Mary Immaculate College, Limerick and the Dublin Institute of Technology was awarded a contract by the Irish Research Council to examine concepts of school readiness among parents of children in the Free Preschool Year (FPSY) in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and early years educators at pre-primary and primary levels. This research was commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) and is published on the DCYA's website (link below).

Methodology

In addition to an extensive literature review, face to face semi-structured interviews were conducted with school principals and junior infant teachers (n=14) and with early years educators and managers (n=19). Telephone interviews were conducted with parents (n=30) and child conferences were conducted with children availing of the FPSY (n=57) (Clark and Moss, 2011). An online survey based on the findings of the qualitative phase was sent to a representative sample of 500 FPSY (Response Rate = 39%) settings and 500 primary schools (Response Rate = 24%).

Overview of key findings

The concept of school readiness as understood by the research participants emerged as a multi-faceted concept. School readiness was clearly located along a maturationist-environmentalist (Dockett and Perry, 2002) continuum where readiness was associated with a child’s age as well as external evidence of the acquisition of specific skills such as the child’s ability to recognise colours and shapes. All participants rated social and emotional skills as highly important for children starting school, while the significance of children’s pre-academic skills was consistently ranked higher by early childhood educators than by primary school participants.

Differences were evident between participants’ views of children’s optimal school starting age. These ranged from between four and a half and five  years to five to five and half years for primary school participants with most early childhood educators identifying six as about right. The majority of parents identified five as the minimum school starting age. Factors identified as influencing parents’ decisions to send their children to school included the cost of child-care and parents’ personal experiences. Children’s responses and drawings confirmed all participants’ views that the move to “big  school” constitutes a significant event in the child’s life.