Do our children start school too young?

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This September, all across the UK, thousands of parents will have experienced the huge emotional pull of seeing their children start school for the very first time. No doubt there will have been tears, and hugs, and plenty of reflection at what is a genuine new life stage for their kids.


There’s no doubt, too, that many parents will have remarked on the speedy passing of time and also voiced concerns that their little ones aren’t quite ‘ready’ to start full-time education. They have a point. The topic of whether UK children start school too young has been discussed at length for many years now and won’t be easing up any time soon.


An article in the Guardian stated that 88% of countries in the world have a school starting age of six or seven, in order ‘to ensure that their children are given the space and time to develop all their neuro-physiological, social and emotional capacities.’


At around the same time, the Too Much, Too Soon Campaign was launched in 2013 by the Save Childhood Movement. ‘Very few countries have a school starting age as young as four, as we do in England,’ the campaign noted in an open letter sent to the Telegraph. ‘Children who enter school at 6 or 7 – after several years of high quality nursery education – consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing.’ A powerful side of the argument is that children can focus and concentrate more at an older age, and are therefore better equipped for schooling. They are also more capable of coping with formal testing.


At Early Years Foundation Stage the emphasis is on learning through play and assessment is based on classroom observation, therefore, school starters aren’t tested. This stage of education bridges the gap between nursery and primary school, using arts and crafts, messy play, role play and imaginative resources – readily supplied by companies like Hope Education – to maintain a fun and creative atmosphere. That’s the reality of school life for four and five year olds.


Currently, children have to start school in the UK by the age of five, but many enter Foundation/Reception at four, depending on which school year they fall in. The difficulty in setting a strict age-specific entry point is that children mature at different rates and it’s completely possible to have a four-year-old who is more than ready to start school, and a four-and-a-half year-old who is not.


The issue of summer-born children – the very youngest pupils beginning primary school education, for they could have a birthday in August and start the very next month, besides classmates who are 11 months older than them – is being debated now. Parents of summer-born children can delay their start to school until they are five, but this means children will miss the first year (Foundation/Reception) and go straight into Year 1.


Effectively, then, they are a year behind their peers. But new proposals would see them start in reception at the age of five. ‘Parents know their children best and we want to make sure summer-born children can start reception at the age of five if parents think it is in their best interests,’ said Schools Minister Nick Gibb.


For those who want a later start to school, it’s a step in the right direction at least.