Principals call for change to school starting age

by Brett Henebery28 Jul 2016

Tasmania’s principals have called for the lowering of the school starting age in their state, saying such a change is needed in order to improve student engagement and well-being.

Tasmania, which currently has the oldest minimum compulsory starting age in Australia, wants to lower the age that students begin compulsory schooling from six years and six months to four years and six months.

This week, the president of the Tasmanian Principals Association (TPA) voiced support for the move, echoing earlier calls by Tasmanian Premier, Will Hodgman.

“Not only does play-based activity engage children – it provides opportunities for them to interact positively, productively and happily with people, things and ideas around them,” said TPA president, Malcolm Elliott.

However, some prominent voices, including Dr David Whitebread, Cambridge University expert in the cognitive development of young children, say the current starting age for compulsory schooling of six years and six months is too young.

“The overwhelming evidence suggests that five is simply too young to start formal learning. Children should be engaged in informal play-based learning until the age of about seven,” Dr Whitebread said.

Western Australia Primary Principals Association (WAPPA) president, Stephen Breen, told The Educator that he does not agree with the argument that lowering the starting age is needed to ensure our students improve their outcomes.

“The evidence is clear in this area. Informal play-based schooling, as well as intentional play based schooling, is needed for the prerequisites of learning,” he said.

“If politicians simply lower the starting age and ask educators to replicate the status-quo, as in say pre-primary schooling, it will be a disaster.”

However, Breen added that if the authorities lower the starting age and then provide a system where schools can engage in informal and formal play-based schooling then lowering the starting age “will have merit”.


  • by Tas Keepit 28/07/2016 12:56:38 PM

    I didn't realise that Tassie was out in front in one area of education compared to the rest of the nation. Starting children at 6 years and 6 months is great. How could you possibly want to start them at 4 years and 6 months? Do you really know what that is like? 4y 6m is way too young. We have been doing it in NSW for years and it is simply wrong, wrong, wrong. I do hope you like changing nappies and toilet training kids. You will also need more boxes of tissues for when you have difficult conversations with parents because their 4 1/2 year old simply wasn't ready for school and now you believe they should be repeated. You Tasmanians should stick to a good thing while you have it. Some of the more outstanding countries start their students at 7 or 8 years of age. Why on earth do you want 4 1/2 year olds when they should be at home having fun and playing with their mum or dad? In NSW I'd like to increase the starting age to about 6, but at least 5 years.

    When children start from 4 1/2 to 5/1/2 there is about 20% age difference from youngest to oldest in Kinder. This is massive and does not even take into consideration children who start a year later. What chance does a 4 1/2 year old boy have of competing or even keeping up with a 5 1/2 year old girl? Very little! Our current system is like comparing students in year 12 doing the HSC and students in year 10 doing the HSC. Yes, some kids in year 10 could do it, but not large numbers, yet we have thousands of 4 1/2 year olds starting school, being set up for failure in many aspects of their education. You need to rethink this outrageous concept. Most kids are better off at home with their parents for a longer period of time and if you disagree then maybe you need to work with and upskill the parents , not punish the children.