How long does it take for children to settle into Reception? A guide for working parents

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Flexi working for parents

Flexible working has been normalised since Covid.

Many working parents will be wondering this in September, as they juggle work commitments alongside the short settling in sessions that typically take up the first few weeks of term for children just starting school. A quick Google will give you loads of information about how to settle children into Reception – but not so much about how their parents can manage their work obligations during those early weeks.

The short answer: it can be really tricky and will depend on how flexible your employer is.

How many hours do Reception children do?

In the first few weeks, most primary schools will be running home visits and only have Reception children in for a few hours at a time.

Schools differ, but my experience is that the settling in period can start with no time in school at all for the first week of term, while the staff make home visits. For a few weeks afterwards, you may find the children are split into small groups and spend a couple of hours in school at a time, and don’t have lunch in school.  Later in the period, they may do a morning plus lunch, or a full afternoon, in smaller groups then as a full class.  Eventually, they’ll all be in school for full days.

There are good reasons for doing this, and a wealth of information online about transitioning children into school, so I won’t delve into that here.

Reception settling in period: How do working parents manage childcare?

Let’s look at the impact of the settling in period on working parents’ routines, and how to manage that.

For ease, we’ll assume it’s your oldest child starting Reception. Mainly because if you’ve got older children who are doing full days in school, I’d need to insert a timetable to illustrate all the drop offs and pick-ups that you’ll be doing.  And I don’t want to add to your stress.

We’ll also assume that you’re looking at a 3 week period from 1 September that you need to get through somehow. Your child’s been in nursery up to 31 August, but now you’ve lost that provision because they aren’t allowed to stay in nursery after that.

We’ll also assume that you work full time, as does your partner, and you both have office jobs.  Yes, stereotypical I know, but I’m building up to a few practical suggestions, so having a straightforward case study to start from is helpful.

I’m also going to assume that you’ve already decided what you’ll be doing in terms of working hours/pattern once your child is in school full time and that that’s been agreed with your employer.

So, what can you do?

  • You and/or your partner could take annual leave for some or all of the period, though many employers won’t allow more than two weeks’ leave to be taken at once (check your contract/handbook holiday policy).
    • But – do you really want to use up all your holiday now, when you’ve still got half term, Inset days and Christmas holidays coming up?
    • Can you take part days as annual leave?
  • You and/or your partner could take parental leave, if you’re entitled to it
    • But parental leave is unpaid
    • And policies based on the statutory regime often require leave to be taken in blocks of a full week, so you’re losing a whole week’s pay
  • You and/or your partner could make a temporary flexible working request – this can be the best option, and needn’t be a formal request – it could be just a chat with your manager and an informal agreement. If there’s a change to pay and overall hours, it’s more likely your employer would want to have a written agreement though.
Submit request button on keyboard

You should contact your employer to make a flexi working request.

What is a temporary flexible working request?

A temporary flexible working request can be informal or formal, though generally, I’d suggest starting off with an informal request in an email to your line manager and/or HR.  For more information about flexible working, and a range of guides on the topic, see our flexible working section.

You’ll explain that you’ve got a few weeks coming up where you’re going to be in and out a lot, dealing with short sessions at school.  It may be that you and your partner both ask to work from home for the period, with short breaks while you drop off and pick up, so you’re both home to share the childcare while your child isn’t in school. Or you fly solo while your partner’s at the office, and vice versa. You may have family who can help out.

If you can, share the burden with your partner and work out who can do each drop off/pick up, around set work commitments like team meetings. This is where a timetable might come in handy! Explain to your employer what you and your partner are each looking to take on – it’s helpful to your case if you can each say this to your employers, so they can see that you’re trying to minimise disruption to your respective working patterns, and it would be less reasonable for them to refuse.  It’s only a few weeks after all but there are several set statutory reasons why an employer can refuse a request made under the statutory regime.

You’ll need to deal with concerns from your employer around whether it’s realistic for you to work at all with your child around at home.  Covid was a real springboard in terms of the popularity and acceptance of flexible working, but it was an emergency, and it isn’t always easy to work with young children around.

It may be that you ask for a combination of the above: take the odd day’s annual leave, and work flexibly around drop offs and pick-ups.

It’s a tricky few weeks, and it can feel like schools forget that parents have other commitments than ferrying their children around.  A classic work-life balancing act. It can be hugely stressful for working parents, so it’s important to bear in mind the potential impact on mental health if there’s no give and take by employers – the longer term impact may be worse than a few weeks out of routine. Whatever happens, communication is key, as is being reasonable and collaborative on all sides.

Employment Solicitors

If you need help with putting together a flexible working request to cover the settling in period, get in touch at or at 03300 020 863, and we’ll arrange an exploratory chat to talk though your aims and how we can help.

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