The number of children starting school without basic skills such as being able to go to the toilet unaided, put on a coat or respond to questions is at record levels because of nursery closures, according to research.
Experts say further closures could widen gaps in school readiness between children from rich and poor backgrounds.
Research commissioned by Kindred2, a charitable foundation working to improve early education and child development, found that a record proportion of children were starting school without basic skills.
Nearly half (46%) of children who started reception class in 2020 were not “school ready”, compared with 35% in 2019, a survey of more than 500 British primary schools found. Less time spent at nursery due to lockdown restrictions was the key reason for this decline, teachers said.
Unlike primary schools, nurseries and childminders in England are now open to all children. There is mounting pressure on the government to introduce further restrictions to contain the pandemic, and a recent Observer poll found 61% of people were in favour of shutting nurseries. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has also flagged nurseries as an area where restrictions could be tightened.
Helen Dodd, a professor of child psychology at the University of Reading, said: “We need to accept that this year’s intake of children and next year’s – particularly if nurseries close – may be a bit behind where they would be otherwise. We need to give children the chance to, in their own time, get to where they need to be. And we also need to allow schools the space to give the children space.”