A study, The Before School Check (B4SC): reporting outcomes an referral rates for all New Zealand children, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today, found that less than five per cent of children assessed in the B4SC between 2010 and 2016 had development problems.

Researchers from the University of Otago, which ran the study, found that children from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas were more likely to be referred for extra assessment.

Co-author Noni Richards said 92 per cent of four-year-olds in New Zealand had a B4SC and less than five per cent had abnormal results showing most children started school without developmental delays.

“I thought that was reasonably low compared to other countries…we had a low rate of identifying abnormal scores.”

Other reasons for the low percentage could be that Kiwi parents might be less likely to report problems or the eight per cent not having a B4SC might be more likely to be ones who would need to be referred, she said.

“Children who have problems might be less likely to attend these before school checks.”

The research also showed that more children in lower socioeconomic areas were being referred for extra assessment.

A quarter of all children in areas with the highest deprivation scores were referred for further assessment compared with 14 per cent of children in areas with the lowest deprivation scores.

“It’s quite surprising to find more children are referred from high deprivation areas,” she said.

Most of these children were not under special care already and the check had identified a need to be referred.

“Is the before school check picking up those kids that haven’t been referred in other areas or does it show that actually children from higher deprivation areas are more likely to have abnormal scores?”

This is something that needs more research but if it means that children with developmental delays from higher deprivation areas are getting picked up in the B4SC whereas before they might have been missed until they got to school then that is positive, Richards said.

The study also found that not all children who met referral criteria were referred to other health services, which is something that also needed to be further looked into, she said.

B4SC is a health and development screening programme for four-year-olds.

It captures information on the height, weight, vision, hearing and emotional and physical development of four-year-old children in Nee Zealand.The programme aims to identify any issues a child may have that could negatively affect their participation in education.


  1. However, we still find that nearly 30% to 40% come to school not being able to hold a pen, use scissors and they cannot say a whole sentence. They do not know the alphabet, cannot recognize even 10 sight words and cannot tell you their name and address at home. They do not know about how to listen while sitting in one place for at least 10 minutes They are so far behind most other children when they start school! What has been going on at home? Do parents not talk to their children? And no! those skills and capabilities are not the responsibility of the teachers at Year 1 and 2. New Zealand really does need a compulsory pre-school program and a three-part compulsory Parent Education program with the first part covering preparation for school, behavioral expectations, and language /numeracy expectations. These children need to have a better experience – they deserve better.

  2. Who expects children to arrive at school
    Having “sight” words???? Schools need to be ready for children, children don’t need to be ready for school. It’s not a race, nor a competition.

    Teachers need to have a deeper understanding of child development and it is pleasing to see the play based learning programmes being used in some schools. And preschool is for play – that is how children learn.

    • Hi Jo. Sorry but that is the reality now. Yes, competition still exists and the way they start school often determines how easily they settle in and progress. They have to adapt to a whole new situation of routines, working with others and making their own achievement pathway too. So if children have some good literacy and numeracy preparation it makes their pathway smoother and they do make better progress

  3. b4sc missed my child’s difficulties. wasn’t till she was at school and doing paperwork and getting the knowledge she had in her head onto paper and getting tasks finished that she showed the struggle. took till year 3, due to different things getting in the way or pushing back the line of sending her to be assessed. before starting school she seems miles ahead yet got to school and struggled with that academic side of it. getting the info from her head to the paper.


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