Debate proposal says children should start primary school at age six

The Scottish National Party (SNP)’s policy convenor Toni Guigliano is backing a proposal to extend kindergarten from two to three years in Scotland. The proposal, which would see kids start primary school at around age six, is to be debated at the SNP party conference, taking place in Aberdeen from 8 to 10 October.

Mr Guigliano told BBC Radio Scotland’s Sunday Show: “”We are seeing more children with mental health problems. We are seeing more children with additional support needs and an attainment gap that is not narrowing at the scale that we would like. So what we are asking for is a culture shift in how we do early years education in this country.”

The policy proposal calls on the Scottish government to introduce “a statutory play-based kindergarten stage for three- to six-year-olds – similar to early years education in Nordic countries – and raise the formal school starting age to six”. The extended kindergarten stage would be followed by six years of primary education.

Mr Guigliano said: “The question is whether primary one sits with formal education or whether it sits with early years education. And if you listen to early years experts, parents, teachers they are very clear that no four or five-year-old should be subjected to the pressures of the formal school system.”

A spokesperson for The Scottish Government said: “While the government does not have plans to change the school age it is welcome that there is an active debate on these issues and all such contributions will form as part of the national discussion on education.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), told The Sunday Show his organisation was “not opposed to a strategy of kindergarten stage” but said the current system had “insufficient resources” and warned against a “disconnection” between early years and primary school education.

Campaign group Upstart Scotland states one of its key aims is establishing “a statutory play-based ‘kindergarten stage’ for Scottish children – based on well-established developmental principles and similar to the systems in Nordic countries – with a recognisably different ethos from primary schooling”.

A 2017 resolution by EIS called on the union to “investigate and report on the effect of an increase in the statutory age for starting primary school to age seven and the development of a compulsory kindergarten stage, where there is a focus on social skills and learning through play”.

In 2019, the resulting EIS report highlighted many potential benefits, such as greater emotional maturity when kids start school, greater ability to concentrate for longer, more independence and confidence, plus better skills for coping with school, such as changing clothes for PE or being toilet trained.

Journalist Emma Seith cautions in Tes Magazine (formerly the Times Education Supplement) that raising school start age “isn’t a sliver bullet” and needs to be resourced by “highly trained staff – and plenty of them”. She said: “In Scotland, preschool teacher numbers have fallen sharply: in 2010 there were 1,504 full-time equivalent teachers working in the sector, but by last year that figure had more than halved to 704 FTE.

“Other graduates, with degrees relevant to early years, work in the sector; there were 3,150 other graduates working in early learning and childcare last year, a 16 per cent increase on 2020.”

Although its report gave potential benefits, the EIS’s 2019 report was clear that the role of nursery teachers needs to be supported. It warned that focusing solely on school starting age “could let the government ‘off the hook’ for not employing enough teachers, and instead employing less qualified ELC staff”.

Seith concludes: “To have the desired impact on attainment, as well as children’s social and emotional development, highly trained staff and low staff-child ratios would be key.

“And, of course, there is a whole other elephant in the room to consider – how would the Scottish government square a move to a play-based approach with its much-criticised policy of testing the literacy and numeracy skills of children in P1?”

 

We would like to know what you, Scottish parents and carers, think about the proposal. Do you support raising the school start age? What do you think is the most appropriate age to start school? Do you think there are other more important factors than age to consider? Have your say in the comments at the bottom of this page, on our Facebook page at the link below, or send an email to editor@scotland4kids.com to share your thoughts.

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