It is clear the current system needs to be overhauled, to take the burden of decision-making away from parents and to ensure a more equitable schooling system.
Yes, there are social and educational differences in the early years but the current system exacerbates them by allowing a 19-month age gap in the same year group. Most four-year olds will, understandably, be outpaced and outsmarted by their six-year old “peers”.
Mantras like “every child is different” and “choice is essential” are being put ahead of common sense and a system that works. In community and school sports, strict 12-month age ranges apply to competition and “playing down” is an offence. Yet, in academic learning, parents are not only welcome to play their child down but are praised for doing so.
I propose a simple system to address these inequities: that all children start school the year after they turn five. This fits with research that four-and-a-half is too young to start school, now that the first year of school is no longer play-based, and follows trends towards later starting ages in Australia and overseas.
There should be leeway for children who need schooling brought forward or delayed. But this should be a tiny minority, with a clear assessment process involving parents, preschool educators and specialists.
Let’s make this a national system and ensure all children receive the best preparation for kindergarten through government-subsidised, play-based preschool programs.
Tightening the school age will eliminate unnecessary angst, freeing parents and children to embrace the joys of the preschool years and the milestone of starting school.
Vivienne Pearson is a freelance writer.