School starting age to be debated in parliament

A range of reforms, including a lowering of school starting ages, are set to be debated in Tasmania’s parliament.

If passed, the new Education Act, tabled on Tuesday, will mean that kindergarten will be offered to children aged three-and-a-half. Currently it is compulsory for children to start prep in the year they turn five.

However, Labor and the Greens oppose the move. Labor's deputy opposition leader in Tasmania, Michelle O'Byrne, said more consultation was needed before the reforms could be passed.

“We'll be moving significant amendments to the bill … I'm really hoping that the bill, when it's tabled, removes a number of the draconian provisions that are listed,” O'Byrne said.

She added that confusion would be created if some children started school a year before their classmates, while the Greens leader, Cassy O'Connor, called for more scrutiny of the bill.

“There's still significant concern amongst the community, even though it is voluntary, what that's done is create a whole lot of confusion,” she said.

The suggestion to lower the starting age of the state’s students, led by the Tasmanian Government, has received support from the state’s principals association, the Tasmanian Principals Association (TPA).

TPA president, Malcolm Elliott, said lowering the school starting age from six years and six months to four years and six months would improve student engagement.

“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,” he said.

However, the move has been met with fierce opposition from the childcare sector, as well as many parents and teachers, who said that lowering the school starting age would jeopardise jobs and put too much stress on children.

Some prominent voices in education, including Dr David Whitebread, Cambridge University expert in the cognitive development of young children, say the current starting age for compulsory schooling in most states 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.