A leading international educationalist is calling on the Scottish Government to raise the age children start primary school “as a matter of urgency” to help prevent a surge in mental health problems.
Sue Palmer, chair of Upstart Scotland, the children’s educational campaigning charity, wants a “kindergarten” stage from ages three to seven.
The final kindergarten year would be completed in Primary 1 – involving establishing a new starting age of six for pupils.
Nordic-style kindergarten puts emphasis on lots of play, especially outdoors, with non-formal sessions in subjects such as art, drama, music, science and maths investigations, and story-telling. Pupils wanting to do reading and writing are helped with this too.
Palmer, a former primary head teacher, whose charity launched the “Play Not Tests at P1” campaign in April, made her plea as it emerged last week that teachers and parents were reporting many Primary 1 pupils were suffering stress and severe anxiety resulting from Scottish National Standardised Assessment (SNSA) tests implemented by the Scottish Government to gather data.
“All the research I’ve seen very clearly shows our children should not be put under these pressures,” said Palmer, author of education research books Toxic Childhood, 21st Century Boys and Upstart.
“Indeed, countries with a later starting age achieve better results in the long run. Those starting school at seven very quickly catch up.”
Only 12 per cent of countries have a primary starting age of five. It is age six for 66 per cent and age seven for 22 per cent.
Palmer said: “In a kindergarten children are outside and free to move around, not under authoritative control. They learn self-regulating skills, how to focus and control their behaviour.”
She said she was not against assessment and supported the aims of the curriculum for excellence, but believed it had been damaged by the Scottish Government’s drive for data collection.
A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union said: “The EIS AGM agreed last year to investigate the opportunities and challenges associated with a change to the school starting age through a possible move to a kindergarten model of early years education.
“This work is ongoing, and we will be seeking the views of our members in early years and primary establishments as part of this process.”
The spokesman added the EIS had consistently recently raised concerns over the educational value of SNSAs and recently shared this with the Scottish Government. The union is to discuss it further with EIS members when term resumes.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Scottish primary schools have seen a significant shift in recent years towards a play-based approach to learning.
“Indeed this has been enshrined in the curriculum guidance that supports teachers in making sure play is a key part of the early years of primary school.
“We are clear this approach to delivering play-based learning builds on the strength of Scottish education rather than any shift in the age at which children start school.”