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?