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P1 starting date set to be delayed by a year


28/04/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

The end of the 11-plus is set to allow parents to delay their children's start to primary school by a year.

Many are unhappy that the system forces some children to begin P1 just weeks after their fourth birthday - the youngest age in Europe.

While schools have admitted pupils from the age of four for decades it has only been compulsory since 1989.

For a short time in the mid-1980s it was raised to five.

However, for years the starting date has been driven by rules governing the age at which a child could take the 11-plus.

Removing the test is now expected to allow for more flexibility.

Most European countries and the US have a mandatory starting age of six, while in Britain children begin school at five.

In the Republic children are 'legally obliged' to start at six but can begin earlier if parents wish.

While the north's compulsory school starting age is four, schools can make exceptions.

Existing Department of Education guidance says older pupils should then be reintegrated into their 'normal year group' and those starting late must sit the transfer test in P6.

However, experts say this is no longer relevant because the 11-plus is being abolished this year.

One parent, Siobhan Howard-Slane, said she is not prepared to send her young daughter to school this September, just weeks after her fourth birthday.

She has been in correspondence with education minister Caitriona Ruane, who is known to favour raising the starting age.

"Children should not start their formal schooling before five. Anything under that is too young.

The situation is ludicrous," Ms Howard-Slane said.

"There are 13 months between my first two children. We would expect there to be a year's difference academically but because of the system there will be two years between them.

"It is unfair to a child born in June who is being compelled to start with children that are 11 months older."

Ms Howard-Slane said that she planned to start her daughter in P1 at the age of five.

Prof Tony Gallagher, head of the Queen's University Belfast School of Education, said there was no evidence that pupils in the north gained any educational advantage from starting at four.

"Due to a knock-on effect from the 11-plus schools are often quite prescriptive in applying this early starting age," he said.

"The revised Northern Ireland curriculum is very much to be welcomed, particularly the change to a play-based curriculum in the foundation years.

"But we need to combine this with a more flexible approach which takes into account the best interests of the child and parental choice."



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