinking when they argue against allowing a child at the ripe old age of only 4 and half or 5 years of age of having a bonus year of childhood and another year of preschool if it is needed?

The relentless push to hurry children into school seems part of some academic and economic agenda rather than the practical, humane and very real needs of some children.  Every prep teacher in Australia will know in the first few weeks those children who were not ready for school and will have a tough journey ahead.  Once children are in school, it is much more complex and far more difficult to repeat. The conveyor belt system of those 13 years is much harder to get off and start again once you are in school.

The solution regarding school readiness for most children is so simple.  We very much believe in erring on the side of caution.  If professional advice has been given (and that fits with the family's circumstances and beliefs) then children who at this time of year are either "not ready" or "borderline" then give them the opportunity to have a bonus year - give them every chance to enjoy their educational journey and feel good about themselves as a learner.

For further reading and information as well as some tips on choosing a school and preparation for school see Kathy's book, Ready Set Go? It is available through all book stores, online and through publishers Penguin Australia.

Kathy Walker and Shona Bass