Rethinking ‘School Readiness’: It’s Time for Schools to Be Ready

‘School readiness’ programs are advertised across the nation, with some early learning services and preschools promising to provide children with literacy and numeracy skills for a head start in school. On social media, parents frantically seek recommendations on where to send their children to ‘get ready’ for school. Educators arm themselves with worksheets and a ‘letter of the week,’ and attempt to corral energetic 3-year-olds into reciting numbers and identifying colours during mat times, all in the name of ‘education.’

However, for those of us passionate about young children’s learning and development, it’s time to shift our perspective and advocate for best practice in every early learning service across the country. It’s not the children who need to ‘be ready’; it’s the schools.

Those educators who push back against the academic push down often work against their beliefs as “it’s what parents want”, but what about what’s best for the child? If we want to be seen as education professionals, it’s high time we re-educate educators using outdated practices, promote quality learning environments, and enlighten parents about what genuinely benefits their child’s development.

If ‘school readiness’ were indeed paramount to children’s learning and development, it would have a prominent place in Australia’s national curriculum, the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). However, a thorough search of the recently updated EYLF, based on extensive Australian and international research, yields zero mentions of this term that has become so important to families, educators, and service providers.

Instead, the EYLF consistently employs the term ‘transition to school’ to describe this crucial step in children’s educational journey. Rather than viewing it as something children must prepare for, the EYLF frames the ‘transition to school’ as a collaborative effort where educators, school teachers, families, and communities unite to support children’s well-being.

In contrast to traditional school readiness programs, which emphasise preparation for the future, the EYLF acknowledges the significance of a child’s present and past experiences and places value on being fully engaged in the moment with the child.

Reframing ‘school readiness’ to ‘transition to school’ involves a change in mindset. It acknowledges that education is not a one-size-fits-all approach, where children enter formal schooling with the same knowledge, skills and life experiences. In contrast, schools, just like preschools and early education services, adapt to meet each child’s unique needs.

Here are some reasons why shifting our focus is so important:

Child-Centred Approach: The ‘transition to school’ approach places the focus on the child. Rather than expecting children to conform to a predetermined set of developmentally inappropriate skills, it recognizes their individuality, cultural contexts and diverse learning styles. Children who begin school with a positive view of themselves as a learner are more likely to enjoy school and do well. School teachers are encouraged to adapt teaching strategies to match a child’s strengths, skills and learning needs, building on their prior knowledge and ensuring that no child is left behind.

Collaboration and Support: Embracing the ‘transition to school’ philosophy fosters collaboration between early learning centres, schools, families, and communities. It recognises that a child’s successful transition to school requires a joint effort from all stakeholders. This collaboration ensures a seamless and supportive experience for the child.

Holistic Development: The ‘transition to school’ approach promotes holistic development. It emphasises not only academic skills but also the child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being. This comprehensive perspective recognises that a child’s success in school is not solely determined by academic readiness but also by their overall readiness to thrive in a school environment. Reducing academic push-down leaves more time for children to engage in play and experiences that promote social and emotional competencies, important foundation skills for later success.

Reducing Pressure: Shifting away from the ‘school readiness’ mindset reduces the undue pressure on both children and parents. It acknowledges that children develop at their own pace and that early childhood should be a time of exploration, play, and joyful learning rather than a race to acquire specific skills.

The EYLF views children as confident, competent learners and promotes strengths-based assessment of each children’s knowledge, skills and learning dispositions. Let’s work together to abolish the term ‘school readiness’ and all the outdated ideas it entails, and educate early childhood professionals, families and schools on the importance of collaborating to provide developmentally appropriate support for children as they transition to school.

First year at school book cover - 2023 edition

ECA Recommends: First year at school: Essential tips for parents and carers

This comprehensive book is filled with practical tips to help parents and carers support their child’s transition to school.
First Year at School is an essential guidebook for parents that breaks down the challenges and expectations of starting school—from the preparation that is required a year before school starts, to picking the right school, developing relationships with teachers, dealing with technology and building children’s social and personal skills. Full of new information, this book will help parents support their child through one of the most important years of life.

Michelle Marais

Michelle Marais is the owner/director of On Call ECT who provide high-quality educational support to early childhood services across Australia. As an experienced Early Childhood Teacher, she is passionate about celebrating the learning that occurs through play. She can be contacted by email or via her website at:

8 thoughts on “Rethinking ‘School Readiness’: It’s Time for Schools to Be Ready”

    Rhonda Armstrong says:

    A Fantastic article that I will happily share with others
    So spot on
    Thank you

    Kate says:

    Can you please send this information out to all the kindergartens, preprimary, year one and year two staff in schools! Play no longer seems to be in the schools.
    Children can’t problem solve, they can’t communicate effectively, their social skills are declining rapidly and they are becoming less independent each year with simple self care tasks. It is time for play and good play educators to be in the early years and formal teaching styles are moved out! Our kids are not getting better but worse. Kids don’t need to grow up and learn, they need to explore and develop! Principals and parents need to be educated that play is more important than curriculum.

    Susan Ryan says:

    This article is very succinct and has truely relevant information. As an Early Childhood Teacher for more than forty years, it is timely that we educate our families in the social and emotional areas of development. The importance that each and every child has the support to develop in these areas, as their individual needs are met. Our world has changed with the advancement in many areas and decline in others. We need as a society resilient, happy and lateral thinking individuals that have been awakened and enriched with a broad focus on education through the lense of a child

    Jessica Bailetti says:

    My Daughters kindy time was riddled with the coronavirus, so we just didn’t put her in…I recall one of her peers going to kindergarten and the parent was so happy that their child could count to 100 .
    I wasn’t sure if we were keeping her back by not sending her but she can count to 100 now and past it .
    She is a natural learner and really doesn’t like competition when it comes to how much do you know ? amongst peers ,yet she will gladly show off when she wants to.
    I feel it’s really interesting watching her develop and withholding my panic about if she is meeting certain benchmarks .
    We do homeschool but didn’t get in to homeschool for a while so we’re doing no school and I saw massive social and emotional benefits and development with them and myself.
    I’m in belief that play is the way and even unschooling them in a relaxed environment should be encouraged ,so that they can learn about what they love to do naturally.
    Today I was thinking how everyone really is doing what they are supposed to be doing, even if they are going against the grain. There seems to be more damage in making people wrong or right with their choices .
    If Children are loved they will learn , people develop differently in different areas being interested in different subjects at different times …when it is relevant.
    I know children also that feel that school is the best place for them… even if they are sick ! they still want to go to school. There is definitely a need for school and great teachers especially , yet perhaps the system doesn’t need to be overloaded and natural learning could be normalised… with funds and adequate supervision.

    Andrew Staniforth says:

    This article is very succinct and has truely relevant information. As an Early Childhood Teacher for more than forty years, it is timely that we educate our families in the social and emotional areas of development.

    Are They Ready For School? No, Ready for Life! says:

    A good education system will RESPOND to children’s learning. Children arrive already with so many skills and great depth of knowledge. Indeed, there is little in the Early Years Learning Framework (Australia’s early childhood curriculum) which focuses on preparation for school. Rather, the EYLF places priority on being fully engaged with children in the present moment.

    Thank you for your response Susan. I completely agree with your insight- mental health issues are rapidly increasing, and embedding appropriate pedagogies in Early Childhood and beyond could make such a huge difference to this concerning societal issue.

    Nicki says:

    I am a prep teacher and I fully support your push to acknowledge a developmentally appropriate, child-centered approach to education. I am passionate about play-based learning in schools, and I try to encourage and help other teachers in Prep (and beyond) make the transition. Unfortunately, when schools purchase commercialised programs of learning, the pressure immediately goes on for academic achievement. Then when a child achieves poorly on the standardised test, (usually because their developmental readiness for the formal learning is still under construction), they are identified early, placed on a learning plan (to receive more of the same but in a smaller group, and subsequently send the parents into a spinning frenzy), then swiftly get referred to professional agencies for a learning diagnosis – followed promptly by drugs. This one-size-fits-all approach is antiquated and I fail to understand how schools can ignore the research around the importance of play in learning institutions. And lets not forget that play should not stop as a child enters year 1! I am beginning to think that teachers are reluctant to change because they only know how to teach the one way. They often don’t have experience in a variety of quality settings and there seem to be few exceptional examples for those willing to adapt. There is little room for creativity and uniqueness when you have to teach from a commercialised program. Our early Career Teachers are only seeing one style of learning and jump on the band wagon thinking; ‘that’s just how its done these days’. In effect, teachers are clones of each other shutting out creativity and opportunity for new learning and patting themselves on the back for adding a nifty craft to the letter of the day. There are – as you know – many alternatives to support the formal learning in a playful and holistic way so that the learning is retained and meaningfully applied to the context of daily experiences. So what is a child can count to 100 if they can’t make or split a set of 9 objects. I whole-heartedly agree with your sentiment that its the schools who need to get ready and not the children. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top