Is five too young to start school?

A groundswell of education experts are backing a British campaign to increase the starting age to seven.

More than 100 early childhood experts in Britain have signed an open letter calling for the formal schooling age to be changed from the current four or five to seven.

There is “overwhelming evidence”, write education experts David Whitebread and Sue Bingham in a supporting piece for New Scientist, “showing that starting school later is best”.

The early start in the UK and other countries such as New Zealand is inferior to the approach taken by the likes of Sweden and Finland, where it is seven, they argue.

“If we consider the contribution of play to children’s development as learners,” they write, “and the harm caused by starting formal learning at four to five years old, the evidence for a later start is persuasive”.

Which evidence? “Anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies.”. All suggest “play as a central mechanism in learning”. And the school environment may be detrimental at an early age.

“There is an equally substantial body of research concerning the worrying increase in stress and mental health problems among children whose childhood education is being ‘schoolified’. It suggests strong links with loss of playful experiences and increased achievement pressures.”

Taken together, they argue, the “strands of evidence raise important and serious questions about the trajectory of early education policy in England”.

Kathryn Ryan conducted a couple of interviews on this question on Nine to Noon this morning, speaking to German academic Dr Sebastian Suggate, a backer of the UK Too Much Too Soon campaign, and a professor of education at Otago University, Helen May, on the New Zealand example.

Listen to Is formal education starting too young? – Radio New Zealand National – Nine To Noon (bottom of page)


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