What Age Should Children Start School?

Kids classroom

What Age Should Children Start School?

Last week marked the deadline of my son’s school application. I’ve toured the schools and I’ve made my decision, but it is with a slightly heavy heart. Born in October, I guess you could say my son is one of the lucky ones (or not depending on your opinion), he will be nearly 5 when he starts.

When I talk about this with friends, the subject can be one that divides opinion. But I believe that in the UK we send our children to school too young. Emotionally it is such a big ask of them.

Out of interest, I started to research what age countries across the world send their children to school. Out of 214 countries only 24 send their children to school at 5 (source). That’s 11%. The rest send their children to school at 6 or 7.

The way our education system works, with only one intake in September, in reality it’s more like 4 when our children go to school. Which is just so incredibly young. If you wish to defer at present, then your child will skip reception and simply go straight into year one – effectively missing a year of school. Which in my opinion isn’t really deferring it.

Recently an article came out in America in The Washington Post: Delaying Kindergarten Until Age 7 Offers Key Benefits to Kids. It’s an interesting read. Let me give you a quote:

“We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11…”

The results of the study show that delaying a child’s entry to school until they’re 7 years old, doesn’t impact their overall education, but actually improves it.

This is also something that has been discussed in the UK. In The Telegraph in 2013, this article appeared – Start Schooling Later Than 5, Say Experts – it reports that 6 or 7 would be a better age for children to start school, and that trying to push too much too soon onto our children is actually damaging them.

I’m not saying our children should just sit at home with their parents at 4 or 5. Social interaction is important, group activities and stimulation too. But I think testing, homework and sitting at desk learning is enforced on the UK’s children far too young.

Let’s look at Finland as a comparison. They send their children to pre-school aged 5 to 6 years and they start school at 7. They have no homework until they are in their teens. They are believed to have one of the best education systems in the world. Even in the US children start kindergarten at 5 to 6. In Europe, we send children to school at the youngest age across most countries. Only Cyprus, Malta and the UK legally require children to start school at 5, the rest of the countries are 6 or 7.

In September, the School’s Minister stated that he wanted to make changes so that children born April – September could defer without missing a year of school (Guardian article). It’s most definitely a step in the right direction. Although it is yet to be approved by parliament.

For me, I know I would prefer my son to go to school at least a year later. This is without me getting into the ridiculous habit that has now arisen of homework being given to children in reception. Anecdotal feedback from friends who have children at school already reinforces this for me. With children falling asleep at their desks, crying and wetting their bed with tiredness when they are at home, crying because they are too tired or mentally exhausted to do homework. This does not suggest a system that is right for children.

I would love to see system in the UK that mirrors Finland, with children spending longer time at pre-school and starting school later. Or like in the US, where parents are able to defer their children if they believe it to be the right thing for them. Sadly, I don’t think this will ever happen. Partly and cynically I suspect this may be influenced by childcare costs. We live in a country where the cost of childcare can be more than your mortgage. It’s completely understandable that full time education comes to many as a huge financial relief. But, is it the right thing for children? I don’t believe so. Let our children be children. They are bright and adaptable, they will learn when they’re ready. But, also empower parents to make decisions they know to be right for their children.

A Cornish Mum

36 thoughts on “What Age Should Children Start School?”

  1. My eldest was ready to start school. She was born in September so was one of the oldest in her year but my youngest born on the 29th of August is the youngest in her year. She started school a few days after her 4th birthday and wasn’t ready and has struggled to keep up with her peers….I wished I had been able to hang back a year. It would have made such a difference to her life…

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  2. I agree with you all the way! I’m always saying kids start school too young & also that there shouldn’t be homework for the first couple of years. Finland is a great example of what can be done to improve the education system, in my opinion. x

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  3. A very good post and one I agree with whole heartedly! Let children be children is a great motto to stand by and sometimes allowing them to learn through play rather than at a desk is better when our kiddies are so young.

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    • Absolutely Angela, while I know reception is often learning through play, year one is quite a change and they are sat at desks far too early x

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  4. This is really interesting and something that has been really relevant in our house. My daughter was born in August so had only just turned 4 when she started school. It was incredibly young. She coped fine with the learning side of things, she was bright and picked up things quickly. The social side of things was a big ask she was quite shy and it was a bit full on to be in a big loud class with kids that were older than her. The reception class was a lot of play based learning, rather than very formal sessions so I think to a degree it is more flexible than the other school years. I do get a bit frustrated now that Sofia is further up the school that the expectations of my daughter don’t take into account that she is one of the youngest in the class. I think the fact that she is bright has meant that she is able to cope with starting school too early. I can see there are cases where children at 4 will really not be ready. My boys are on the other extreme they will be nearly 5 when they go to school. I’m glad they will be older as they are much less advanced than Sofia was at the same age. They are a good 6 months or a year behind their sister development wise and would not have a hope in hell if they started school at the age that Sofia did!

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    • Yes I can definitely see that some children are just too young when they start and as you say it’s not just about the academics it’s about their emotional well being too.

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  5. My eldest wasn’t ready. He had only just turned four when he started and could’ve done with another year at home. I felt so bad when he started.
    At the time, there was the option ofmhin starting at 5, but he would start in Y1 rather than reception.
    Although he was fine socially, educationally he was playing catch up for a good couple of years.

    Now nearly 12, he’s doing brilliantly in school, but part of me wishes I had kept him back.

    Laura xx
    #KCACOLS

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  6. All 3 of mine have been some of the youngest and I’ve always thought they went far too soon.I think they should go later when their more ready.My 6 year old loves school now but really hated nursery with a passion x #kcacols

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  7. I think 4 is fine my son is an August child so was the youngest but was ready. Both of my children went to nursery from 1 year old so were used to the social side, separation from me & routine. I do however think children should not have homework whilst at primary school especially not in KS1.
    My son is slightly behind with reading which I think is due to his age but I’m not worried & know he will catch up.
    You can defer your child’s start until they are 5 in the UK & some schools do have September & January intakes but I think this is the minority.
    Really interesting post. #kcacols lifeinthemumslane

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    • Thanks Emma, they definitely start with the homework far too soon. I’m glad your children were fine at 4. I guess if they had been at nursery since 1 it is an easier transition. But I still the option would be a nice thing to have.

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  8. Hello,
    We have just applied for our son to start Reception in September as well. When we were looking around schools I felt it was very important that children are given free choice of activities throughout the day with as little time sat on the carpet as possible, including access to the outside area. We have prioritised a local school that does these things. But some of the schools we saw did not follow that sort of ethos, having a timetable for the children’s use of the outside area, and extensive carpet sessions from the word go. I know my son will not be able to cope with that; nor, at 4 years old, do I feel he should have to. We will just have to keep our fingers crossed that he doesn’t have to attend that sort of school!
    x Alice
    #kcacols

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    • The school that is our first choice has free flow in the afternoon which I really liked and I think that my son will too. I didn’t even think to ask about carpet time! Thanks for the comment.

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  9. As an August baby I’ve always broadly agreed with this – I never had any problem keeping up academically, but I think it was much more noticeable emotionally, in terms of shyness, and that kind of thing, even after playgroup and nursery attendance. It’s a lot better these days with the introduction of the foundation phase and learning through play, though my understanding is that the English foundation stage is still more formal than it is here (Wales). #KCACOLS

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    • Yes I think it’s about multiple factors not just the academic side as you say the emotional side is really important too. Interesting in the differences between the UK and Welsh system.

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  10. Both of mine really enjoy being at School although Miss M is exhausted every day when she comes home. I hate the homework she has to do every weekend and reading every night. She has only been in Reception for just 1 whole term bless her. I don’t think the amount of homework that is given out each week is fair. They work so hard at school, they should be allowed to be kids when they get home. #KCACOLS

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  11. Fantastic piece!
    My twins have started school this year but I take a flexible approach, if they seem tired or get a good game going in the morning before school I won’t take them. If I can think of something better to do they stay home. I suppose this way they do miss things but they’re bright as buttons and have lots of experiences I doubt their classmates have at home with us.

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    • Ooh I like your approach – do the school not question you about their absences though? I have heard bad things about this and meetings with the head if the % are too high?

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  12. I’m glad I read this post. Our son will turn four and start school three weeks later, this wont be happening until Sep 2017 but this year we’ve got to really think about it. As it stands now I just don’t think he will be ready and will seriously contemplate delaying it.

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  13. Such a good post. Little Miss A is May-born so we have to apply to schools this year for her to start in September 2017…it really freaks me out!
    I think she’ll be fine as she’s very bright, but she’ll still only be just over 4 which is very young.
    Master J on the other hand, is August-born so I think we’ll definitely hold him back for a year.
    I just can’t believe they give kids homework at such a young age. What are we doing to these children?!
    #KCACOLS
    #PicknMix

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    • They get homework far, far too early in my opinion. My daughter is May born I am not sure what I will do for her, I will just have to see how she develops I guess. x

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  14. I absolutely agree we send children to school far too young here. When Cheeky Chap started reception, as much as he said he enjoyed it, we all struggled to adjust. I would like to see more flexibility, particularly for the summer babies. Why should they miss reception, which is such an important year for adjustment? As you say, it isn’t really deferring!

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    • Yes why not have the option to defer if if it’s the right thing for your child? I really don’t think the system is right for our children.

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  15. My son was born 10 weeks early. Meant to be born October but was born August. This made me panic about schools as he would start a year early and be the real youngest. Then we moved to Wales and found out that they start the term before they are four! So instead of starting September 2017 he is now starting April 2016! Was hard to get my head around at first but then I saw how well he has done in nursery and think he will be fine in school. He keeps asking to go more! Such a hard step for us mums especially with our first borns! Lovely post thank you for sharing #PicknMix

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    • It is definitely a hard step and more daunting as you say for your first born, I will probably be more relaxed when it comes t my daughter. Although I still think it’s too early.

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  16. I really don’t understand it! All this research and still the system doesn’t change. In Scotland the cut off was February to so children were 4.5-5.5 starting school which obviously made a difference, and the Scottish education system has always been incredibly well respected throughout the world. I did see a study by the Office for National Statistics which said Scotland’s tertiary eduction was top in Europe and was the most highly educated. So, really England can learn so much from it’s very close neighbour!! I really regret that my daughter will not, in all likelihood, grow up in the Scottish education system. I keep saying she just needs to get into grammar school and I’ll be a bit happier lol

    This is a brilliant post, so well researched. #KCACOLS

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    • Thank you so much for your comment. I don’t understand with all the research to hand why it’s not being changed. I didn’t know Scotland was so well regarded, but I know that Finland are world leaders and yet we seem to just ignore their proven success.

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  17. This is an interesting post Laura. I do agree with you as I think our kids start school too early. My daughter is May born and she was the 2nd youngest of her class. She really struggled the first year, especially the first term. You can really tell the difference between the kids that their birthdays were the first months of the term. She was always behind but we also discussed at Parent Evenings that being one of the youngest was a main reason of her taking things slower. Sienna is August born so it would be even worst, although because she is the second child I think she could be better than Bella. She has learnt so many things quicker than Bella just watching her sister. The kids in Peru start school at 6 years old and I think it has always been great. I started at 6 yo and it was always good for me. Here in the UK, the kids learn to write and read incredibly early. They finish Pre-school knowing all of that which I think is super intense for a 4 year old. They obviously play more than in Year 1 but the pressure of homework, show and tells, assemblies, etc is a little bit too much I think. I hope this change here and also hope that the government give more financial support to children under 5 so they can go to nursery longer. Thanks so much for sharing this at #KCACOLS. I would love to see you again on Sunday! 🙂 x

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    • I completely agree with you Franca, it would be great if there was more support so that children could stay in nursery for longer and start school at 6 instead, you are a lawyer so it didn’t do you wrong!

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  18. My eldest is a July baby but there wasn’t an option to hold him back when he started school …. I’m kind of glad as I probably would have held him back and for him I think it would’ve been the wrong decision. It’s a difficult one though as they all develop at such a different rate.
    Thanks for linking up to #Picknmix
    Stevie x

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    • Yes it is a difficult one, but all the research shows that hold them back is the better thing to do. But every child as you say is different I am glad your son settled well.

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