School readiness is a strong indicator of how prepared a child is to succeed in school socially, emotionally and cognitively. This September, in reception classes all over the UK, 46% of  children are not ready to start school. This doesn’t just affect them on day one, or even for the first year. These children may never catch up as the gap they faced in reception classes persists and widens throughout their school years.

Home-Start's School Readiness programme offers families across the UK practical and emotional support to help prepare children to begin primary school. 

Evidence shows that children who score badly on school readiness at the age of five are far less likely to succeed in secondary school – and far more likely to experience poor health and low pay as adults.

According to a report published earlier this year by Kindred2, half of primary school staff said problems with school-readiness have got worse in the last 18 months. While all parents want the best for their children, many struggle for various reasons to prepare their children for life in the classroom.

Home-Start supports parents who can't do it alone

Poverty and economic hardship come with exposure to stress, time constraints and a struggle to afford the things that give children the best learning environment. Some parents lack the literacy and numeracy skills needed to support their children. There are also parents who face additional challenges due to a child’s needs, making it more complex and challenging to focus on getting their child ready for school.

Across our Home-Start network, local Home-Starts provide programmes to help parents and children be ‘school ready’. Many of these are delivered via our home visiting volunteers, who spend time with the family, and using special resources, games and other tools, help prepare the child for school in the best way that works for them and their individual circumstances.

From potty training to dressing themselves, Home-Start volunteers help with essential prep

Childminder and Home-Start Portsmouth volunteer Tina Shervell has a particular focus on helping children to be ready to start school. Tina said: “I wanted to focus on school readiness. As a childminder I’ve a great deal of experience in this area so it made sense that I help families with it.

“No child’s potential should be limited on day one. When we talk about school readiness it doesn’t mean they have to write their name or do sums. It means that they are socially ready. They’re potty trained, they have the skills to sit and listen, they can eat lunch at a table, and they can dress themselves, they have a good bedtime routine. Having these skills means they are ready to learn and interact with their new teachers and friends in a positive way.

“There can be lots of reasons children aren’t ready to start school. I’ve supported families with different issues. That’s why it’s so good that Home-Start have a school readiness programme to help. Home-Start provide resources and games that are focused on school readiness and my co-ordinator was always on hand to offer advice and support.”

For mum Kalli and son George, the programme has been transformative

Over the past few months, Tina has spent time with Kalli Willshire and her son George. Kalli is a mum of two who was referred to Home-Start Portsmouth by her health visitor. George was having meltdowns both at home and at nursery, and he’d become quite unpredictable and  challenging to manage. His speech was delayed so this added to his frustrations.

With George due to start school in September, Kalli was keen to do whatever she could to prepare him for a more formal schooling  environment, as well as helping him to be more comfortable at home.

Kalli said: “I’d started to keep a diary and soon saw that George would act up when there was a change, or something big happened. I strongly suspected he was neurodivergent. Towards the end of 2022, we had started to get the ball rolling with getting an autism diagnosis. 

“I immediately clicked with Tina, as did George. It felt right and I could be open with her. Every week George and I met with Tina. Those sessions with Tina helped George and I in different ways. For me, Tina built up my confidence and gave me tools to use to manage George’s behaviour. For George, she really helped him to develop his social skills.

I was worried about George starting school in September and how he’d manage a classroom setting. Sharing is hard for him. I was concerned he’d hit out at his classmates and that no one would want to play with him. The thought of him not making friends was heartbreaking".

Developing social skills has put George in a really good place

“With Tina we did a lot of playing where he had to share. Tina helped us to develop his social skills. Her knowledge is vast, and the fact that she was a childminder was a massive plus.”

During the time Tina spent with Kalli she saw her grow in confidence. Tina said: “I’ve really enjoyed my sessions with George and Kalli. George’s behaviour could be challenging at times. I helped Kalli to find ways to take back control because George had gotten used to getting his own way. Kalli was incredibly receptive to everything I suggested.

“We’d focus on different things like George’s bedtime or managing behaviour when out of the house. Really it was all Kalli’s hard work that has put George in a really good place to start school. It shows how by supporting the parent, it makes such a difference to the child.”

George received an autism diagnosis while Tina was supporting Kalli. Kalli said: “When George was officially diagnosed, Tina made me realise that the diagnosis is big for me too, and to remember to be kind to myself.

"I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. George is excited to start school in September and I feel happy that he will be ready for this next chapter in his life.”

Read next: Hannah's week - Running a family hub from Home-Start 

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