Principals call for change to school starting age

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”.