Why are more parents choosing to delay when their child starts school?

Many parents worry about when is the right time for their child to start school.
While some use their child’s individual characteristics to judge school readiness, others have philosophical beliefs that lead them to delay their child’s school entry.

In Australia, a child is considered to be ready for formal schooling around the age of five, although legally a child is not required to start school until they are six years old.

Although school starting ages still differ between the states and territories, most children begin school between 4.5 and 5.5 years of age.

Using age as a basis for determining whether children are ready for school is problematic given the developmental variability in young children of the same age.

Parents choose to delay their child’s entry to school for a variety of reasons but most make their decision in the belief that it will benefit their child. However, the research evidence is still relatively mixed.

Which children are most likely to start school late?

Many parents, both in Australia and internationally, make the decision to voluntarily delay their child’s entry into formal schooling until they are six.

In the US, for example, around 5% of parents choose delayed entry, whereas in Australia it’s much higher at around 14.5%.

Danish enrolment statistics indicate that gender plays a role, with parents choosing to delay school entry of one in five boys and one in ten girls.

Research suggests that children are most likely to be delayed if their birthday falls three to four months before the age cut-off, and that those delayed are most likely to be white, male and from families of higher socio-economic status.

One reason for why children from wealthier families are more likely to be delayed is that the decision to delay often means children spend an extra year in daycare.

This extra year comes with a financial cost, which families with higher incomes are more able to absorb.

For families with less financial means, ending daycare costs by sending a child on to public schooling as soon as they are of age may be a financial necessity.

Some studies have suggested that delayed children score higher in reading and mathematics than children who began school on time, but others have found no differences in achievement between those children who started school on time and those who were delayed.

Starting later gives more time for children to mature

There is also evidence that the youngest children in the first year of school are at an increased risk of behavioural problems and poor academic achievement.

A later school starting age may benefit these children by allowing greater time for maturation, which leads to increased self-regulation and decreased inattention or hyperactivity.

Principals and teachers also subscribe to the notion that a later starting age is beneficial for children.

A 2015 report by the Early Childhood Teachers’ Association (ECTA) revealed that 60% of teachers surveyed believed children shouldn’t start school before the age of five.

The most common reasons for this given by prep teachers were that children should be able to concentrate for up to 20 minutes, play and share with others and eat lunch independently before coming to school.

What can school enrolment trends tell us?

Research being conducted by myself and a colleague analysing data compiled by the Queensland Department of Education and Training of all public school children entering prep (the first year of school in Queensland) in the years 2010 to 2014, showed that 2.1% of children who were attending prep were delayed entry.

80% of those 4,695 children were born in the months from March through June, making them the youngest in their cohort. Also, the majority (64%) of delayed entry enrolments were male.

Our research also suggests that delayed entry is on the increase in Queensland. Results show that the percentage of children with delayed entry into prep almost doubled between 2010 and 2014, increasing from 1.5% to 2.9% respectively.

Children whose birth date falls within four months of the cut-off date are those more likely to start school later.
from www.shutterstock.com

More parents opting for their children to start school later

These figures indicate that more parents appear to be deciding that delaying entry will benefit their child.

Due to delayed entry, however, it is now possible to have four and a half year olds sitting and learning alongside six year olds.

At this developmental time point, this represents a very pronounced age difference because the developmental abilities of children at these ages are vastly different.

Such wide variation in children’s developmental abilities places additional strains on teachers who are required to differentiate the curriculum to meet all children’s needs.

It is possible that as the number of delayed entry children in prep rises, even more parents may choose to delay their children.

National statistics must be collected so that the rate, and impact of delayed entry across the country is determined.

In addition, the reasons parents give for choosing to delay must be understood.

As a decision to delay a child’s start to school has important implications for the child, the teacher and the wider school community, gathering detailed and national data in this area is essential.

The Conversation

Amanda Mergler, Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Amanda Mergler

Dr Amanda Mergler is a Lecturer in the School of Cultural and Professional Learning at QUT. As a registered psychologist, Amanda teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students in human development, educational psychology, and behavior management. Amanda has been involved in research projects examining the values of teachers, pre-service teachers and school chaplains. A key interest area for Amanda is the role of ‘personal responsibility’ in the lives of young people, and her recent research in this area builds on her previous work in which she created an education program and survey to assess and enhance this construct in adolescents.

7 thoughts on “Why are more parents choosing to delay when their child starts school?”

    Yarrow Andrew says:

    I am glad you are calling attention to this issue, and especially, to the connections it has with forms of race and gender privilege. I have seen this play out in my former work as an early childhood teacher, and now look at it from the wider sociological and public policy issues that you draw attention to.
    Do you think it is the very different cultures of ECE and the primary sector that play into this? Would, for example, a play/inquiry-based curriculum up to grade 2 ameliorate some of the issues you are pointing to?

    Anne Kennedy says:

    Yes I think you are right Yarrow….if schools were ready for children in a meaningful, ethical way, and families could see this in action, there would less anxiousness and pressure on parents to demonstrate that they are being a ‘good parent’ by delaying their child’s school entry.

    Kathryn Wallis says:

    Thank-you for sharing this thought-provoking article Amanda. I think that one of the possible reasons for delayed entry is the changing nature of first-year-of-school classrooms. They are now very different from what they used to be and there is emerging research evidence about the first-year-of-school becoming more academically-focussed: http://ero.sagepub.com/content/2/1/2332858415616358

    Cass says:

    I find it interesting that you contrast ‘delayed start’ to ‘on time’… your preference/agenda is clear here. My 2 girls have birthdays in March. They began school at 5 years of age, not 4, as I believed they were not emotionally ready. I am an early childhood educator, so I see your case for the widening deviation of development/maturity amongst classes, however this would still be the case, even if it were possible to group ages more closely. Parenting styles and children’s access to valuable experiences that prepare them for school are just as varied. Some parents I speak to refer to their own experiences, but it cannot be compared as the curriculum has more than doubled since then… Very few 4 year olds are truly ready for this.

    Richelle Revelman says:

    It’s my belief as well as what I’ve learnt and experienced being the mother of 2 boys born in May (in Western Australia) that we need to look at children as the individuals they are rather than what month they happen to be born. I knew my eldest son (now 9) was not ready to start pre-primary however the state said that he had to. At age 7, I found he was significantly behind his peers in aspects including his academic development as well as in his social/emotional development. Due to the fact that WA does not allow children to repeat a year in the public system I was forced to move him to a private school where he is now repeating year 3 and performing at a level close to the top of his class and his social life is so engaged that I cannot keep up with how many friends he has. He’s gone from a child who literally went kicking and screaming to school to a boy who wishes the school day was longer so he could learn more. I’ve never been more confident in a decision that I have had to make and wish the state of WA would look more closely at this issue.

    Christine Healey says:

    As the mother of 5 grown up children now left school and been trough university I would like to make aware what my experience was with 2 of my children. I had 2 children who were older then her peers as I didn’t think they were mature enough to go to school at the time as they were born in the Marc/April of that year. However when these children reach year 12 many of their friends had left school the year before and were out working and socialising and as such we struggled to keep our young adult children at school. They wanted to party with other 18 year olds and leave home as many their own age had done. This affected their school performance. I believe if they went to school with others the same age this would not have been such a problem. Once at school the children quickly adapt to what thir environment and by the age of 7 are all much aligned with their skills.

    Kelly says:

    We’re from Vic and my boy started school at 4, turning 5 in early Feb. He was clearly the youngest in the class in many ways. He didn’t form any friendships, wasn’t invited to kids parties or play dates, the teacher said she felt like she was always telling him off. He was also behind academically with not being able to write his own name and had shown no interest in this area when we tried to teach him in kinder.
    We decided to keep him down and repeat prep which was the best decision in the end. He did so much better last year on all levels.
    I’m due to have a late March baby soon and will be faced with the same dilemma.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top