Is the school starting age being lowered or a new early years sector emerging? This question matters now that the majority of four-year-olds are spending some time in a school-type setting.
While many other countries around the world achieve almost universal literacy levels with a later starting age for their primary schools, in England the dominance of the school setting seems to be supreme, at least for four-year-olds. Figures for the Department for Children, Schools and Families for January this year show only 117,000 of the age group in settings that are not maintained primary or nursery schools.
Among three-year-olds, the balance is slightly different, although, even here, almost a quarter of a million three-year-olds are in primary or nursery schools for a part of the week, many probably in buildings not designed for their age group.
This means that overall, not far short of 90 per cent of three-year-olds, and almost all four-year-olds are now in some type of part-time education. Of these, nearly five times as many four-year-olds are in infant classes than in nursery schools or classes. This means that there is no guarantee that many will be taught with a teacher specially trained to deal with their age group.
How many hours are funded for each child differs from area to area, but some children can spend part of the week in one place and part in another. Nevertheless, there are still some regional differences that raise the questions of where are children most likely to benefit from an early start in school?
- John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.