Your child has to be in full-time education from the term after he turns five. However, as schools have their main intake for the year in September, many children actually start before they turn five. So, if your child is one of these four-year-olds gearing up for school, how can you be sure he’s ready? Read on for tips and guidance.
How can I check if my child is ready for school?
No single factor determines whether your child is ready to start school. The way he speaks, thinks and gets on with other children are all important. You know your child best. You know what he can do, when he gets tired and what upsets him.
Rest assured that in reception, your child will learn through play. His teacher will be working to the “nappy curriculum” (the Early Years Foundation Stage or EYFS) just like his preschool or nursery.
If you’re concerned, ask for some advice. If your child goes to preschool or nursery, have a chat with his key worker. Your child’s key worker should have a good idea of how your child is developing and how he gets along with other children and adults. Ask your child’s key worker to show you your child’s observations book.
You may also want to ask your friends and family what they think. If any of them are teachers, or have volunteered in schools or preschools, they’ll be able to offer advice based on experience.
If you know which school you’ll be applying for, ask if you can visit during an ordinary school day. Have a look at how the other children are behaving. How do they play with each other? What kinds of skills do they have? Can you picture your child in the classroom?
The following questions may give you an idea of whether or not your child is ready for school.
- Can your child listen to instructions and follow them? These skills will help him to get involved in classroom activity.
- Can he put on his own coat and go to the loo by himself?
- Can he hold a pencil? Cut with scissors? These fine motor skills will be useful when he begins writing letters and making things. At school, your child should get lots of support to help him master these skills.
- Is he interested in books? Does he try to “read” a book by telling a story based on the pictures? This is a sign that he’s ready to start learning how to read.
- Is he curious and receptive to learning new things? Is his curiosity greater than his fear of the unfamiliar?
- Does he get along well with other children? Does he share and know how to take turns? He’ll be interacting with other children all day.
- Can he work with others as part of a group? If he is learning to compromise, it’s a sign he is developing emotionally.
How can I help to prepare my child for school?
There is plenty you can do at home to help your child get ready for the transition to school.
If you’re worried about your child’s social skills, set up a few playdates. Bear in mind that if your child is at preschool, a number of his playmates will probably be going to the same school. You could also take him to organised activities or clubs.
Set simple tasks at home. If you worry that he won’t listen to instructions, play a game where he follows what you say. For example, he could pour water from the red cup into the blue cup, or help you plant seeds. Try not to be impatient for him to learn. There’s no rush at his age.
When does my child have to go to school?
Your child reaches compulsory school age when he turns five. If you live in England and Wales and have decided to register your child at a school, he must start school in the term following his fifth birthday.
However, lots of children actually start school when they are four. The Department for Education in England advises that local authorities must provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday.
Children in Scotland start school aged between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half, depending on where in the year their birthday falls.
In Northern Ireland, a child who is four years old on or before the first of July in any year must start primary school on the first of September that year.
Some schools offer two intakes to reception (or primary 1 in Scotland and Northern Ireland), depending on whether your child’s birthday falls early or late in the academic year.
Perhaps your child has a summer birthday and your chosen school offers only one intake. You may consider deferring his entry until later in the academic year. You may prefer to wait until he reaches compulsory school age.
Your chosen school and your local authority will be able to tell you more about deferred admission arrangements.
In England and Wales, a deferred entry may mean your child enters school in year 1 instead of reception. If you want him to start in reception a year later, you may have to reapply. Ask your school and your local authority about their policies.
I think my child will find a full school day tough. What can I do?
If you don’t think your child will be able to cope with full days at school, ask your preferred school about its policies for part-time places. The school may allow your child to attend for half days during his first term.
You may worry that if your child isn’t there during the afternoons, he may not make friends as quickly as full-time children. You may have concerns that he will get behind the rest of the class if he doesn’t stay all day.
But you know your child best. Will full days will make him overtired and affect his behaviour? Perhaps you feel he will respond better to school if he has a chance to wind down at home every afternoon.
What other options do I have for education?
Most parents send their child to school, but you do have the right to educate your child at home. As a parent, you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of five.
Your local authority’s website will have a link to its policies regarding home education. Talk to other parents who home educate their children.