Too Young for School?
I’m still waiting to hear what school my three and a half year-old twin girls are going to in September. By then they will only be four and three months and I am concerned that they just won’t be ready to go. They were born prematurely and are still young for their age.
Last year saw the first intake of rising fives to all the local schools in our area. And when I see the foundation stage children in the playground, I can’t help wondering whether another year at a pre-school or nursery in a less formal setting, might have been a better option for them all - particularly when children in other European countries, like Finland or Denmark, don’t start their formal education until they are six or seven years old.
Labour changed the schools admission policy in 2009. It now means that all children have the option of starting school in the September after their fourth birthday. Before, children born in the summer often moved on to primary school in the January or April before they turned five. Where we live it was the term after they turned five.
The school my eldest goes to has built a beautiful new classroom and play area for the fresh intake of children. They are doing a great job accommodating the youngest members of the school.
But some parents have raised concerns about the day being too long for the children. In response, the school and governors did consult the parents about shortening the day for the younger children. This wasn’t implemented because there were too many objections, although they are still considering it as an option for the foundation stage.
We don’t have to send our girls in September, we can keep them at their nursery and at home for one or two more terms and then send them to school in the Spring or the Summer term instead.
Our dilemma is this: I worry that delaying the start for two more terms will cause them to lag behind their peers, even though there is also lots of evidence that starting too young can be stressful.
According to a review of primary education led by Cambridge University in 2009, children should not start school until they turn six as school is stressful and young pupils’ needs are often not being met. It argued that reception children should have more space, time for play and equipment suitable for their age.
One of the main arguments put forward by the government of the time was that this change in policy would counter the fact that summer born children fare worse in exams.
It is well documented that summer born babies are less likely to achieve good GCSEs and A-levels results or go to university, than kids born in earlier in the school year. It is hoped that sending them to school earlier, will reverse this trend.
Perhaps it is time that school admissions and classes were looked at from a different perspective. Why not put children in classes by ability rather than purely by age? In America and in France, it is common for children to stay back a year if they haven’t reached the expected academic standards and brighter students are sometimes moved up a year.
As a parent I do have some options and I am grateful for that. Regarding my twin girls starting school, the current plan for September is to ‘wait and see’. If I think they’re not ready to go to school, I will keep them at home for as long as I can.
Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.