Thursday, 2 September 2010

back to school ~ what's the right age to start school?

my youngest is starting school next week aged four and a half. His older brother, being a summer baby, started school a few years ago aged only just four, and was in a class with children that were 11 months older than him, which at four is 25% of their lifetime! Is this gap too great and does it ever close?

Last year (2009), the Independant Review of the Primary Curriculum by Sir Jim Rose, acknowledged the gap and highlighted the need for flexibility...
"summer-born children are up to a year younger than their classmates when they sit tests at the end of each Key Stage. This can affect their performance right through school age up to the age of 16… Given the concerns expressed to us by parents I would like you to consider whether it would be appropriate to allow more choice and flexibility in start dates for children entering primary school."

Experts at the Higher Education Policy Institute have also found that at GCSE level, 10,000 teenagers fail to score five good grades simply because they are the youngest in the academic year.

Scandinavian countries start formal education when a child is seven and by the time they sit exams they are more academically advanced than UK children. I have friends whose children attend Steiner schools, and this is true of their education model too, they start to read and write from the age of seven, soon catching up with state schools.

Looking back, my eldest was ready to go to school, in that he is very sociable, full of ideas and just loves school, but a few things really knocked his confidence early on, one being his teacher telling him to sit still all the time and when he couldn't, keeping him in from playtime, he was only just four, I am adamant that you are not meant to sit still for great lengths of time at that age! And keeping young boys in from playtime is just asking for trouble ~ if they are playing up, run them around the grounds then they might just concentrate!
Like all parents I want the best for my children and hate to think that their birth dates may prevent them reaching their full potentials in the state system? What do you think? I would love to hear your views and opinions as this is something that I really worry about.


  1. Hi Emma
    Reading this post, I really feel for you. I wish there was a perfect answer, but I'm not sure there is - well, apart from us all emigrating to Scandinavia! I'm an ex-Headteacher of a Nursery and Infant School. All I know is that so VERY MUCH depends on the individual school and their educational values and what actually happens for the 6+ hours that the children are in the care of the school. My own values and practice are 100% based on play-based, child-initiated learning which allows younger children, introverted children, very active children, etc, to be themselves, have autonomy of their learning, etc. But now, hubby and I are in the process of being approved for adoption and we want to adopt pre-school age children. And I find myself thinking more and more about the decisions we'll have to make when they are school age. And though I very much believe it is a good thing for children to attend their local school, if our local schools are too formal, I'll be putting the little ones in a car and going elsewhere.
    My comment probably doesn't help you a great deal (!) but I can certainly empathise!
    Denise x

  2. I have a physically small June baby, I do wish there was some lea way. In theory I could keep her back until the following year but she would join year 1 rather than year R so would be at a disadvantage whatever. I am sure she will love it once she gets there next year. In Australia I think the cut off is April for September start so no one is younger than 4.5.

  3. Oh Emma, I found this so interesting. My oldest is starting school full day school next week at age 5 1/2 and it still seems too young! Although I think I am struggling with the idea more than he is. :)

    Also, I thought you might find this article interesting.

  4. As you know, Evie started school today and will be 5 at the start of October. So a)she's a girl and b)she's amongst the eldest kids. Given that she has other things that may affect her confidence at school - transracially adopted and, as a southern Chinese child, already way smaller than her peers - I'm very happy she has a bit of a head start. Her cousin, a boy, started school and at 4 yrs and three weeks old it was very, very tough on him. I think we should keep our kids at home until seven too. And then stagger entry dates. Your boys are awesome :) And we need a playdate!

  5. Having seen almost four through to the end my partner and I are agreed that the later start has been the worst at the exiting end. We had one start early and finish school at age 17. The other three started as older children and finished school age 18 - with us dragging them kicking and screaming. Now let me say it's difficult to drag an adult (legally able to drink and vote) through those final years of school. I'd be happy to talk through the pros and cons more ... my email's on the sidebar of my blog. Each child is individual and you'll always know best what the decision is for the age they're at but you can't possibly know how your decision will play out at the other end.

    I also saw you deleted a post I am assuming was about independece. A Girl Guide leader I have noted a distinct lack of independent thinking among our members. In fact, the other leader and I think our encouragement of it is part of the reason we have such a strong unit. The girls are allowed to try, and more importantly to fail. We had a cracker of a night last night which was all about team work and independent thinking (they thought it was about cooking and selling food and eating - we had a unit night market). I am always impressed by what comes in the door, asking how, why, when, how again, is it right, is it good, will I win anything, to what we end up with after a school term or two telling me I did it, I had a go, I am doing it again, I won't do that again, I will try it this way next time. My favourite, of course, is I Did It! with beaming smile and wide eyes.

  6. my girl is a late August baby and I know just how you feel Emma:
    she's only just 15 and starting her final year at senior school:
    {many of her friends will be 16 in the coming weeks}
    the gap did seem huge when she was at primary school:
    not just academically but socially too:
    because of this, she is now a {quietly} confident young lady with her own mind and style:
    popular but not following the crowd: {proud me}
    in her studies she has been the middle of the class:
    sometimes overlooked:
    perhaps if your point of age were a bigger highlight within schools,
    our summer babies will have the same inclusion as everyone else:
    I still stand by the saying that a school is only as good as the parents involved in it:
    we are the parents who ask questions:
    because we know what's best for our children:

  7. I'm just seeing the youngest two of my four, (twins, boy and a girl, Spetember birth) starting their GCSE year. The eldest is off to uni in a couple of weeks. (Nov birth, girl).Second eldest has just been asked to leave school at the end of his AS year (boy, July birth). Despite the school using the reason for asking him to leave (or be forcibly excluded - not much choice there!)due to my son's supposed lack of attention and inability to reach targets - he achieved three fantastic results at AS which were way higher than the minimum this Ofsted grade 2 school set as the standard in order to return for the A2 year.

    After putting 4 through state run education, I have to reflect that yes - 7 would be a better age to start school. Boys and girls are very, very different in their attitude to school - but this seems to bear no relation to final results. And finally - I have no faith at all in state run schools' ability or willingness to support different learning styles and personalities.

    As an English specialist lecturer at a further education college, we ask every new 16 yrs + student to sit English and maths diagnostic tests before starting their course. It is so sad that in as many as 40% of results, the diagnostic result never reflects the GCSE result. For example, someone with a diagnostic result of Level 1 or Entry 3 - is very likely to have a GCSE English grade C - which actually equates to Level 2.

    If I could have my time over? Try and be brave enough to home educate with huge amounts of time given over to social activities with other children from other backgrounds. Good luck - you will meet good teachers and tired teachers along your journey and good schools and dreadful schools - try and always listen to your children, because somewhere in between the sentences, you'll hear the truth..

    Boo x

  8. My older son is a summer baby and stuggled when he started school at just 4, he found it hard to concentrate for the length of time they wanted and I kept being told he didn't sit still on the carpet during story time. Hardly surprising at 4! He is now 7 and has just started Year 3 and the difference in maturity is still evident as a couple of his classmates turn 8 this weekend.
    Some friends have just emigrated to Australia and their son will be at home for a year, despite just having completed Reception here, as they start school later there too.
    I think we will worry all the way through their school years (and beyond!) but without home educating or a windfall to pay for a different type of school, being involved with their school and asking questions, attending information evenings and encouraging them at home seems the best option.

  9. I have 3 children - boy, 10 (dec born) and 2 girls 8(july born) and 4 (august born). It is clear to me the girls were not ready to start school. My 4 year old cries at lunchtime because she wants me but she is not allowed to do half days. Even if her whole day is play centred, I don't see the value in going that young. She can play with me at home quite happily. I wish we all started school later. Staggered starts throughout reception year still put younger ones at a disadvantage as their older peers have been at school longer! I qualified as a primary school teacher, but didn't teach as i found the state school system so depressing in that it is impossible to meet the needs of 30 different children, and young, quiet ones do get overlooked. Putting my own children through the system is hard, and I am an active parent and have changed their school already because I didn't like the way my 8 yr old was just left behind because she was quiet, good and middling. If there was a campaign out there to put back the age of starting school, I would join it!
    Victoria, sutton, surrey


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