Starting children in school later may lead to better educational results and wellbeing, according to Dr Mary O’Kane, Lecturer in Psychology and Early Childhood Education at the Open University. The official school starting age in England and Wales is the term after a child's fifth birthday. But most English and Welsh children start school when they are four, because many schools admit children to reception class at the beginning of the year in which they become five.
In most European countries, children don’t start until they are six or seven. Dr Kane points out that in countries like Denmark and Finland children have consistently better education and wellbeing outcomes. ‘They have had longer years of really quality pre-school education,’ she says.
‘We know that when starting school our children need to be independent, with good social skills, language skills, communication and confidence – and pre-school education is where they develop these skills by learning through play. Sometimes parents say it’s just playing, but it’s not. Good-quality pre-schools have developmentally-appropriate play and there are opportunities for exploration and creativity that children don’t get in the formal education system.’