Uniform school starting processes around the country would assist parents and teachers to have kids who are prepared to learn when they begin school, according to new Charles Darwin University research.
Dr Amy Graham has been investigating the beliefs and values of parents and teachers on what makes kids ready for school.
Dr Graham worked with 35 schools in the Northern Territory and South Australia, 120 parents and 52 parent/teacher pairs as part of her PhD research.
She said the research showed many parents felt they had little say in the starting school process or decisions about their child’s readiness. A lack of consistent transition pathways and uniform school starting age meant parents could also be confused and frustrated before the start of school.
“I found this was in part due to inadequate communication between preschools, schools and families, and differing expectations of what a school-ready child should behave like,” Dr Graham said.
“Parents valued school transitioning programs, seeing them as a crucial step in preparing for school. Yet, these programs varied widely, and some children were disadvantaged before they even arrived.
“While some schools allowed children to visit once a week for the whole year before formal schooling started, others only provided for visits in the last term.
“Parents could be warmly welcomed, establishing the idea of being a partner in their child’s learning, or they could be told to drop and go to develop their child’s independence.”
Dr Graham said many parents wanted to play a more active role in sharing information with their new school, and even tried to raise concerns if they were worried about their child’s readiness.
“However, parents said they felt dismissed and that there were no options for them to discuss these concerns with the school or to seek an alternate way of beginning their child’s education,” she said.
“They were unsure where they fit into their child’s school transitioning process.”
According to Dr Graham, a policy shift crossing jurisdictional boundaries would be required to improve the starting school process for parents, children and teachers.
“There is huge variation across states and territories when it comes to a minimum school starting age,” she said.
“While I would not recommend a single school starting age policy, there should be an effort to bring our states and territories into line as much as possible, keeping room for flexibility when required.
“Throughout COVID-19, the inconsistency between differing education policies around the country has been harshly criticised, so there has never been a better time to address this issue.”
Overall, the study found that 93% of parents agreed that education was an equally shared responsibility between parents and schools.
“This gives me real hope, and we should see real potential to build family-school partnerships that are a critical predictor of later outcomes,” Dr Graham said.
“If parents want to be part of their child’s learning journey before they arrive at school, and parents know their child best, let’s use that opportunity to encourage engagement with children’s formal learning.
“By helping parents to better prepare kids for school we should see improved classroom experiences for children and teachers, and that is what we all want.”