At what age should children begin school? Over the past month, reports from the UK, Poland, Switzerland, and Germany, have shown that each country is considering, and in some cases implementing, changes in age of school entry.
In the UK, The Guardian cited Sally Morgan, the head of Ofsted, who believes children should be allowed to attend school from as young as two in order to establish a new type of “all-through” educational model that educates children from the ages of two or three up to age 18. It is a move that would, according to Morgan, help to close the gap between affluent and disadvantaged students. In contrast, The Telegraph and The New Scientist have both published reports that show the perspective of those who think students would be better off if compulsory education was delayed until the age of 7 years old, due to the belief that early education is too focused on the three-Rs, causing “profound damage” to children. While this topic has long been debated, the issue was reignited when 130 early childhood education experts signed a letter calling for an “extension of informal, play-based preschool provision and for the start of formal schooling in England to be delayed until the age of 7, from the current effective start at age 4.”
In Poland, tvm24.com reported on a narrow referendum vote (232 against, 222 in favor) on the age children should be obliged to start school. The vote followed weeks of debate over whether the education infrastructure is ready to handle the increased number of pupils when the age children are required to start school is reduced from seven to six-years of age over the next two years. Parents protested the vote.
In the World section of The Japan Times it is reported that 6% of children in Germany who started school in 2011-2012 had postponed entry, while some 3.8% were “early starters.” This article explains that fifteen years ago the country “sought to bring forward the age that children begin school to the calendar year in which they turn 6, to be more in tune with other European countries and due to a pressing labor force shortage. A year was also sliced off high school in many places.” At the time, the call for change did not consider parental objections, which ultimately prevented the plan from moving forward.
In Switzerland, the country enacted a plan called HarmoS in 2009 to ensure a nationwide set of rules to provide students with a “fairer educational start.” This plan went into effect in 2009, but cantons (or states) have six years to implement it. Genevalunch.com reports that Canton Vales, and in particular its right-wing UDC (People’s Party) political group (which considers that it defends family rights and has been one of the last holdouts to the national plan) voted to allow children to start school at the age of 4. The change means that students will be starting school one, and in some cases two, years earlier than in the past.