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The impact of Covid-19 on school readiness

Eighty per cent of a child’s brain is developed by the age of 3, making healthy development in early years critical to the wellbeing of children later on in life; yet the latest YouGov research shows the number of children starting school without basic development skills is at a record high, exacerbated by Covid-19.

Over 250 thousand children started their reception year in 2020 unable to achieve basic skills like, using the toilet, listening, sharing and responding to questions. The effect of this staggering statistic is a stressful, demoralising learning environment for both teachers and pupils.

According to YouGov’s Kindred2 – School Readiness report, an increase in separation anxiety in school starters has been triggered by the recent impossibility of transition days, stay and play, nursery and home visits in lockdown. Teachers have also seen a loss of inquisitiveness, attention and poor language skills, which they put down to overuse of technology by both children and parents.

Children lacking basic understanding and communication skills often breeds frustration that bubbles over into misbehaviour, frustration and anger and it affects their confidence massively, leaving them feeling isolated from their peers and embarrassed.

On an average day it is estimated that 6 hours of staff time across teachers, teaching assistants, support staff and the leadership team is lost in giving priority attention to school starters struggling to adapt. In a school year, teachers report they could be losing around 195 hours teaching time per class and 390 hours of teaching assistants’ time. This comes at a cost, not just for children missing out on teaching but a financial cost on already stretched school budgets. Up to £300m a year is lost from other priorities in schools in the UK by spending time getting pupils ‘school ready’.

The lack of support for parents during lockdown has highlighted the importance of pre-school, social care, Family Support Workers, health visitors and other local services to help parents support and stimulate their babies and toddlers before they get to school (unlocking skills they need for optimal learning). This could change the course of a child’s life. However,  budget cuts and limitations on face-to-face contact (in the varying phases of lockdown and social distancing) mean that vulnerable families (in particular) have been cut off from many of the sources of support that they might have had prior to lockdown, making the role of voluntary services in family support more essential than ever!

Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums, dads and carers the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. Research has shown that the most effective early intervention to prevent the types of issues experienced by children ‘not school ready’ is group-based parenting programmes. If mums, dads and carers can learn how best to meet the needs of their children (emotional, intellectual and physical) we will have happier families and children who have a better chance of thriving in a school environment, and life in general.

To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at


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