An ‘education underclass’ in Britain is starting school at the age of five with some still in nappies, unable to speak or not even recognising their own name, according to a controversial new study.
Headteachers told researchers that in some cases children from the poorest backgrounds arrived at their first school still behaving like they were 18 or even 12 months old.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank called the evidence it had compiled between 2007 and 2012 “heart-breaking”, and said some children had such terrible early home lives that they were condemned to be at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives.
The study also revealed that many hundreds of thousands of teenagers leave school every year without achieving adequate GCSEs, and that boys from poor, white backgrounds were falling further behind their classmates than any other identified group.
“These children are starting school drastically behind the levels of development expected of their age,” the CSJ, a centre-right organisation founded by former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith, said.
“The early years experiences endured by these children have been so abysmal that they begin compulsory schooling absolutely not ready for learning and, potentially, permanently disadvantaged.”
One headteacher told the think tank: “In the last three years we have had to toilet train children who came to school in nappies at age five. Parents ask me how we managed to do it. Many of them just can't be bothered, they think it's our responsibility to do it for them.”
Another said that it was very common for youngsters to start school unable to cope, with three-year-olds who “commonly act like 12 to 18-month-olds”.
“'They don't even have the concentration to talk and say an answer in any kind of sentence,” she said.
“We've had children that don't answer to their name. They don't recognise their name...they're not toilet trained.”
The CSJ largely blames parents for the findings, who the report said were unaware of the key milestones their children should be meeting in advance of starting school.
Sir Robin Bosher, chairman of the group that drew up the report, said that one in ten children he observed was “so unsociable that they hurt others, adults and other young children”.
Statistics cited by the report showed that one in eight five-year-olds cannot write their own name or other words from memory, while 6 per cent of boys of this age group did not know that print is read from left to right and top to bottom.
The study also looked at GCSE performance and found that white boys on free school meals - a key measure of poverty - perform “much worse” than other deprived groups.
Sir Robin, who is also director of primary education at the Harris Federation of Academies, said: “Educational failure is too common in our current system. It affects disadvantaged children and makes reform urgent. This is about social justice. We need to do more to make sure all children are given a good education.”
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