The ESRI says the largest skills gap is between children with disabilities and their peers
A new study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found boys have lower vocabulary test scores and are more likely than girls to have poorer literacy skills.
It also says boys are more likely to have negative attitudes towards school and greater socio-emotional difficulties.
The study, commissioned by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, found the vast majority of five-year-olds are positive about school, look forward to going to school and say good things about it.
It used 'Growing Up in Ireland' data to examine how 9,000 children adjusted to primary school.
It did this by examining their vocabulary skills, early literacy and numeracy skills, their attitudes to school, their relationships with teachers, and their socio-emotional skills.
These skills include being able to concentrate in class, and communicate their needs and to take turns and share with other children.
However, the study showed that children start school with different skills and capacities and some children face greater challenges.
The largest skills gap, both academic and socio-emotional, is between children with disabilities or special educational needs and their peers.
While the ESRI says boys have lower vocabulary test scores and teachers report that boys are more likely than girls to have poorer literacy skills, negative attitudes towards school and greater socio-emotional difficulties.
Children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds have more negative attitudes towards school, more socio-emotional difficulties and poorer literacy and numeracy skills than those from other backgrounds.
These findings indicated a need to develop supports for children to enhance the transition to primary education.
The study suggested a number of ways to help children experience a positive transition to primary school.
It says supporting teachers to build stronger relationships with all groups of children and to develop a positive classroom climate could help ease children’s adjustment difficulties.
At present, primary school teachers receive little information about a child's skills and challenges when they start school.
"This could be resolved by developing templates to transfer information between pre-school staff and primary school teachers to provide greater continuity of learning for children.
"Increasing play-based activities could promote learning and engagement among young children.
"Across most schools there is a decline in play-based learning in senior infants.
"Additionally, junior infants pupils in multi-grade classes experience less play-based learning as teachers must balance teaching multiple grades simultaneously", the ESRI said.
Professor Emer Smyth, author of the report, said: "Even at the age of five, important differences are evident in children’s wellbeing and skills.
"It is important to provide early interventions at this stage to enhance children's engagement with school and equip them with the skills they need for the rest of their primary education.
"This study indicates that building positive relationships between teachers and students may play a critical role in helping children to overcome transition difficulties".