There has been lots of debates this week in the news and on social media about the delaying the start of school for summer-born or premature children. I have read them with interest as a teacher and a parent and these are my view on when to start school.
The first thing that stuck out for me is how many parents didn’t seem to be aware that they could delay their child starting school. Legally, a child doesn’t have to start until the September after they are five years old, however, it is generally accepted that children start school the September after their fourth birthday. In fact, parents are actively encouraged to apply for a school place for their four year old by receiving application forms through the post with deadlines to apply by.
So parents have a choice if they feel that their child isn’t ready for school at four. But there is a problem for working parents here. While you do have a legal choice, the Government will not provide the 15 hours of childcare, that every three year old is entitled to, after the September that your child turns four. For an average nursery place, this funding equates to £240 a month of childcare. So, if a working parent, who has to use childcare, decides to delay their child’s entry into school, they will need to find an extra £240 of childcare a month compared to what they were paying before the September. A full-time space at school if, of course, free. So for financial reasons, some parents may feel that they don’t really have a choice to delay their child’s start at school.
I often wonder why the Government does not continue to pay for the 15 hours childcare after the September that a child turns four, especially as it is not a legal requirement for that child to attend school at that age. The only conclusion that I can come to is that it is a ploy to encourage more parents to start their child at school at four rather than five years old. And I believe that this strategy works. After all, paying for a full-time nursery place for a 3/4 year old averages at £755 a month without the 15 hours funding compared to a free school place. Is this really a choice for most working parents?
However, ignoring the costs of delaying school entry, there was a report this week in the news that stated that “Delaying school entry could cause poorer academic performance”. This is referring to parents deciding not to send their child to school the September after they turn five and missing out on reception. Personally, I think it is headline designed to shock and scare parents. When fully reading the article though, it explains that the research was undertaken in Germany and was comparing children who missed a year of education at the age of 6-7. There is no evidence that starting education in the UK at the age of five rather than four is detrimental, although the headlines don’t make this explicit.
So when should children start school?
I started school a week after my fourth birthday as my date of birth is the 24th of August. I was the second youngest child in my school year throughout my education. My mum tells me that I was ready for school at this young age as I was able to read at the age of three and was getting bored at home. I passed my GCSEs and A Levels, so would argue that delaying the start of school life for me wouldn’t have been necessary.
However, every child is different and some summer-born children may not be ready for school a couple of weeks or months after turning four. There are also children with social and emotional needs who may benefit from a home or small nurturing nursery for another year.
It really should be parental choice. Although I feel that, as I have explained, financial pressure and the media influence parental choice. It shouldn’t be the case. We should do what is best for our children.
Personally (as a parent and teacher), I feel that we formally educate our children too young and that, instead of pressuring parents to send their children to school at four, the Government should be looking at other countries with later school starting ages but better literacy and numeracy results in order to improve our educational system.