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Early-years worry

A new study suggests that starting pre-school too early can harm children's

prospects, reports David Henderson

MINISTERS WILL face renewed pressure to allow parents to choose the timing of their child's two-year entitlement to pre-school education following conclusive findings in Aberdeen that some very young children never catch up with their primary peers.

They are often ill-prepared for formal learning and would benefit from further time in pre-school. Immature boys may be particularly disadvantaged, leaving them trailing girls academically for most of their schooling.

The evidence confirms previous research by the Scottish Qualifications Authority which found that many four-year-olds fail to shake off the age disadvantage, even 11 years later at Standard grade.

Research in Aberdeen shows P1 pupils' ages can differ by well over a year, depending on birthdays and parental keenness to have them at school.

Concern about early entry to primary has persuaded the Scottish Parent Teacher Council to demand a right for parents to delay sending a child to nursery until they are four-and-a-half. The council is winning cross-party support for an amendment to the education Bill, which began its committee process on Wednesday.

Judith Gillespie, the SPTC's development manager, said parents should be entitled to two years' pre-school education between the ages of three and five, and not feel driven to take up a place shortly after their chil reaches three.

John Stodter, director of education in Aberdeen, told a school improvement conference in Stirling this week that the age of pupils entering primary was "the most significant factor" to emerge from two years' baseline assessment results, carried out for the city by the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University.

All Aberdeen pupils since 1997 have been given standard tests on entry to primary and again at the end of the year.

Mr Stodter said: "Age is the most important determinant. The more mature you are, the better you will do. My message to parents is not to assume that the best thing to do is to get your child into school as early as possible."

He added: "I think it's to do with social skills and the confidence youngsters have. Some teachers are beginning to say some youngsters are just not ready for school and teachers find it quite frustrating if they try and persuade parents they should have another year of nursery."

Linda Croxford, CES senior research fellow and lead researcher on the Aberdeen project, said: "From what we've done in early intervention, it (the parent teacher council amendment) does seem appropriate. The age difference goes on all through school."

Dr Croxford added: "Some of the research on gender and attainment issues shows that boys have not reached the same age of maturity as girls." There was a strong argument for delaying the entry of some boys to primary, she said.

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