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School starting age to change and attendance made compulsory upon starting

Drop off at preschool or schoolWe have all been made aware through the media that the Education Minister intended to change the Education Act to enable schools to take children in cohorts instead of children staring school on their 5th birthday and this is now very likely to happen.

The Minister has now presented the Education (Update) Amendment Bill to Parliament and it sets out regulations permitting schools to practise cohort entry if they choose - and most or all are expected to.

However, it decreases rather than increases the school entry age - children are to begin school in the term before their fifth birthday (not the term after their birthday) if the birthday falls before the mid-point of the school term.

Depending upon children’s date of birth, some children could start school up to six weeks before their fifth birthday in terms 1, 2 and 3, and up to eight weeks in term 4.  This may include school term break time.

The start date for other children could be delayed up to six weeks in terms 1, 2 and 3; and up to eight weeks in term 4 * (see examples below).

The reason for cohort entry before the 5th birthday is purely financial. The Ministry of Education identified financial risk to the Government of schools individually deciding to take children in cohorts after children turn five resulting in children spending longer in ECE and therefore this legislation is being brought in.

The new Bill also sets out that attendance at school will be compulsory once children have enrolled, even when children are not yet six years old. Parents, however, will still have the choice to delay enrolment until the child’s sixth birthday, though the Ministry of Education believes only a very small proportion of families will choose to delay school enrolment.

*  Examples of when children will be able to enrol at a school that has cohort entry (examples provided by the Education Ministry)

Hana turns five in week eight of term one. As her birthday is closest to the beginning of term two, if she was enrolling in a school with cohort entry she would need to wait until the beginning of term two to start school.

Tom turns five in week six of term four. As his birthday is closest to the beginning of term four, if he was enrolling in a school with cohort entry he could start school at the beginning of term four, or the beginning of a later term.


The financial costs and benefits

It will save the Government about $11.2million in ECE subsidies if all schools embrace cohort entry which includes enforcing attendance.

The Ministry of Education believes that there will be a reduction in the demand for ECE hours overall as more children are likely to leave ECE earlier than otherwise in term 4, compared to those whose departure is delayed because of the impact of the summer holiday break.

Some families will save up to eight weeks or more on childcare fees – and the school programme offers 30 Hours Free which is 10 more hours than the 20 Hours ECE funding at ECE services. Transition to school day visits may start in the term before a child is due to start and parents may decide to save money on ECE fees by withdrawing their child when school visits start.

The Social Security (Childcare Assistance) Regulations will need to be amended to enable families to access MSD childcare subsidies during the period between a child’s fifth birthday and when the child can enrol in a school with cohort entry arrangements, and to access OSCAR subsidies where a child starts school before his/her fifth birthday. At present the Ministry of Social Development childcare subsidy is only available up to 28 days after a child turns five.


A concern for parents and children

Compulsory education under 5 years of age seems a strong stance for the state to take, particularly for children so young. It does not support international best evidence on the benefits of starting school later at 6 or 7 years of age. It also does not support parents’ right to decide what is in their child’s best interests, for example to allow their child to stay home when they are tired or finding adjustment stressful.


Concerns for schools

The attendance rates of school students whose parents are not guided by the current legal compulsion for 6 years are not likely to be improved by making school compulsory upon starting.

Schools are likely to face difficulties in establishing constructive relationships with families whose child for example has a birthday on the day of the mid-point of term and it is not clear cut when the child would be eligible to start, and difficulties in managing situations where parents miss the enrolment date.


Concerns for ECE providers and teaching staff

ECE providers will need to adjust staffing and their business model to manage the loss of a larger group of children at one time, depending on what schools children go to and if the schools adopt cohort entry.

ECE teachers may find challenges in preparing younger children for transition to school and children (and parents) who may not be ready for this. ECE teachers may find themselves providing education to families around school enrolment requirements, reminding parents of cut-off dates, and more counselling for parents trying to balance financial, their own work interests, and their child’s interests.


The evidence on what age is best for children to start school

Click here to go to a thought-provoking article that sets out the evidence along with the practical pros and cons of changing the school entry age and the age at which it is compulsory for children to be informal education.


What are the concerns likely to come up for you or others around you?

The Amendment Act is at the early stage of its first reading and going to select committee so it is not too late to have your say or raise any matter that may have been missed.

We are keen to your thoughts about this. Comments can be added below.

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