real life

When my child starts school is none of your business.

And yet everyone seems to have an opinion…

Since the start of the year I have been engaged in a continuous conversation of should she/ shouldn’t she?

A back-and-forth debate.

Is-she-ready? Or should-she-wait?

It’s been an ongoing analysis of the same dilemma thousands of parents with children born in the first six (or four depending on where you live) months of the year face each and every year throughout Australia.

The question of whether to send their child to school the next year or wait.

My daughter is one of those children with a birthday in the grey area. She could go next year and be a little on the younger side, or wait till the following year and be on the older side.

Why do you care so much whether I send my daughter to school next year?

It’s not a new dilemma but an important one for our family all the same.

But what’s surprised me as we puzzle it out is it seems to be a dilemma that’s not just important for us, but for other people as well – people not in my family, people with no interest whatsoever in my daughter but who seem to care A LOT about our decision.

There has been a call for a uniform starting age across Australia.

Like many parenting topics the age to start your child at school debate is one that is bound to bring out strong  opinions and it’s hitting the news again this week.

Just a few days ago an expert called for a uniform starting age for students across the country.

In Australia, the system of starting school varies from state to state, with some requiring children be four and turn five by April 30, others June or July.  In Tasmania (the most sensible in my opinion) your child must be aged five on January 1 to start school that year.

In states like NSW this grey area means children 18 months apart can be in the same year. Faced with this situation, one in six children are now being held back from starting school.

It’s not a new debate. For years experts have been asking for a national starting date, with a smaller age range….

Video via South Coast TV

Education consultant Kathy Walker, from Early Life Foundations, told the ABC she believes it should be changed so all Australian children must turn five by the end of December to be eligible to start school the following year.

“I’ve been talking, writing and researching about readiness for school for about 25 years and I have to tell you it’s one of the most provocative, anxiety-making issues,” she said.

She’s right. It’s a bloody hard decision to make and it’s agonising but it’s an issue for the parents – for that family.

And yet whenever conversations turn to this topic I find the forthright nature of other people’s opinions striking.

When the issue crops up in Facebook parenting groups the discussion inevitably turns into a frenzy of anonymous spite and barbs.

Every single person who asks me the is-your-daughter-starting-school-next-year-question seems to have an answer before they even listen to mine.

Each person seems to have a story, an older child, a niece or nephew, a neighbour who went early/ was held back/ triumphed greatly/ struggled intensely.

When the issue crops up in Facebook parenting groups the discussion inevitably turns into a frenzy of anonymous spite and barbs, parents primarily desperately trying to justify what they did for their child and why.

They openly accuse me or anyone else thinking of “holding their child back” as being “unfair”, saying we are leaving other children at a disadvantage.

Is there a fear older kids are academically and physically more capable than others?

Last time I checked kindergarten wasn’t a competition, last time I checked my daughter’s place in school shouldn’t impact anyone else’s child. Is there a fear those children in the older four or six months age group of students are academically and physically more capable than others?

I’m still not sure what she will do next year, but what I do know is that right now she is just a four-year with more interest in making potions of jacaranda flowers and jasmine in the backyard with her brothers than competing against your child for a spot in the 2029 intake at Sydney University.

So until we do have a universal school starting age with no “grey area” it would be a good idea for us all to take a deep breath and remember this is an individual decision for each family not a competition.

With more parents holding their kids back what do you think about the school starting age debate?

School starting ages by state:

  • NSW: Four, turning five by July 31

  • Vic: Four, turning five by April 30

  •  Qld: Four, turning five by July 31

  •  SA: Four-and-a-half on January 1

  • WA: Four, turning five by June 30

  • Tas: Five on January 1

  •  NT: Four, turning five by June 30

  • ACT: Four, turning five by April 30