School readiness is currently a strong focus for education policy in England. However, understanding what it means to be ready for school, and how this is reflected in policy and enacted in practice, are sites of contention. This paper explores the genesis of the current disparity in understandings in the context of the English education system. A comparison of discourses reveals how early years is informed by distinctly different discourses which, transformed into practice, require different pedagogical approaches. This disparity is theorised within Bernstein’s Pedagogic Device and Pedagogies of Competence and Performance (Bernstein, B. 2000. Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity. Theory, Research, Critique. London: Rowman and Littlefield.). This provides a theoretical framework which enables articulation of how these discourses are transformed into practice and the resulting pedagogical practices which are shown to be distinctly different. The paper outlines how a politically driven change in discourse has resulted in enforced pedagogical change in early years, and considers whether this is likely to achieve the stated aim of enabling all children to be ready for school. The implications for policy and practice are discussed.