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School Starting Age Politics vs Research

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March 26, 2018.

In NZ, school entry age is a strongly contested political issue. National says parent choice is important and if parents believe their child is ready to start school in the term prior to their fifth birthday then parents should have the choice.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he opposes earlier entry because educationally structured environments don’t benefit young children “the evidence is overwhelming that young kids are better off playing and learning outside a structured school environment.”   

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But the discovery reported by Boereboom and Tymms this week that there is no evidence to support a nationally mandated age for starting school in NZ, brings into question what the underlying rationale for delaying entry to school is.

Dr Sarah Alexander says the changes seem to have little to do with improving child outcomes.

“Nearly all children attend an early childhood service which is an educationally structured environment,” she said.

“The real issue is not about extending the time that children have for free play before starting school. The real issue about how to ensure continuity in curricula and cooperation between early childhood education, home and school. And schools need to be adequately resourced to support transition, whatever the child’s school entry age”.

Dr Alexander added that policy-makers have also failed to consider children’s interests and needs.

“Children have not been asked what they would prefer.  Allowing schools to implement ‘cohort’ entry may not be helpful for some children who will struggle to cope with starting with a lot of other new children. For these children individualised entry and having more experienced peers in class for support would be more helpful.”

“Perhaps the changes are more to do with other things such as pressure on the government around school staffing and school teacher shortages?” suggested Dr Alexander

Further information

The March 2018 research report by John Boereboom and Peter Tymms is titled “Is there an optimum age for starting school in New Zealand?  It is published in the NZ-International Research in ECE Journal, Volume 21, No. 2. 

Also see the article by Adele Redmond “No Optimum Age for Starting School in NZ”.  Stuff, 26 March 2018. 

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