A study into basic life skills in primary school leavers

Children across the UK are transitioning to high school without basic life skills such as being able to dress themselves, swim, tell the time and even brush their own teeth, and now our research has revealed that girls may be falling behind.

The recent study of 500 parents shows that a concerning one in seven (15%) girls leave primary school unable to brush their teeth without assistance, compared to just 4% of boys. Equally, 10% of girls of the same age are unable to dress themselves, compared to 8% of boys.

Here are 10 basic life skills children are struggling with at the age they leave primary school:

  1. Swimming (16%)

Almost one in six (16%) primary school leavers are unable to swim, despite the national curriculum stating all children should be able to swim 25-metres by this time.

When it comes to the difference in the genders, boys are more likely to be able to swim when they reach high school age, but only by a small margin.

  1. Knowing their times tables (13%)

The times tables are a skill which becomes part of the curriculum in the first year of primary school, when children are aged 5 – 6. With this in mind, it’s concerning to see that more than one in eight (13%) of primary school leavers don’t know them, including 20% of girls.

  1. Riding a bike (13%)

One in ten boys left primary school unable to ride a bike (10%), compared to one in six girls (16%), a skill which most children learn on average between the ages of 3-8.

Overall, 87% of 11 year olds are able to ride a bike when they leave primary school.

  1. Reading full sentences (10%)

Considering that the majority of high school classes involve reading in some shape or form, it’s concerning to note that one in ten (10%) children are moving on from primary school unable to read full sentences. Parents are encouraged to start reading to their children in the early stages of childhood, with the average age for learning to read at 6-7 years old.

  1. Brushing their own teeth (10%)

Although perhaps not a skill, as a healthcare necessity it’s concerning to see that one in ten primary school leavers are unable to brush their own teeth without help. It’s significant to see that girls are far worse at this than boys, with 15% of girls unable to clean their teeth, compared to 4% of boys.

  1. Writing in full sentences (9%)

Similarly to reading, when moving on to high school, children will be expected to be able to write comprehensively. It’s therefore worrying that nearly one in ten (9%) children are leaving primary school unable to write in full sentences.

  1. Telling the time using a watch

The study shows that almost one in ten (9%) children are leaving primary school unable to tell the time using a watch. Considering that children begin learning to tell the time manually in year 2 of primary school, perhaps more can be done to ensure that all children can use a watch by the time they move on to high school. Kids Watches

  1. Dress themselves (8%)

Usually, children begin trying to dress themselves from around the age of two, and conquer the skill around aged four. To see that 8% of children are leaving primary school unable to dress themselves causes concern, particularly considering that they will be expected to do so in PE classes at high school.

  1. Knowing the alphabet (8%)

First composed in 1835, the alphabet song is still seen as the most simple way to learn the alphabet, so it is very surprising that 8% of children don’t know it at age 11-12. It’s safe to say that this is a skill that will need picking up quickly as they begin high school.

  1. Tie their shoelaces (7%)

Interestingly, perhaps one of the more challenging skills on this list, 7% of children leave primary school unable to tie their shoelaces, a skill which again will no doubt necessary for PE classes.

We spoke to Mya Medina, Chief Education Adviser at online tutoring service, Tutor House, on her views on the study: “The stereotype is that girls are better at language and verbal communication, including reading, while boys are better at technical subjects like science and maths. Equally, it’s been said that girls take better care of themselves and behave more maturely, thus taking on tasks like dressing themselves, brushing their teeth etc with greater success.

“This research should be seen as proving the importance of nurture over nature in developing skills. While few scientists would try to claim that male and female brains are identical, it is increasingly being proven that the difference is so minor that you would not see a noticeable difference in their skills. Increasingly, science is showing that nurture has a far greater effect on a child’s skills, knowledge and ability than we had acknowledged.

She concluded: “Perhaps parents are becoming more aware of the stereotypes and are investing more time in teaching sons to dress themselves and brush their teeth. Alternatively, this could be a symptom of a crisis of confidence in young girls and an ongoing issue where girls can be overlooked or take a back seat in early-stage schooling, thus receiving less support.

“From a young age, children can become susceptible to societal expectation, such as that girls need to be quiet and good while boys are expected to be louder and require more attention. This could be leading to girls feeling unable to ask for help or being expected to teach themselves, while boys receive more attention and support, thus leading to faster development of basic skills among young boys.”

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