School readiness—what’s the problem with it? and how can this commonly used phrase be disrupted? DR KATHRYN HOPPS delves into these questions and shares tips for educators to implement in their services.
Continuing the conversation that Maree Aldwinkle began in her post on The Spoke, I’d like to further explore the problem with school readiness. In particular:
- why this discourse persists in early childhood education
- how, and indeed if it can be disrupted
Maree has brought renewed attention to the narrow notion of school readiness—especially the problem that it is about preparing children alone to meet the expectations of school.
This problem and conversation isn’t new, but it’s a problem that is persisting. And it’s persisting, as Maree explains, despite the fact that Australian researchers have been advocating for a focus on transitions for the past 20 years. Indeed, some of the leading transition-to-school researchers in the world are Australian, and they have produced several relevant works, including transition-to-school guidelines (Dockett & Perry, 2001), a transition-to-school and school-age care resource to support educators; and—together with international colleagues, educators and policy-makers—a Transition to school position statement.
School readiness and transitions
Transitions emphasise contexts, relationships and experiences of children, families and educators over time as children start school. This is different from a narrow focus on children alone being prepared for school. This shift in thinking happened some time ago and we started to talk about a broader notion of school readiness—a combination of the readiness of children, families, schools, prior-to-school services and communities (Dockett & Perry, 2009). We have seen parts of this conceptualisation being picked up in policy and practice, but it hasn’t been universal.
Can school readiness be disrupted?
The narrow concept of children’s readiness for school is a dominant discourse and very much part of the current politics of Australian early childhood education. To convince the powers that be to invest in early childhood education, the readiness argument is a compelling one. For example, the recent highly publicised, disappointing performance of Australia in international PISA testing has meant that early childhood education as a way to ready children for school is increasingly being looked on to produce ‘better results’. The implementation of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) has also meant that readiness of children has been on the agenda in local, state and federal contexts. This makes the task of disrupting the readying discourse a very difficult one in the current climate.
How might we disrupt it?
Disrupting school readiness involves an enormous advocacy effort from the grassroots level (with families and colleagues) up to the very top (with policy-makers). However, the neoliberal, human capital agenda that lies behind the narrow school readiness notion is an extremely powerful one. We see the effects of these politics in the schoolification (OECD, 2006) of early childhood education, and the marketing of readiness activities to families. Some ways that we see schoolification are in the various school-like activities Maree describes in her article: stencils, close-ended pencil and paper tasks, repeating the alphabet and numbers, ‘letter of the week’ activities, colouring-in, activity sheets and long adult-directed group times.
However, despite the challenges, disrupting school readiness can start at the local level—in our early learning settings and schools—and involves promoting transitions, as well as being articulate about early childhood pedagogy and practice. As Maree points out, while early childhood education does prepare children for school, it is not necessarily in the ways that the broader community may think. It is often done through invisible practices.
Disrupting school readiness also involves over-turning the commonly held view that early childhood education is all about preparing children for school. After all, as the Early Years Learning Framework vision espouses, it is about supporting children’s being and belonging, not just becoming (Hopps, 2019).
Finally, in response to Maree’s call to replace school readiness with transitions in our vocabulary, I would say school readiness is part of the broader concept of transitions, so we can’t simply replace one with the other, but we can:
- advocate to families, colleagues, communities and governments about the broader notions of school readiness and transitions
- draw on transition-to-school research, and implement evidence-based transition practices in our schools and early learning services
- make visible the things educators do to prepare children for school—things that don’t involve the imposition of school-like practices; this includes unpacking what we mean by ‘learning through play’.
- Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (Eds.). (2001). Beginning school together: Sharing strengths. Canberra, ACT: Australian Early Childhood Association.
- Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2009). Readiness for school: A relational construct. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 34(1), 20–26.
- Hopps, K. (2019). Transition to school: Communication and relationships. Research in Practice Series, 26(1). Canberra, ACT: Early Childhood Australia.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2006). Starting strong II. Paris, France: OECD Publishing.
Follow Kathryn on Twitter @drkhopps
Transition to school: Communication and relationships
by Kathryn Hopps
Communication is a key underlying process that supports positive relationships, and this book will introduce educators to the transactional model of communication. Each section of this book is supported by a sound evidence base, drawing upon current international and Australian transition-to-school research. It also provides reflective questions and practice examples to illustrate how educators can implement a communication- and relationship-based approach in their work. You can purchase your copy here on the ECA Shop.