Formal education should start at six

21st September 2007 at 01:00
Summer-born pupils suffer because they get too little nursery tuition

ALL CHILDREN should start formal education at the age of six to allow summer born children more nursery education, according to leading academics.

The length of quality nursery education does help children do well an earlier start does not and children with summer birthdays are missing out because of the way primary schools are organised.

Children are currently entitled to free early years education, from the term after they turn three until they start school.

But with most schools now only admitting children once a year, rather than in the term they turn five, some get five terms of pre-school education while others get only three. Research shows summer borns generally do less well at school. Dr David Whitebread, of Cambridge University, and Jane Payler, of the University of Winchester, have argued that the system is highly discriminatory and indefensible in a report for Early Years, the journal of early years campaign group Tactyc.

Speaking to The TES, Dr Whitebread advocated a change to the system so that younger children missed part of Year 1, rather than nursery. Although the compulsory school starting age would remain at five, the proposal would mean that formal education by year group would begin at age six, mimicking Europe.

He said: "Children whose birthdays are at the end of August start in reception when they are only just four and in the same class are children who will be five within days. That means some will have had more nursery time than others. Others are introduced to things too early, when they are not capable of taking them in, which potentially undermines their confidence.

"The evidence suggests that having formal schooling earlier doesn't have an effect, but the Effective Provision of Preschool Education research shows that the length of time in a good quality nursery school does.

"Instead of the present arrangements, if you had three intakes into nursery, then continued to have three intakes into reception and three intakes into Year 1, then every child would have one full year in part-time nursery classes and one full year in full-time reception.

"There would be a cost because staff ratios are different. But children would be educated in a way that is more age-appropriate."

Gail Bedford, a primary consultant, said: "Certainly the theory behind it is laudable, because it acknowledges children are being pressured into an inappropriate curriculum at an early age. But schools would wonder how on earth they could manage children entering the pressurised culture of Year 2, an assessment year, with different experiences of Year 1."

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