Do Australians Send Their Children To School Too Early?

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Across Australia, starting ages for school are highly variable with some children starting school as young as 4.5 years old and others being as old as 6.

“Cut off” dates indicate the age a child has to have turned 5 by to be enrolled in school. These differ widely between between states.

  • ACT, VIC – 30th April
  • NSW – July 31st
  • QLD, NT, WA – June 30th
  • SA – 1st May
  • Tasmania – January 1st

A recent Queensland study has found that parents are increasingly deciding to hold their children back from starting school until they are 6 years old. The study found the proportion of parents holding children back almost doubled between 2010 and 2014, going from 1.5 per cent to 2.9 per cent.

In NSW it is reported that approximately 22 per cent of parents hold their children back.

The study found that issues influencing parents’ decisions are:

  • how close a child was to the cut-off age
  • maturity of the child
  • impact on later years
  • parent’s own school experience

The perceived academic pressure put on kids in the first year of school is also a major factor. Kindergarten/prep/reception years are moving from predominately play-based curriculum to a more academic focus.

Interestingly, the majority of those students delaying starting school were boys.

The good news for those parents choosing to hold their kids back is that research from Standford University validates their decision. Their research shows that kids who started school at 6 instead of 5 showed 73 per cent better outcomes in relation to hyperactivity and inattention 4 years later.

Research also supports the argument for a more play-based curriculum in the first year of schooling as it benefits mental and social development. The study found that the development of executive functioning and self regulation skills are the key to learning success.

“The one year delay dramatically improves a child’s self-regulation abilities even into later childhood,” the researchers claim.

Countries such as Finland don’t start school until they are 8 years old. Before this age they attend a preschool program focusing social skills and play-based learning, or they are educated at home. This obviously poses no academic disadvantage as they are one of the top-performing nations in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

While all this research points to a later starting age benefiting children emotionally, mentally and academically, Australian parents are still faced with the difficult decision of when to start their children at school.

As a parent with a child in the younger cohort, I was not made aware by the school or his preschool, that holding my child back was an option. I wish I had been.

Apart from a reform of the Australian education system changing the starting age of school, more information and support needs to be available to assist parents in making this decision.

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Renee Meier

Renée is a freelance writer, perpetual student and aspiring novelist. In her spare time she’s the sole parent to 3 rambunctious little people. She survives predominantly on coffee and squishy hugs.

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