The Upstart Scotland campaign is leading calls for a radical overhaul of education for pre-school children to better prepare them for entering primaries – by delaying their formal schooling until the age of seven.
This system is based on Scandinavian models. The Scottish campaign group, which includes teachers, parents and researchers, claim five-year-olds are not sufficiently developed to perform adequately in a formal classroom environment.
Sue Palmer, a literacy specialist who chairs Upstart Scotland, claimed the current education system is antiquated. The member of the Scottish Government’s Early Years Task Force said: “We have school starting at the age of five because in 1872 politicians wanted kids off the street as early as possible so that their mums could go into the factories.
“It was an economic decision. Developmental psychologists have found six or seven is the most appropriate age to start formal learning.
All the research shows that the children who do best in the long run are the kids who, at the age of five or six, have their social and emotional development taken care of.
“The more we push them early, the more we aren’t giving the child the chance to develop in an all-round way.
“We are doing so much damage to children by pushing and pushing them before they are ready.”
Ms Palmer saw the Finnish system during a visit to the country, and found they lead the way in the world in literacy and numeracy.
She said: “When I asked how they had achieved this, the answer was that they were thinking ‘How do we get a good society?’
“The answer they came up with was ‘By doing our best for our youngest children’. Finland formed its childcare policy in the 1970s and the reason they started then was that the mums wanted to go out to work. We didn’t get that hitting until the 1990s.”
Ms Palmer said it was noticeable that once the children did start school, their concentration threshold was much higher.
“They could focus much better. The teacher wasn’t constantly distracted by the pupils from the business of teaching.”
Ms Palmer argues enacting the change would mean improving training for practitioners, not building new infrastructure.
She said: “It’s not about taking children out of the classroom. It’s about concentrating on children’s overall health and wellbeing up until the age of seven, rather than being distracted by specifics in terms of cognition.
“That way, when formal schooling does begin, they are ready.”