HUNDREDS of children in Dorset could be starting school this month without basic skills such as being able to hold a pencil or go to the toilet by themselves.

Public Health England measures a child’s ‘school readiness’ according to whether they have reached a good level of development at the end of reception, before entering their first compulsory year of education at age five.

Just 69 per cent of children in the Dorset County Council area were at a good level in the 2016-17 academic year, the latest year for which data is available with figures for Bournemouth and Poole showing that 75 per cent of children were at the same standard.

This means around 2,200 children - more than one in four - may not have been ready for school by the time they entered Year 1.

Children who don’t reach a good level by age five are likely to struggle to catch up in their later education, according to Ofsted.

Boys were far less likely to have reached a good level than girls - in Dorset, 37 per cent of boys fell short compared to 25 per cent of girls.

Pupils from poorer backgrounds also fared worse, with just 49 per cent of those on free school meals in Dorset achieving the benchmark.

Subject areas assessed, including communication and language, physical development, and personal, social and emotional development.

These cover skills such as being able to communicate thoughts and feelings, socialise with others, go to the toilet unaided, and perform basic physical tasks such as holding a pencil or kicking a ball.

However, literacy and maths are also assessed, in which children score lower than they do in the other subjects.

A child has to be at a good level in every individual area to be assessed as being at a good level overall.

Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA), said it was “deeply unhelpful” to focus too much on literacy and maths at so young an age.

He added: “The focus should be on schools being ready for

children and being able to meet their needs, not the other way around.”