‘Deprived’ Sunderland children starting school in nappies

Sir Robin Bosher
Sir Robin Bosher
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THREE quarters of children in deprived areas of Sunderland are still in nappies when they start nursery school, claims a headteacher.

Up to 75 per cent of three-year-olds starting in the nursery class at schools in poor areas of the city often arrive in buggies, wearing nappies and with dummies in their mouths, said one city head.

Wearside is certainly not alone in this, as a recent report from the Centre for Social Justice, produced by a panel of educationalists chaired by Sir Robin Bosher, said many children across the country are having an “abysmal” start to life, which is leaving them unready for school.

It claimed many four-year-olds in poorer areas are developmentally more like toddlers, unable to use the toilet and with poor language and social skills.

So, instead of starting their formal lessons, school staff are having to toilet train children and teach them skills such as using a knife and fork.

One Sunderland headteacher, who didn’t want to be named to protect the identity of parents and children, said: “The children have to be three to start our nursery and I would say 75 per cent of them can’t use the toilet, have dummies and come in buggies – that is normal now.

“Years ago, you were able to refuse admission to a child unless they were toilet trained and could feed themselves, but you can’t do that now because it is seen as discriminating, so you just have to pay extra staff to look after them.”

They said while staff are weaning more than half a class of youngsters off dummies, changing nappies and taking pupils to the toilet, there is precious little time left for education.

The headteacher said the children don’t have special needs and are eager to learn, it is just no-one has bothered to show them.

They added: “I think it is about expectations. Some parents just seem to assume the school will do it all. We are supposed to be educators, but are doing the role of parents.”

Sarah Lake, Sunderland spokesman for the National Union of Teachers, said: “What I see as I visit schools in Sunderland is a majority of children who are “school ready”, whatever that means.

“Where children do need some extra support with toileting or speech and language difficulties, I strongly believe that our very dedicated teachers work extremely hard to bridge the gap and meet the needs of these children.”

The Centre for Social Justice report said many children in deprived areas are starting school drastically behind the levels of development expected of their age and warned this can be the start of permanent disadvantage.