As we enter the tail end of 2019, many parents are deciding whether they should enrol their four-year-old in school next year or re-enrol them in early childhood education.
At the moment, school starting ages vary depending on where you live, and your child's birthdate isn't the only consideration when it comes to school readiness.
To help with this decision, let's look at some research around school delay and ways to tell if your child is ready to join the class of 2020.
When do children legally have to start school and what is the effect?
At present, States and Territories set their own school starting age:
- In New South Wales, children can start school if they turn five by 31 July that year
- In Victoria, your child must turn five by 30 April in their first school year
- In Queensland and Western Australia, your child must turn five by 30 June
- In Tasmania, children who have turned five on or by 1 January must start school that year
This means there is the option of starting some children when they're four and a half or holding them back until the following year, and it's up to families to decide what is best for their child.
Parents often make the decision based on what they personally prefer, where their child is developmentally, and what their educator recommends, but their location and financial situation can also impact the decision.
How common is school delay and what have NSW researchers discovered about school delay rates?
School delay rates vary, and according to a recent study, 25 per cent of NSW children are being held back a year. This figure exceeds the 10 per cent of children being held back in Victoria and it's also ahead of WA, which has a late cut-off date like NSW, but lower rates of school delay.
After looking at 100,000 children, this UNSW-led study found that half of NSW parents chose to hold children back when they turned five between January and July. Interestingly, those held back were most likely to be boys, born closer to the 31 July cut-off, living in areas where others were being held back and from relatively affluent backgrounds and/or regional areas.
Researchers found that disadvantaged, less educated, and migrant parents were less likely to hold their child back, and this has led to fears that the high cost of child care is forcing some families to send their children to school before they’re ready. As such, education experts are calling for two years of free, universal early childhood education to remove this pressure.
This study also suggests that a child's starting age has ramifications on their school results. Youngsters learn as they grow, and the researchers found that children who went to school later did better when measured against developmental milestones. Every month of age made a difference, and when you consider that some children start school at four-and-a-half and some at six, this 18-month developmental disparity definitely adds up.
What does the Australian Childcare Alliance think about the age gap?
Parents are free to decide whether to start their child earlier or later, provided they meet their Government's age requirements. However, with some parents holding children back and others transitioning them to school as soon as possible, the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) says a large age gap also, 'Has implications for teachers in engaging students with vastly different cognitive and social skills.'
In response, the ACA is calling for a uniform school starting age across Australia with, 'A national requirement that children must be at least five years of age by January 1 in their first year of formal schooling to narrow the age discrepancy in prep classes and set up students for strong educational outcomes.'
How can you tell if your child is school ready?
At the moment, you'll be guided by your own State or Territory age requirements when deciding whether to send your child off to big school or hold them back for another year. However, as we've touched on, age isn't the only part of the decision-making process.
To face the challenges and seize opportunities that come with primary education, your child needs to be physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively ready to sit in class all day.
To help you decide if they're school ready, the Australian Government suggests that you think about certain skills and behaviours, namely:
- How are their social skills? Are they capable of basic manners, autonomy, cooperation?
- How emotionally mature are they? Can they focus, follow instructions, manage their emotions, cope with larger adult to child ratios?
- How are their language skills? Can they listen to adults, speak clearly, understand stories, communicate needs?
- How are their cognitive skills? Do they have basic number sense and thinking skills, can they take turns and wait?
- How is their physical health and coordination? Can they grip a pencil, turn pages, run, jump, climb, play ball?
- How independent are they? Can they look after their belongings and go to the toilet, get dressed, eat lunch without adult supervision?
If you're not sure how your child is tracking, then their early childhood educator will be able to give you some feedback on their school readiness. Even if your preschooler is not stepping through the school gates next year, there are ways that you can prepare them for the transition in 2021.
The Government suggests:
- Building their social skills and emotional maturity with playdates, such as practising how to play well, take turns, share and come to terms with 'not getting their way'.
- Developing their language skills by communicating with them, like asking questions and encouraging verbal expression, and reading with them, discussing the story, picking out new words and posing 'What ifs'.
- Developing their cognitive skills by combing household activities with number awareness, getting your child to count their buttons or measure ingredients, and playing board and card games.
- Building their physical health and coordination by encouraging them to practice their fine and gross motor skills by drawing with different materials and playing physical games.
- Encouraging independence by practising life skills at home and encouraging your child to dress themselves, toilet themselves and tidy their toys.
What do you think?
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