School starting age, legislated for in the 19th century, was never about achievement but came from a desire to protect children. Nowadays you can’t move for courses and debates on ‘school readiness’ and Bold Beginnings.
At this time of year, most of us who work in nurseries look at our three-year-olds heading off to primary school in just three months’ time with some concern. Will they be given the attention they need, the ratios, and the care?
Bundled into school uniforms and electrified by a mixture of pride at going to ‘big school’ and anxiety at leaving their longstanding relationships… I ask myself, is this in their best interests?
Is that the same as ‘are they ready?’ I’m not sure that it is. Being ready for school is more than being able to control your bladder, remembering to put your hand up when you have something to say and performing well in a phonics test.
It would be sensible for the Department for Education to use a well-being measure to see if there are real benefits.
As a result of their status, children get mixed up in other people’s agendas – parents who need to work, the state that haplessly believes that ‘younger is better’, and schools needing to remain full.
But a child, just four and clutching a brightly coloured book bag, is probably the only one who doesn’t have an agenda.
For the only time in their life they are looking forward to ‘homework’ because it makes them feel grown up.
Fit for purpose
There is a mountain of research about the disadvantage of being born after April, but little real thinking about what actually makes a difference.
Perhaps we are looking at the problem the wrong way around. Rather than children being ‘old’ enough to go to school, shouldn’t we offer every child a developmentally appropriate experience that is well-staffed (and well-inspected) by trained practitioners who understand child development for under-fives – because some of those children will be under five for most of their Reception year.
They will also be below statutory school age… actually, hold on – that sounds like a nursery class.