Supporting your child as they prepare for school

Helpful information and practical guidance about preparing to start school.

1 Overview

All parents want to help their child get the most from their time at school and we are committed to supporting you to ensure that happens.

Starting school is a memorable point in a child’s life and there are many processes in place to support your child’s start at school and make the change as smooth as possible.

When to start school

All children are offered a place at school to start in the September of the academic year (September to August) in which they turn five. All children must be in education from the term after their fifth birthday, but the majority of children start school in the September following their fourth birthday.

To work out when your child can start school, and when you can apply, view School age ranges and year groups.

When you have received the offer of a school place, you may wish to take the opportunity to discuss the school’s induction arrangements and your child’s start date with the school. You can defer admission until the start of the spring or summer term, so long as your child has not reached compulsory school age. However, you must inform the school of this decision.

You may also wish to discuss with your school whether a gradual start - sometimes called a staggered start - over the first two weeks of term may help your child settle in. Note that a child starting school, even on a part-time basis, will no longer be eligible for free childcare funding at an early years setting.

If your child is summer-born and you consider they are not ready to start school before their fifth birthday, you may discuss the option of your child being put in the younger year group. You can make a request to us by referring to the Information for parents booklet.

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

The EYFS is followed by all early years settings and continues through to the end of a child’s reception year in school.

Children may attend a range of settings before they start school, and your child may have a Learning Journal recording their attainment, progress and any additional support needs.

This will be forwarded to the school to help staff understand your child’s progress to date and to enable your child to continue their learning in the EYFS according to your child’s needs.

Read more about the EYFS on the Foundation Years website.

2 Choosing a school

The Pupil Admissions teams administer the application process and provide information about:

  • infant and primary schools in West Sussex
  • how and when to apply, including any deadlines
  • the application process (Parents Information booklet)
  • what happens when a school is oversubscribed (oversubscription criteria).

Visiting the school is the best way to decide whether it will meet your child’s needs. Look out for school open days to go and visit the schools you are interested in or ask for an appointment if you cannot get along to the day.

Think of questions you want to ask when visiting schools to find out more about the school environment and whether it will suit your child. You might want to ask questions about how they support children’s emotional well being, what support they can offer if your child is struggling with their work or any other aspects of school life.

If your child has particular interests, you might want to ask about the opportunities there are for children to engage in these activities. You might also want to look at some of their school policies to understand more about how the school works.

Read a copy of the school's prospectus and their latest Ofsted inspection report, available on each school’s website or by contacting the school directly. These will provide you with information about how well a school is performing. You can also view inspection reports on the Ofsted website.

Read the oversubscription criteria for the schools you want and how places were offered the previous year. This will help you to make realistic applications and avoid disappointment.

If your child has Special Educational Needs and/or a Disability (SEND)

West Sussex SEND Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIAS) provide information and impartial advice to parents and carers of children who have special educational needs. This includes:

  • support if you have difficulties with the school application process
  • helping you to formulate your thoughts when choosing the type of school that may be suitable for your child
  • support to complete school application forms if you need assistance.

All schools are expected to adapt their provision to meet the needs of all of the children attending. Most children’s needs can be met by the resources already available within the school. For some children, a formal assessment and plan to support their needs may be appropriate. This might include an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

You may feel that your child’s needs are particularly complex and you would like to consider more specialist provision, or you may want your child to access your local school alongside their friends.

If you're considering specialist provision, please speak to the professionals that support your child as they will need to be assessed for an EHCP. Having an EHCP does not guarantee a place at a specialist school, so you should also look at local schools and apply for a mainstream school place for your child.

3 Getting ready – your child’s learning and skills

One of the best things you can do to prepare your child for school is for them to attend an early years or childcare setting. Find out about free childcare places on Childcare options.

It is important to understand how children learn and encourage the behaviours that help them to be good learners. Adults who work with young children call these the Characteristics of Effective Learning. All children demonstrate each of them at some time if they are given the opportunities to do so.

Children learn and develop through playing, exploring, being active and creative, and being with adults who allow them to think through problems and find their own solutions. They learn too when things do not go to plan so, under supervision, let them have freedom to explore and take some risks.

You can support your child to use and develop their skills by giving them time to play and explore, playing alongside them but letting them take the lead and praising them for the way they try, even if they do not get things right first time.

More things you can do to support your child’s learning and skills

  • Reading skills - Encourage your child to look at and read books as this will put them at a great advantage when they start school. You can get further help and support for your child to develop early literacy skills from the Words for Life website.
  • Language skills - Sing songs together, have fun with rhymes and jokes and ask them to follow simple practical instructions, for example, finding their shoes and putting them on.
  • Writing skills – Help them to draw, making marks with pencils, crayons or paintbrushes on paper, or with sticks in sand. Give your child meaningful opportunities to write – for example, writing their own shopping list, keeping a record of the goals as they are scored in a football match, or making and writing in birthday cards. Praise your child’s efforts, even if that is not how you would do it yourself. Look at numbers, letters and familiar words you see around you, for example,when you are shopping.
  • Number skills - Encourage them to use words such as many, a lot, more or less, finding things in a group that are different or the same, such as shapes or colours, finding opposites and patterns, and involving your child in everyday activities that require counting. You can count out the plates when you are preparing food or count the socks as you take them out of the washing machine. It helps children to understand what the numbers mean if they touch the objects as they count.
  • Personal and social skills - Arrange for them to play with other children so that they can learn to share and take turns. It can help children to feel happy to share if they decide before a friend comes to play which toys they are happy to share, and put away any they don’t want anyone else to play with. Encourage them to tidy up after playing, making sure you join in too and praise their efforts. Talk about feelings and emotions and encourage them to have a go and become more independent, for example, dressing themselves, pouring a drink or going to the toilet.
  • Physical skills - Help them by using scissors, drawing, craft activities and moulding play dough. Find opportunities to climb, run, skip, jump and lift, and by playing and exploring at the park. Take part in games and activities that make them out of breath.
  • Talk with your child - Encourage them to rest when they are tired or explain why they need to wear boots when it is muddy outdoors to help them to know why to do things.

If you have any concerns about your child being ready for starting school, speak to their pre-school provider, or your health visitor.

4 Getting ready – practical preparations

As your child approaches school age, prepare yourself and your child for the changes ahead.

Your child’s confidence and positivity

Helping them to feel confident and positive about school will give them a good start. They will be in a new place, with new children, rules and routines. Many children find this exciting while others will be a little daunted. Parents can find it daunting too, so try to be positive.

Talk with your child about what they think school will be like and share books with positive stories about starting school. Your local library is likely to have some books and it is free. Find out more about books to read with children in our starting school booklist.

To help your child feel confident on their first day at school, take them along when buying their uniform, and choose items they can easily take on and off themselves. Children grow very quickly so do not get it too soon. Some schools may sell second-hand uniform, so ask them if they do.

School visits, and transition from pre-school

Many schools and pre-schools help children during their transition to school. They arrange programmes which may include:

  • visits to the school over several weeks
  • walks around the school to see where things are, such as playgrounds and toilets
  • spending time in a classroom with teachers and other children
  • the new teacher visiting your child in their pre-school setting
  • time for parents to meet staff members and ask questions
  • staff from the school visiting you and your child at home.

Find out about any school visits well in advance so that you are able to attend. You may need to book time off work so that you can share this experience with your child.

More practical preparation

  • Get used to the sleeping routines that your child will have when they start school. Getting enough sleep is very important and the recommended amount of sleep changes as children grow up.
  • Start to gather the things your child will need, such as school uniform, PE (physical education) kit, bag, water bottle and lunch box. Your school will let you know if there are any rules or things to consider when buying items. Ensure everything your child takes to school is clearly named, as other children may have identical items.
  • Practice a morning routine with your child, getting ready the things they will need for a school day.
  • Practice the route to school so that you will be able to arrive at the gate in plenty of time.
  • All children in reception, year one and year two are entitled to free school meals. If there is a particular reason why your child will not have school meals, talk to the school about alternative options. Talk to your child about the meal they will have and what mealtimes will be like. They will be encouraged to feed themselves and to cut their own food using a knife and fork, so try and practice at home. Once your child is beyond year two, you can find out how to apply for a school meal. If your child is eligible for free school meals, it is helpful to the school if you apply even in reception, year one and two. This allows the school to access additional funding called Pupil Premium to support children in the school.
  • Share information about your child which could be important for the school to know, such as allergies, health issues or additional needs.
  • As soon as you know school term dates and INSET days the schools will have, make a note of them. Read and understand the school’s policy about taking your child out of school during term time.
  • Encourage your child to do things independently and build up their confidence, such as packing their own bag or going to the toilet. If going to the toilet is an issue for your child, speak to the school as soon as possible so that support can be put in place. Read more about toilet training.
  • Let them ask you for help when they need it rather than offering it so that they will be confident to ask others for help at school. If they ask for help, encourage them to have a go with some parts of the task that they can manage so they can develop their confidence and independence
  • Think about what your own daily routine will be like once your child is at school.
  • Find out about the methods of communication that your school uses. Make sure you are set up to receive them and your SMS or email is set up to notify you of a new message. Do not be embarrassed to ask the school lots of questions. They want you to be fully informed so that your preparations for school are stress-free.

5 Getting ready – childcare arrangements

If you are working or studying you may need to organise out of school childcare. Try to plan for this in advance, as childcare places for school age children can be in demand.

Depending on your needs, you may need to look for:

  • breakfast clubs
  • after-school clubs
  • childminders
  • holiday playschemes.

The Family Information Service provides information about:

  • the types of childcare that cater for school age children before school, after school, or during the school holidays
  • local childcare providers, including whether they provide a morning drop-off or afternoon collection service to your school
  • help with the costs of childcare that you may be able to get
  • what to look for and what to ask when visiting a childcare provider through a checklist.

If you can't find what you need on our web pages, please get in touch.

6 The first few days of school

Give yourself a little extra time on the first few days to allow for unforeseen events. If things do not go exactly as you planned, despite your preparation, try to keep calm so that your child remains positive about going to school.

Ask your child about what they are learning at school and get involved wherever possible. They will be delighted that you are interested in what they are doing. Children learn best when they are happy.

Morning drop-off

It can be helpful to take and collect your child on the first day. Remember to show them where you will pick them up at the end of the day. It can be difficult saying goodbye, but ensure they know that you will be back to collect them. If someone else is going to be picking them up, make sure that they know this and who it will be.

Afternoon collection

Welcome your child when you collect them and give them your attention. They may want to tell you all about their day as soon as they see you so make sure you have time to listen. If they do not want to talk about it, that is OK too and perfectly normal.

Your child may find it more tiring being at school all day than they were at a pre-school setting or at home. Do not put pressure on your child to do stuff after school, as they may be worn out.

They may be really hungry at the end of a school day. Take a healthy snack when you pick them up or try giving them an early tea.

Working together with the school

Encourage your child to talk to the teacher if they are worried or upset about anything that happens.

If you do have concerns about how your child is settling at school, ask your child’s class teacher about when you can meet to plan working together to help your child feel more comfortable. The teacher may have made the same observations as you.

Ask if there are things you can do at home that will help support your child. If you want to talk again about how things are going, agree a time with the teacher.

It can also help if you:

  • let the teacher know if there is something happening at home that may be affecting your child
  • let them know about any health problems your child has
  • read school notices as soon as possible and reply if needed.
Last updated:
15 July 2021
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