Children in England to start school at four

Children in England are to begin school from the September after they turn four. But their parents will be able to request that they stay at a day nursery until their formal education begins at five. The recommendation to lower the school starting age and bring it into line with Northern Ireland was made by Sir Jim Rose in his long-awaited Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, published on 30 April.

In it the former Ofsted chief inspector said, “The preferred pattern of entry to reception classes should be the September immediately following a child’s fourth birthday. “However, this should be subject to well-informed discussion with parents, taking into account their views of a child’s maturity and readiness to enter reception class. “Arrangements should be such as to make entry to reception class an exciting and enjoyable experience for all children, with opportunities for flexible arrangements such as a period of part-time attendance if judged appropriate.”

Sir Jim Rose also recommended that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) provide information to parents and local authorities about the “optimum conditions, flexibilities and benefits” to children of entering reception class in the September immediately after their fourth birthday. Currently, summer-born children begin primary school in the January or April before they turn five, giving them two fewer terms in reception than their autumn-born classmates.

In a written statement to the House of Commons on 31 April, Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, said he accepted Sir Jim’s recommendation that children should ideally start school in the September immediately following their fourth birthday, “possibly on a part-time basis for some children, but with parents having freedom to choose”.

“I am mindful” Mr Balls said, “that compulsory school age does not start until the term after a child turns five and that some parents have a strong preference for their child’s early years experience to take place outside a school setting. I therefore intend to make funding available across the maintained, private and voluntary sectors to enable all children to receive full time provision in education and childcare from the September after their fourth birthday.”

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