So the idea to increase the school starting age to six – currently children usually begin classes when they are between four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half – certainly deserves a fair hearing.
A motion to the SNP’s conference by its policy development convener, Toni Giugliano, could lead to the creation of a play-based, kindergarten stage for three to six-year-olds.
Similar systems are used in Ireland, Spain and Germany and the Scottish Greens and Liberal Democrats have both backed the proposal.
James McEnaney, author of Class Rules: the Truth about Scottish Schools, said our “horrendous education policy” was out of step with the world’s best education systems, and claimed that raising the school age would be “potentially game-changing”.
And the idea does have an appeal. Perhaps letting children have fun for longer will help them view learning as something to be enjoyed, rather than endured. When knowledge is lapped up, rather than spoon fed, it surely has a better chance of sticking.
However, while there may be a correlation between a higher starting age and better educational performance, that does not actually prove causation. There could well be other factors that are responsible for the success of other country’s education systems.
And, as the Educational Institute of Scotland pointed out, making such a significant change would not be simple. General secretary Larry Flanagan rightly stressed that its success would be “entirely dependent” on what happens before formal schooling begins.
In a sign of how cynical Scotland’s hard-pressed teachers have become, he added: “Significant discussion would be required before any change as there will be considerable suspicion on the part of teachers that such a move was being motivated by a cost-saving agenda rather than an education rationale.”
Parents will also be concerned. While the kindergarten stage would be a statutory requirement, they will want to know the details, such as the length of the kindergarten day and the potential knock-on effects on their childcare arrangements.
Scotland’s once world-renowned education system needs all the good ideas it can get. But any major changes should be considered most carefully and only introduced after close consultation with, and the agreement of, the experts – teachers.