Apr 16, 2009

Is 4 too young to start school?

Children should be allowed to delay the start of their compulsory schooling until they are at least six, a third of all primary school teachers say, in a report due to be published in full next month.

Three in four teachers are also adamant that it is wrong to admit children to mainstream classrooms at the age of four, according to a survey published today by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

A government inquiry is recommending that all children be allowed to start school in the September term after their fourth birthday.

Sir Jim Rose, the former Ofsted inspector, believes this will help counter the fact that summer-born children fare worse in exams because they start school at a later age.

His final report is expected to be published within the next month. Today’s survey of 700 teachers says many pointed out that children from Scandinavian countries did better in international tests than those in the UK despite the fact they did not start formal schooling until age seven.

Claire Jagger, a primary teacher in Cornwall, said: “I have taught in Finland, Lapland and Russia and have seen firsthand the way in which their seven-year-olds start school ready to learn.

“They are emotionally ready, socially able, physically content and mature enough to deal with the curriculum in school, bringing good solid life experience and a thirst for learning.”

Another teacher said: “Summer-born children, especially those born in August, often lack the maturity to cope with school. They would be better off staying at pre-school for longer but there is also a lot of parental pressure for the children to start school so they can go to work. I often feel like a child-minder and not a teacher.”

Teachers also said it was important for children to continue to learn through play right up to the age of 11. The survey comes as ATL members prepare to debate later today at their annual conference in Liverpool a call for the return of enjoyment in teaching and learning.

We have seen a real change at our nurseries over the last few years, as the school age has been lowered and many children now start in the school nursery class once they are 3, in order to secure a place in the Reception Class. Many children may still be wearing nappies at this age and it can cause real issues within a busy nursery class.  Hopefully the outcome of this report will be to encourage further debate about what is really the right time for children to start in formal education; at least the new Early Years Foundation Stage should see a continued emphasis on learning through play right through the first year a child is in school.  We feel that the most helpful thing we can do is to work with the schools which our nurseries feed into and try and ease the settling in route. Many of you may have seen ‘Louie’, our puppet, in each of the Lincoln nurseries, who has a big brother at school and is a focus for discussion and role play around moving on to school. If you have any ideas for improving this transition, do let us know.


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