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Parents grip the comfort blanket

COUNCILS ARE increasingly concerned that parents, mainly in affluent areas, are keeping children at nursery school who could be going to primary. Such children do not qualify for Government money for four-year-olds.

Both Edinburgh and Aberdeen have noted a rise in deferment requests, and Edinburgh yesterday (Thursday) adopted guidelines aimed at encouraging parents to opt for a year's postponement only if a child shows signs of immaturity.

Nursery places for deferred entrants rose from 294 in 1997-98 to 309 this session. This costs Edinburgh pound;387,000 a year because of the lack of Scottish Office support.

The media debate about whether five is too early a primary start, plus the introduction of baseline assessment for four-year-olds, were factors influencing parents, councillors were told.

Parents in disadvantaged areas are the least likely to request deferment. In West Dunbartonshire, which has areas of severe deprivation, such requests remain rare. In Aberdeen, 200 requests for deferment are made each year, a figure Jeff Anderson, education officer for nursery and primary, described as "significant". Requests were mainly from more affluent areas, although that could be because these areas are less well served with local authority nurseries, Mr Anderson suggested.

Aberdeen has issued new advice to nursery heads stressing immaturity as a criterion for postponing primary entry. "We want parents to think clearly about their decision," Mr Anderson said.

But Judith Gillespie, development officer of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "If parents do not feel their child is ready for primary school they would be very wise to hold them back."

Mrs Gillespie recalled research by the former Scottish Examination Board which showed that younger children did less well in Standard grade maths.

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