Study finds gap between parents and teachers on school readiness


Researcher Amy Graham found that parents emphasise literacy but teachers just want teachable kids

Researcher Amy Graham found that parents emphasise literacy but teachers just want teachable kids

New research has found a disconnect between teachers and parents when it comes to preparing kids to start school.

Charles Darwin University researcher, Amy Graham found that parents emphasise literacy in the lead-up to their children starting school, but teachers just want teachable kids.

“My research also shows that teachers find around 62% of children starting school have at least one cause for concern, whether that is their emotional development, social skills, cognitive maturity, physical or literacy development,” Amy said.

The research involved 35 schools in the Northern Territory and South Australia, 120 parents and 52 parent/teacher groups and focused on Term 2 of Transition/Reception. The project was not aimed at finding out what formal learning or preparation for school took place, but to garner the typical experiences that parents report they engage in with their child before school.

“The study looks at how parents are preparing their children to commence school, what they are doing and how they are doing it, as well as exploring what they believe is important and expect of their child, and puts that against data gained from teachers on how prepared they feel children are,” Amy said.

Parents were found to value literacy in their child very strongly and it was the most undertaken activity when it came to preparing children to start school. The research found 94% of parents undertook literacy activities at least three times each week.

“But while parents value literacy, and work on it with their child, my research found this did not automatically translate into providing a high level of literacy preparation experiences for their child, in some kinds of families,” Amy said.

“So, while important in the minds of parents, the actual undertaking of activities to boost social and self-development or cognitive stimulation was not as high as some other activities to boost literacy. These were not necessarily formal, like reading and writing skills, but could be as simple as shared reading between a parent and child.”

But the biggest factor for teachers was not the reading and writing ability of new starters.

“The big thing for more than 60% of teachers is the behavioural preparation of their new students,” Amy said.

“Teachers expect to be teaching students in Transition/Reception how to read and write. But what they rate highest is the child’s ability to self-regulate, be confident and open to new experiences and cope with the new demands of the school environment. That might be simple things like being able to open their own lunchbox or follow basic instructions like sitting on the mat in the classroom or wait for their turn at an activity.

“Interestingly the need for behavioural preparation in this area was not lost on parents, with nearly 90% of parents doing three or more activities a week to help their child boost their self-development.

“Yet it’s the area that teachers find is the most significant shortfall in new student preparation and an aspect of running a class that can easily impact on the learning experience of other children,” Amy said.     

A great number of parents participating in the study expressed concern about their child’s readiness to start school and teachers rated almost 14% of children as not sufficiently prepared to start their school lives.

Differences in understandings about school readiness were evident. There is no clear agreement on what being school-ready means between parents and teachers, either with respect to expectations of a child or what is expected from parents and teachers in the transitioning process. This ambiguity has led to parents feeling disconnected from the process and unsure about what their role is in preparing their child for school.

Amy said modelling of the results indicated that one of the major ways of successfully preparing a child for school was the provision of toys.

“This is not intended to make parents feel that they need to spend more to ensure their child’s success. These are toys that generate fun and engagement for the child – not necessarily educational toys. Toys and unstructured play with children often lead to natural child-led conversations and incidental learning. If financial resources are limited, parents may use resources such as second-hand stores, toy libraries and donations from friends and family to provide items to their child,” she said.

“Just letting kids be kids and allowing them to explore, discover and enquire can work wonders, as well as taking opportunities to engage in play experiences with a child.”

For the most part, parents recognise that they are key in building a strong foundation for future learning and make efforts toward this goal.

Amy wants parents to feel valued and recognise that they are a crucial part of getting their child ready to succeed at school.

"There are many effective preparation behaviours and a broad range of beliefs that can positively influence a child’s school entry outcomes. It is not a prescriptive formula that parents need to follow," she said.

This research is part of Amy’s PhD findings, which she is undertaking through CDU’s College of Education. 

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