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Evidence check: School Starting Age

Education Committee

Thank you for all comments submitted to the ‘Evidence Check’ forum. The forum is now closed. Comments received will help the Committee evaluate the evidence received from the Department for Education.

The Committee will use the comments to select topics for one-off oral evidence sessions in early 2015.


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64 Contributions (since 18 November 2014)
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Total results 64 (page 2 of 7)

Peter Tymms and Christine Merrell

09 December 2014 at 20:31

Our judgement is that the age at which children should start school is not clear. There are several reasons for this and they are briefly outlined below: a) "School" is not clearly defined even though the age of starting school appears in official lists. When making international comparisons Kindergarten in some countries is very similar to school in others. School activity at age 4 in some countries seems more like pre-school in others. b) Arguments from international comparisons are problematic for many reasons. These include: a. The differing pre-school approaches, quality and availability in different countries. b. The different difficulties of learning to read in different languages. For example, Finnish is very easy in comparison to English. c. Home upbringing varies systematically from country to country. In some countries children are generally taught to read before school whereas in others there is a lot of early mathematics play. c) Recent research findings do not point to clear pictures. These include: a. The excellent recent study from Northern Ireland on the enriched curriculum b. The US study showing that progress in maths in early-years settings predicts later maths. d) The New Zealand model of starting school on the 5th birthday is interesting as is the idea of starting school “when ready”. e) We have conducted a study in Scotland to try to estimate the optimum age of starting school and failed to come to a clear conclusion. Children Starting School in Scotland Further references can be provided Professor Peter Tymms and Dr Christine Merrell Durham University


04 December 2014 at 21:34

I totally agree with what Maria has written below (1December). Steve Biddulph in his book 'Raising Boys' says "At the age of four, for reasons nobody quite understands, boys receive a sudden surge of testosterone, doubling their previous levels. At this age Jamie may become much more interested in action, heroics, adventures and vigorous play..... At five years of age, the testosterone drops by a half and young Jamie calms down again, just in time for school". Only in this country we haven't listened and continue to ask our four year old boys to sit quietly in class, learn phonics and bring reading books home for their spare time. We do them a massive disservice as we continue to ignore the insight we now have about their (and girls') development.


01 December 2014 at 20:38

Please make this change quickly so that no more 4 and 5 year olds have to go through the exhausting curriculum and hours that leave them tearful, tired and emotional at the end of each day. Family life is pretty poor after school has sucked the life and energy out of our children. Let them learn and play but don't force feed maths, reading and writing on them at such a young age, turning them off learning all together before they have even started.


29 November 2014 at 11:49

I don't think you need me to quote research about the benefits of delaying school until age 7 it is available for all who look and the results speak for themselves. Personally I held my daughter out of school until she was 5 and would prefer to flexi school her even now as she cannot cope well with 5 days a week so young. I am still considering pulling her out and home schooling until 7. She is too tired to enjoy family life when she finishes school yet cannot switch off easily to sleep. Please, let the children be children. In line with that stop pressuring parents to return to work so they don't feel forced to out their children in school aged 4 to avoid extortionate child care costs.


29 November 2014 at 01:09

Uniforms, homework, desks, sensible shoes, being mostly indoors, still and quiet, achievement points, failure - should not be part of any child's life before the age of 7. Before then they should be with family, friends or a nurturing kindergarten - learning about relationships, gaining confidence, firing their curiosity, strengthening their bodies, learning as they play and interact with other children and adults of different ages, watching and understanding the world. I feel I have lost my daughter in some ways, a young 5 and in year 1 - school gets the best of her, we have the tiredness, the tears and see her changing herself to please her peers. She does not get much time to do what she enjoys during the day. The irony of so much sitting time following by prescriptive PE = let them run around, climb, jump and learn outdoors - it is what they are naturally programmed to do! I understand that some children may be better off in school than being neglected at home, but this rule should not be applied to all. There are some great parents out there loosing precious time to guide their young children, much more effectively than a teacher with 29 other 4 and 5 year olds to consider. Part time, no uniforms, predominantly outdoor preschool until 7. More for children at risk of not developing at home. We need to go back to the basics and evaluate exactly what is best for our children and not just keep on doing what we have always done because we have always done it.

R Dougall

28 November 2014 at 15:02

I do not understand why the Government continually ignore research and studies showing that starting school as young as we do in England, Scotland and Wales has No benefits for the children who attend. The research shows that it is in fact more beneficial to start formal learning at 6 or 7 years old. In countries like Sweden that have this starting age, students do just as well as British students, if not better. The starting age in Britain being so low combined with the compulsory finish age increase is just ridiculous. Children need to learn things through play when they are 5, not be stuck at a desk writing for the majority of the day. Please consider a later school start age. I understand that the government have partly put this into place so that parents can go to work whilst their child is at school, but moving the funding from school to more play based learning (that is optional until aged 6/7 will cost no more money than having children start formal learning at 5. It is to the counties detriment that we carry on this compulsory school start age. Our children are loosing large chunks of their childhood whilst this carries on.

Kate Gee

28 November 2014 at 14:14

The report doesn't focus on the right question which is not where kids should be in preschool (as they say there's lots of evidence to suggest a positive correlation for preschool attendance with certain aspects of development when older) but whether it is damaging to start formal schooling at the age of 4 or 5, or whether it would be better to preschool til the children are 6 years old, so the important questions is at what age formal school education should begin. My own experience with my own son, now 5.75 years old and home schooled, is that starting school at exactly 4.5 years was far too early for him. We left after two terms. Nearly two terms later, his home ed curriculum attends to his needs and within another term by which time he will be 6, I feel he will be ready to start flexi schooling 3 days a week. All the difficulty and trauma of him not being ready for school at 4, along with the school's refusal to allow flex schooling because it would affect their attendance numbers, resulting in the need to withdraw him from school, along with the effect this then had on my ability to work as a single parent, and economic consequences of this could have been avoided if preschools were set up and funded to take children until the term after their 6th birthday. We would have a much happier, healthier (in mind and body) population of children and eventually adults if this simple approach was taken, as well as the introduction of the forest school system to mainstream schools that they run in Scandinavia.

Emma Penter

28 November 2014 at 14:11

This 'evidence' is not knew. Our knowledge of the science of learning has long understood that around age 7 is the optimum tine to commence academic learning. Ignoring this is detrimental to the wellbeing of our children. This is fact!

E Parker

27 November 2014 at 20:50

I firmly believe that formal education should not begin until a child is 6/7 years old. Until this time children should be provided with an environment that encourages their natural curiosity and thirst for learning through play and experience. They should be given lots of outdoor time and space. The role of educators in this should be to develop confidence, communication, wonder and joy. Teachers should nurture social and life skills before the traditional 3 'r's. Reading through the evidence check it is apparent our school system developed out of the needs of parents due to societal pressure and not the needs of children and what we know about their development and capacity to learn.

Stuart Walsh

27 November 2014 at 18:13

Now more than ever Children need to start their formal education later. I believe the biggest problem this country faces with regards to children is an identity crisis 'who am I?' Which will end in all sorts of social problems occurring in today's world. This is not taught by learning to read and write but by play, by social interaction, by a sense of belonging often not afforded to our children, but having themselves realise their physical limitations. Only on this strong foundation can you develop a wholesome, loving child who is willing and ready to learn. It's not a race. A screw may take longer and is harder to attach to a wall, but it's more secure than a hammer and nail.

Total results 64 (page 2 of 7)