What age is best to start school in NZ? The evidence and practical pros and cons of lowering the age or increasing it

By Dr Sarah Alexander expert on child learning and effective teaching
© ChildForum

school bagsIn New Zealand nearly all children have their first full day at primary school on or very close to their 5th birthday. This is a social custom as it is not a legal requirement for families to enrol their child until 6 years of age. Parents have a choice to continue their child in early childhood education or to stay at home until 6.

There are academic arguments for and against starting school before Age 5 or changing the compulsory age to 6 or 7.  There are also a number of practical and financial arguments.

At schools in the Tamaki-Glen Innes area children, two-thirds of whom are Pasifika students (whose main language at home is not English and another quarter are Maori) are reported to be starting school two years academically behind the national average. 

Children living in the most deprived areas where families do not have access to a licensed ECE programme are one group for whom lowering the school age to 4 years is a strategy worth considering to raise child outcomes.

A second group of children for whom consideration could be given for allowing an earlier entry to school than 5 years would be preschoolers who are gifted and needing more intellectual challenge than their same age peers. 

BUT there are issues to consider for both groups of children, such as the appropriateness of the school curriculum and setting. 

AND in countries with well-resourced early childhood education systems where the school starting age is 6 or 7 years of age children are not disadvantaged by a later school starting age and do just as well academically - and arguably better! 

Research on the benefits, or otherwise is not clear-cut and this is also discussed below.

On top of such issues early childhood providers understandably may be very sensitive about any discussion of lowering the school entry age, as if this were to happen schools would be taking some of their potential clients (i.e. families) and possibly even some of the funding that Government pays to the ECE sector.

There are many aspects to consider, learn about, discuss and debate. Read more ...


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