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Should children start school later?

A group of educational experts through the Save Childhood Movement has written to The Daily Telegraph to push the case for children not starting school until they are 6 or 7.

At the moment, a child usually starts school the September before they turn five. However, the letter suggests that starting later would give a child longer ‘to be a child’ and that the extra time spent improving their ‘social and emotional learning’ would stand them in better stead when the time came to start learning in a classroom.

England is in a minority when it comes to sending children to school at 5: only in England, Scotland, Wales, Cyprus and Malta do children start this young. In countries such as France, Germany, Norway and Spain, the age is 6; and in a handful of countries including Finland, Poland and Sweden, children start at 7. (Interestingly, in Ireland, children start school at 4).

It has been considered that schooling children early ensures better academic results, but the founding director of the Save Childhood Movement, Weny Ellyatt, says: “there is nothing wrong with seeking high educational standards and accountability, but there is surely something very wrong indeed if this comes at the cost of natural development.”

The government has responded strongly with a spokesman for Michael Gove dismissing the letter, saying the letter’s authors were ‘responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools’.

Would it make a difference if students started school a year later? Would ‘missing’ a year mean children would struggle to reach the same academic levels they do now at the end of, say, Key Stage 2? We see many students who have fallen behind quickly catch up with one-to-one help – but perhaps that is the key: with individual teaching and support, students are able to cover ground much faster; so for the government to decide that children should start school later, perhaps class sizes and teacher-to-student ratios would have to change as well?

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1 comment

Reblogged this on Shell Pebble and commented:
The counterargument I heard on the radio from the Gove side was that starting school later would increase the inequality in educational achievement caused by poverty/deprivation, because we would be leaving it later to ‘start closing the gap’. I think that idea is very offensive, and it’s unsupported by research.

The implication is that parents in economically deprived/working class homes don’t do enough to support their children’s learning. I’m sure that there are many parents who struggle to give as much time and support to their children as they want to because of hardship, but it’s wrong to assume that they will always be worse parents than richer, higher status, better educated ones; that they don’t or don’t want to read to, play with, and actively teach their children. The suggestion that taking their children away from them sooner, rather than enabling them to spend more time parenting by fighting economic inequality, is wholly regressive.

I studied underachievement and social inequality on my PGCE, and it was very clear that poverty is the strongest correlate of underachievement at GCSE. However, the gap WIDENS rather than closes over a child’s school career, which gives the lie to the story pushed by the Tories.

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