Many Australian parents are positively counting down the days until their child can enrol in school and start on the magical journey of education.
Surely, the earlier they get in, the better it will be for them?
As it turns out, that might not be the case after all, with some childhood development experts saying that an early transition into formal school might actually be detrimental to the learning and wellbeing of students.
When Do Kids Start School In Australia?
The average age for children to start school in Australia is 5.2 years old, but the actual on-the-book regulations vary from state to state, depending on the facilities in place, and whether transition (or prep) is compulsory or not. However, in general, kids absolutely must be in school by the time they’re six, with starting school later than that not just unheard of, but also illegal without adequate reasoning.
How Do We Stack Up?
The schooling regulations, to anyone living in Australia, seem pretty average and logical. School is a good thing, right?
In fact, Australian kids start school younger than almost anywhere else in the developed world! Only British kids start around the same time as us, and looking at the performance of our kids against some of the high achievers, it might be time to reassess why.
Kids in places like Finland and Korea start school as much as two years later than Australian kids, which you would think means those kids are going to suffer academically, but in fact, the opposite is true.
In Singapore, Shanghai and Finland, who take out the top three stops for the highest-performing education systems, the average starting age is actually 7 years old. In Shanghai, around 13% of kids start when they’re eight!
Arguments AGAINST Late Starting
Two of the biggest reasons that parents offer up for starting later at school actually occur at totally different ends of their child’s life. The first one is that childcare is incredibly expensive, and there’s no sign that it will be getting cheaper any time soon. These high costs are encouraging parents to enrol their children early in school, which provides them with a solid block of time during the day to work, or care for younger children.
On the other side of the spectrum, adults also don’t want their children turning 18 during their last year of schooling, particularly not when so much of their future is hinging on their success. Turning 18 and becoming an adult under the law is a big deal, but for many teens, the most exciting thing is being legally able to drink. In a year, where a lack of distractions often means better results, it’s every parent’s nightmare that their child becomes introduced to the world of partying at this time.
What The Research Says
The experts don’t have much to say on the idea of turning 18 while still battling through year 12, but they do have some opinions on using school as a childcare option for time and money starved families. According to Dr David Whitebread, this is “entirely the opposite to how it should be”.
“It is precisely the children who are not getting the best start in life through an impoverished, stressful or disadvantaged home life who benefit the most from going into high-quality, play-based early childhood provision, so staying at preschool longer. The children of more middle-class professional people could probably cope with an earlier start,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Instead of putting children straight into school, he suggests a longer period of “play-based early childhood education” that lasts until the age of six or seven. Dr Whitebread, and his research, indicates that kids who follow this approach do better academically, and also experience more emotional wellbeing.
He’s not the only one supporting a push for kids to start school later either. Parenting author Maggie Dent publicly threw her support behind delaying school until the age of seven, noting that “the emotional, social, psychological, physical and cognitive development are all impeded negatively for the vast majority of children by this push down in the early years.”
So what do you think? Are you with Maggie Dent and Dr. Whitebread, who believe wholeheartedly that “five is just too young to start formal learning”?
Or do you take a more practical approach, happy to enter your children into school because there are no other childcare options, and learning is always a positive thing?