Research shows that children who are taught well in their first year of school go on to achieve better GCSE results in English and maths. Reception teacher Hayley Garland reveals why the reception year is one of the most important years of a child’s school life:

“As a parent, you are your child’s first educator, and your home is their first learning environment. It is here that firm foundations are laid to build a sense of emotional security and resilience. After their home, school is the next most important place for most children.

The experiences at school play a vital part in children’s lives, determining their academic, social, and possibly occupational futures.”

That’s why it’s so important to get it right from day one.

What is reception class?

Reception is the first year of primary school and the final year of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) before children start KS1. It’s compulsory in England and Wales.

What age does a child go into reception class?

Most children start reception in the year they turn five years old. Year groups follow the birthday cycle of 1st September – 31st August.

How important is reception year?

It is generally accepted that children’s early experiences have the biggest impact on their later life.

In the first five years, children develop physically, cognitively, and emotionally at a faster rate than at any other time.

In reception, teachers work hard to embed positive attitudes towards school and learning.

In addition to setting the expectations for children’s behaviour and building a sound understanding of key concepts such as reading and numbers.

It is believed that children who are taught well in their first school year go on to achieve better GCSE results in English and maths (from academics at CEM and Durham University). Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“The early years are a crucial time for development and we know that quality of teaching has the single biggest impact on how well children do in school.”

The “Bold Beginnings” report published by Ofsted in November 2017 also emphasised the significance of the teaching of the initial concepts of reading and numbers that takes place during reception:

“Put simply, by the end of reception, the ability to read, write and use numbers is fundamental. They are the building blocks for all other learning. Without firm foundations in these areas, a child’s life chances can be severely restricted.”

But the reception year teaches so much more than that!

Reception curriculum and reception class skills

In reception, teachers have a statutory duty to carefully facilitate the ‘characteristics of effective learning’. These are the fundamental skills and attitudes required to help children become lifelong learners, focusing on not just what children need to learn but how they learn it.

Reception children develop the ability to become independent and capable learners for life when we focus on the following skills and attitudes:

  • Being willing to have a go and try something new

  • Bouncing back after difficulties and persisting in the face of challenge

  • Being encouraged and supported to have their own ideas

  • Finding more than one way of doing something

  • Being proud of how they achieve something, not just the achievement itself

  • Making links and connections between their learning

Moreover, the reception class national curriculum uniquely highlights the importance of other learning skills that children need in order to access the learning that takes place later on in primary school. These skills are considered ‘prime’ interdependent areas and underpin all other teaching in reception classrooms.

Reception class activities and learning objectives

The prime areas of learning and development in reception year are:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development: Being able to negotiate, consider the ideas and needs of others, empathise and work successfully as part of a team.

  • Communication and Language: Being able to process and follow instructions, having the confidence to communicate freely and express themselves as a learner, and being able to listen attentively in a range of situations.

  • Physical Development: Developing the control and coordination needed for both small and large movements, using tools effectively, negotiating space and understanding the need for physical exercise, a healthy diet and how to keep yourself healthy and safe.

It’s clear that these skills undoubtedly support and scaffold learning across all areas of the curriculum as well as helping children to become well-rounded, capable individuals. So, what will your child learn?

Reception reading levels: English, speaking and listening

During reception year, your child will learn how to speak clearly using correct grammar through activities such as show and tell, singing and making up stories. 

Reception reading and phonics

At this stage of school, children learn how to recognise the letters and sounds of the alphabet. They will also learn to read common words and understand that stories have beginnings, middles and endings. Get some help learning phonics at home!

Reception writing

Children will learn how to use a pencil, write the letters of the alphabet, their name and begin to form simple sentences. 

Reception maths

In reception maths, your child will learn to count to 10, estimate, compare numbers and use a number line for counting. They will also start to explore shapes, quantities and simple patterns.

Reception learning games and class activities

Lots of learning at this stage of school is based around play. This can include monitored free play, organised games and class activities.

End of reception year expectations

By the end of their reception year, children should be able to achieve an expected level within several different areas, including;

  • Communication and language

  • Physical development

  • Personal, social and emotional development

  • Literacy

  • Maths

  • Understanding the world

  • Expressive art and design


What should a child know by the end of reception year?

The aim is for children to…

  • Be able to listen, pay attention and give appropriate responses

  • Understand and follow instructions

  • Express themselves effectively and use past, present and future tenses

  • Demonstrate coordination in their movements and use of tools

  • Understand the importance of good health and manage their own basic hygiene needs

  • Have the confidence to speak in group situations and ask for help

  • Be able to talk about their feelings, the feelings of others and understand which types of behaviour is acceptable

  • Form positive relationships with adults and children

  • Read and understand simple sentences

  • Use phonics to read and write words

  • Write simple sentences

  • Count from 1-20

  • Recognise, create and describe number patterns

  • Be sensitive to differences

  • Use age-appropriate technology

  • Make music and dance

  • Use a variety of tools and techniques creatively to represent their ideas

Don’t worry if your child struggles with some of the expectations above. All children are different and learn at their own pace. If you’re worried about your child’s level of development, speak to their school to find out if they need extra support such as maths or English tuition.


What is expected of a child in reception?

By the time children get to reception year, they should be able to dress, feed and go to the toilet themselves. They should also be able to maintain attention for short periods of time and be able to recognise and write their own name.

How do I prepare my child for reception?

To help them get ready to start school, you can begin preparing for reception before the summer term kicks off. Here are some tips…

Support their independence

Building up their confidence with small, everyday tasks like using a knife and fork or putting their shoes on independently can help prepare them for school life. 

Calm their nerves

It’s normal for your child to be worried about the first day of school. Talking to them in advance about their emotions and what will happen on their first day can help to put their mind at ease. 

Get them used to instructions

From helping to lay the table to family games night, getting them used to simple instructions will help to make your child feel comfortable following their teacher’s requests.

Social skills and self-confidence

A few playdates in the lead up to reception year can help get your child used to socialising with others their age. All good practice for sharing, taking turns and spending time away from the family home.

Bedtime stories

A story before bed is a wonderful way to boost their literacy and reading skills and provides a calming routine to continue as school gets started and life gets busier.

Literacy and maths skills

Why not try using games to make learning part of everyday life? From counting apples during the weekly shop to word games in the car – practising simple literacy and maths skills ahead of school can help them feel more confident in the classroom.

Reception year preparation – tuition

Looking for some extra help for your child?

Online tutoring and support can be effective for children as young as 4 years old, giving them a great introduction to the world of learning and the primary curriculum.

Starting reception is an exciting time of learning lots of new skills! We’re here to support your child through the early years and beyond.

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