One in four school-starters in England and Wales not toilet-trained, say teachers

<span>Teachers say they are diverting 2.5 hours a day to supporting children who are not school-ready – though the overwhelming majority of parents think their child is.</span><span>Photograph: Barry Batchelor/PA</span>
Teachers say they are diverting 2.5 hours a day to supporting children who are not school-ready – though the overwhelming majority of parents think their child is.Photograph: Barry Batchelor/PA

One in four children starting school in England and Wales are not toilet-trained, according to teachers who now spend a third of their day supporting pupils who are not school-ready, a report has found.

The early-years charity, Kindred2, polled 1,000 primary school staff, half of whom said problems with school-readiness have got worse in the last 18 months, with schools doing more of the work to prepare children that parents would once have done.

Nearly half (46%) of pupils are unable to sit still, 38% struggle to play or share with others, more than a third (37%) cannot dress themselves, 29% cannot eat or drink independently and more than a quarter (28%) are using books incorrectly, swiping or tapping as though they were using a tablet, according to the survey.

As a consequence, school staff are on average diverting 2.5 hours a day away from teaching and towards supporting children who are not school-ready, which has a knock-on effect on pupils who lose around a third of learning time each day.

Schools say the additional pressures are also affecting staff retention. Almost half (47%) of teachers who took part in the survey said they are considering leaving their role and nearly a quarter (23%) plan on doing so in the next year.

“I feel like we’re not teaching as much in the first year now as we used to,” one teacher told researchers. “It’s more babysitting … teaching them basic skills … It’s like being the parent for them.”

The report exposes a sharp divide in parental and teacher views. A parallel poll of 1,000 parents of reception-age children found the overwhelming majority (91%) think their child was school-ready.

Only 50% of parents think they are solely responsible for toilet-training their child, while one in five parents think children do not need to be toilet-trained before starting reception.

More than two-thirds (69%) of school staff think parents need more guidance earlier about child development milestones – two out of five (43%) didn’t hear about school-readiness until their child was already four. More than one in five (22%) of parents had received no visits from a health visitor before their child started school and the majority (63%) had two visits or fewer.

Kindred2’s director, Felicity Gillespie, said: “The shocking findings in this year’s report should be a watershed moment for schools and parents because we know that children who are behind before they begin reception are more likely to struggle throughout life. The 40% attainment gap we see at GCSE is already evident at age five.”

Cathie Paine, chief executive officer of REAch2, the largest primary-only multiacademy trust in England, added: “We are determined to work with families to ensure that children make the best possible start at school.

“However, as a large trust we are witnessing first-hand the many challenges that schools face with young children’s readiness – this includes not yet having been toilet-trained, lacking some basic skills or simply having had limited exposure to experiences such as looking at books or basic counting.

“Being clear about what we mean by ‘school-readiness’ and then knowing the best way to support families is an important challenge for the sector, but one that we cannot shy away from if we are to live up to our promise of improving children’s life chances.”

A Department for Education spokesperson told PA Media: “We recognise that children’s early years are crucial – which is why we are providing a package of training, qualifications and expert guidance for early-years workers, which includes support for them to improve children’s speech, language and communication skills.

“Parents can also access support to help with their child’s development via the government’s family hubs and Start for Life programme. This is part of our £300m investment to transform services for parents, carers, babies and children in 75 local authority areas across England.”