School Starting Age – Latest Research On Australian Children

In Australia we are currently in the midst of our summer school holidays. In about two weeks time, they will be over, the new school year will commence and thousands of children will begin their first year of school. The starting age for children in primary school in Australia has varied from state to state:


STATE PROGRAM NAME AGE OF ENTRY
NSW Kindergarten 5 by 31 July
Vic Prep 5 by 30 April
QLD Prep 5 by Jun 30
WA Pre-Primary 5 by June 30
SA Reception Multiple Intakes
Tas Prep 5 by Jan 1
ACT Kindergarten 5 by 30 April
NT Transition Multiple Intakes

Source: Does it matter what age children start school in Australia? Ben Edwards and Matthew Taylor, Australian Institute of Family Studies Mario Fiorini, University of Technology, Sydney. PDF Copy of Summary to download


Edit: Please note that I have changed the QLD entry age using information from the QLD Govt education website (PDF to download) which states that children must turn 5 by June 30, which is different to the main source. The table in the main source refers to the entry ages when the research was conducted and QLD’s entry age has change since then – thanks Michelle for letting me know about this!

Edit: From 2013, South Australia will have the same first day of preschool for all children – the beginning of the school year. From 2014 the same first day of school for all children will be the beginning of the school year. If your child turns four before May 1, they will start preschool or school on the first day of Term One in that year. If your child turns four on or after May 1, they will start preschool or school on the first day of Term One the following year. Source

Back in September I listed 10 Parenting Podcasts that I was enjoying. The ABC Radio National Education program is one of my favourites and it consistently presents me with new and interesting information on education in Australia.

At the end of November the topic of the podcast was School Starting Age. You can listen to it via the ABC Radio National Website. It goes for just over 11 minutes and I can highly recommend taking the time to listen to it, if you are wondering what might be the right age for you child to start school.

The program features an interview with Dr Ben Edwards from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (an Australian Government centre for research and information on family wellbeing). The focus of the interview is his latest research project “Does it matter what age children start school in Australia? Investigating the effects of school starting age on six year old children’s outcomes.”

The research is based on a Longitudinal Study of Australian Children called Growing Up in Australia:

Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study following the development of 10,000 children and families from all parts of Australia. The study commenced in 2004 with two cohorts – families with 4-5 year old children and families with 0-1 year old infants. Growing Up in Australia is investigating the contribution of children’s social, economic and cultural environments to their adjustment and wellbeing. A major aim is to identify policy opportunities for improving support for children and their families and for early intervention and prevention strategies.

Areas Of Observation

The areas of observation on school entry age were grouped into two key areas:

Cognitive:

  • Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test
  • Matrix Reasoning from the WISC IV

Social and emotional, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (teacher):

  • Hyperactivity
  • Conduct Problems
  • Emotional Symptoms
  • Peer Problems
  • Prosocial Behaviour

The Findings

One year after school entry, the research found that:

  • Girls do better overall, but EA (entry age) matters more for boys
  • EA (entry age) affects cognitive but not social-emotional outcomes
  • Males benefit more from going to school older than females on verbal outcomes (PPVT).

Edwards in the interview though is very clear that he believes that entry age is a parental decision and that he doesn’t believe that their is a need to increase the overall entry age for children. He does state that the Australian Government is bringing in a universal starting age for school in Australia this year and that it will be 4 years and 6 months.

As the research is coming from the Longitudinal Study, they will be able to track whether these differences are sustained throughout the school years.

A couple of other interesting facts from the podcast:

  • In 2005 nationally 14.5% of children were delayed from starting school when they were eligible.
  • There was no difference from poor or advantaged backgrounds, which differs to research from the US.

More Resources On Starting Children At School

Kathy Walker is one of my favourite educational professionals. Walker has written a fantastic book called What’s the Hurry? which is a guide for parents, teachers and the community on the importance of giving children a childhood. Walker dedicates a chapter specifically to the issue of school readiness.

Walker’s Early Life Foundations Website contains an incredible amount of high quality information on educational/parenting issues. I have selected key articles from the site on school readiness, preparing children for school and coping with the first year and linked them in the list below:

You may also like to read a previous post of mine:

Next week I will discuss my personal experience with starting children at school :) .

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Comments

  1. says

    Ahh the peabody. We have an old copy thatI’ve never used, because noone’s ever been able to tell me a good reason to do it ;) Re-WISC use – I’m surprised that they’re going off single subtests on a formal assessment like this. The publishers always tell us not to re Language assessments. Plus, I hope they’re doing the full thing on the kids who need to test out for ID/LDs…

    The ELVS (Victorian) study is looking interesting too. Things like actually knowing what is normal for Australian kids in great!

    But, yes, I think that there are many babies starting school -esp in NSW! When I went through, I was born Jul 22 82, but I had a classmate Jul 25 83! She ended up doing well, but the tiny boys starting K here in Canberra scare me.
    .-= Fiona´s last blog ..The Twelve Apostles (Nov 26) =-.

  2. planningqueen says

    Hi Fiona,

    Thanks for leaving such a detailed comment. It is excellent to hear the perspective from a teacher. I hope teachers from other states will comment as well, given that we have such varied starting ages across the country.

    Thanks,
    PQ

  3. says

    Great post!
    My girls (all three) were born in June and I sent them to school when they were four and eight months old. Their preschool teachers indicated they were ready. The two big girls did very well indeed but Lily struggled from the very beginning.
    They all ended up repeating their years when William died because they lost all drive to learn.

    With Ivy and Noah – they are November babies and will turn five this year *gulp* I can’t imagine holding them back but I can see how my little guy might struggle where as Ivy would not. It’s tricky.
    If they go to school next year, they will be some of the youngest in their class, just like their sisters before them.

  4. says

    Interesting read – I remember you helping me a lot when I had to make this decision the year before last for a boy who will be starting school THIS year .. honestly .. 2 years is a LONG time in advance to be making such decisions!

    Anyway, i’m glad I held him back, and two of his kindy friends that are starting with him this year are on the young side, which just solidifies that I think I did the right thing. Time will tell I guess, but for my sensitive boy, having a maturity edge will help I think, in dealing with problems, peers, and stumbling blocks.

    Can’t say I could do the same for the 2ndborn though – he’s ready to go now .. at all of 2yrs old! :D

  5. says

    A topic if great interest to me right now as my son is starting preschool this year. I haven’t had time to look at/listen to all you links, but with a background in primary education and from talking to mums with slightly older children, I think it is better to start your child later rather than have them start school ‘on the back foot’.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..countdown to school =-.

  6. says

    What a great list of resources for parents, PQ!

    For us, starting school means something a bit different. J and F turned 5 in November so now they are school aged we had to put in our first application to home school! It was all very exciting and I spent ages outlining their curriculum for the year, gathering supporting evidence from their preschool work etc etc.
    I was most disappointed when I got the application back with a request to alter the curriculum because the gap between what we would be doing and what mainstream school would be doing was too big.
    In other words – my children would be too far ahead if I homeschooled them the way I wanted to.
    A few phone calls later, we are approved and the girls will continue on as usual – but I have learned that the transition into school age can be bumpy, which ever road you’re on!
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..My kids are hilarious =-.

  7. says

    As a parent with twins who had an ‘extra’ year at preschool and will start school in a few weeks aged 6 and 2 months I think I’d find it hard to make a blanket statement about when ‘all’ children should start school. It was hard enough deciding when ‘my’ children should start school and I know them very very well!

    We had other issues apart from age when it came to making that decision. While I think they probably would have done ‘ok’ all be it with a few struggles, the opportunity to allow them an extra year to grow and more importantly to just play and enjoy childhood before becoming part of a more constricting system of schooling seemed such a positive with very few negatives for us.

    I don’t really care if my kids do better or worse academically. I am not fussed if they are the most popular child or not. So studies based purely on academic or psycho-social outcomes matter little to me. What I really want is for them to love school, to enjoy learning and being part of the community and to be happy and that was what we based our. decision on for our children.

    Sorry for the essay but so much to say! LOL
    .-= katef´s last blog ..Shwactors! =-.

  8. planningqueen says

    Tiff – Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It certainly would have been a devastating year when William died. I have late Nov, Dec kids at school and they are the youngest in their classes, but like you couldn’t have imagined them not going to school that year.

    h&b – I think you have made an excellent point in that the decision really needs to made on a child by child basis, there are way to many factors to consider to have just one rule.

    Catherine – I certainly haven’t regretted my decision to send one of my boys when he was older.

    Michelle – Thanks for letting me know about the QLD dates. I think the table that I used as source would be referring to the starting ages when they did the research. I have changed the table to reflect what the current starting age is in QLD. Thanks for taking the time to let me know!

    Alison – I do really hope you start blogging some of your home schooling experiences – I would be genuinely interested to see some of the work you do with your kids!

    Katef – Excellent points Kate!! We had the same scenario with our second boy, he would not have been a happy child if we had sent him off to school when he was eligible. That is why I love Kathy Walker so much and her attitude towards school which she expresses so well in “Starting school: The debate continues. No, it’s not about just coping; it’s about having the time of your life!!!”

  9. says

    What a timely post! I was just talking to a friend this morning about how confusing the different states are. Amy starts preschool next week (gulp!) and we are still considering our options for next year as she is born on the 6th July. Until she starts preschool and the director has a chance to assess her we are still keeping our minds open to the possibility that she might, just might start school next year at 4yrs6mnths. I started school at the same age (birthday is end of June) and benefitted in many ways, luckily I was socially mature enough to cope with being the very youngest, infact I quite enjoyed it. My husband and I both believe that children should have as long as possible to play and have fun before starting school so unless Amy shows dramatic signs we will most likely send her for another year of preschool next year at which point she will start school at 5yrs6mths which has its own drawbacks. As you can tell this is an issue I am still conflicted on and will revist over and over again I am sure, before making our decision!
    .-= Super Sarah´s last blog ..We’re back………………. =-.

  10. says

    From a personal viewpoint, this is interesting:

    “EA (entry age) affects cognitive but not social-emotional outcomes ”

    My eldest started when he was 5y1m. We felt it would have been difficult to keep him back, because he was (and is) academically high achieving, but he struggled emotionally and socially, being almost the youngest in the class (certainly the youngest boy). Prep was a rough year. Our 2nd is a June baby, so she’ll be 5.5 to start, but having an April baby (our third) means a tricky decision (we’re in Vic) when we reach that time. He will probably start later rather than early.

  11. planningqueen says

    Super Sarah – I know how you feel. I spent many hours pondering entry age for my second child. In the end we went for a later entry age and for him, and it was the best option for him. But all children are different, so I revisit the same issues with my subsequent children each time.

    Melanie – Ben Edwards who wrote was interviewed on the podcast expressed his surprise at the results for the social emotional outcomes. I have two April babies, one has already started school and did so later. My second will turn 4 this April, but is just starting 3 year old kinder.

  12. Ellen says

    I would like to see the emotional and social outcomes when children hit their teen years.

    I am a March baby and started school just before I turned 5. I had no social or academic problems but when I was in high school I noticed that I felt in a different place emotionally than many of the older girls in my class (eg them becoming interested in boys and gossip)

    Now with more parents deciding to hold back their children (a horrible term!) children are often now an entire year older than their peers which I believe has to have an affect.

    My oldest is a March baby too and this year will be turning 4 and is doing her second year of 3 year old kinder with the view to start her in prep at age 5 turning 6 in 2012.

    I can’t see any down fall in having her home with me another year to play and learn and become more confident in herself before I entrust her care to a school system.

    Look forward to looking further at the links you have provided:)

  13. planningqueen says

    Hi Ellen,

    I will be writing a bit about this next week in my personal experience on this issue. When we made our decision to send our April babies off to school later, a big consideration was the teen years!

    Thanks so much for adding to the discussion.

    Cheers,
    PQ

  14. says

    Great article and very timely. The issue of school readiness is one I’ve personally done a lot of thinking and reading about over the last two years as all three of my children are born in the early part of the year and therefore will be the youngest starting school.

    My second child starts school in just over 2 weeks time. He will be 4 years old (5 in end Feb) when he starts and the youngest in his class, and I cant tell you enough how much nights sleep I’ve lost thinking are we doing the right think sending him to school or if we would be better “holding him back” (dont you think this term “holding him back” is in itself so interesting??!)

    I’ve had so many opinions offered to me over the course of the year and have found the fact that the parents of two of his best friends at kindy (boys and older than my son) have decided to have their sons repeat 4 year old kindy again. But at the end of the day we had to stand back and do what’s best for our little boy. At the end of the day that’s the only thing a parent can do.
    So,rather than repeat what my articles says if any of your readers are interested on the topic you can read more here:

    http://bit.ly/qMj6h
    http://bit.ly/7UQURL
    http://bit.ly/3s5ARR
    http://bit.ly/6X1dTe

    Thanks

    Ann :-)

  15. susan carr says

    I left Sydney nearly two years ago and returned to Scotland with my daughter then aged 3 after a bad separation with her father. I would now like to return in August but don’t know what to do with my daughter who turned 5 in February? She would be starting her first school here in August if we stayed. Should I wait until the new term starts in January 2011 or put her in school in Sydney in August even though all the other kids started in January. Would appreciate some feedback on what the best thing to do? :)

  16. says

    Hi Susan – welcome to Australia sounds like you have had a rough trot. Hope things are smoother now.

    Im from Ireland and in the northern hemishphere esp Ireland and Uk (though moves to change I hear) we tend to send them to school earlier than in Australia. In Vic (think same as NSW but not 100% sure) you have to start school by the time you are 6 years old and the cut off is 30 April. Meaning if your child was born before 30 April 2010 she COULD start school this year but if she was born on 1 May she would have to wait until next year (2011) to start school. Does that make sense? So…what im saying is if you send your child to school not the fact she was born in Feb means she will be one of the younger students in the class. She will be in a class with kids who turned 5 years May/June 2009 etc. So given that her birthday is in Feb (my son also turned 5 in Feb and I agonised over sending him to school this Jan…which we decided to do) I would lean towards waiting until next year to send her. This gives her (1) the chance to settle back in Aus and find her feet.(2) allows you to spend this year preparing yourself for sending her to school instead of rushing into it (3) allows her to enjoy the specialness of starting school on her first day with all the other preps instead of having her come in towards the end.

    School will last for a long time… the next 12 years of her life. Why the rush for the sake of a few months!

    If you would like to contact me to chat more please feel free to email me.

    Good luck in whatever you choose.

    Ann

  17. susan carr says

    Thanks Ann so much. Everything you said makes so much sense and you’ve just sorted out my head. You are right, waiting until January makes better sense and if I do return to Oz gives her a settling period and me too. Think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as parents and sometimes we need to take a step back and relax. Getting your opinion has helped me heaps. Go the paddies! :) x

  18. says

    Hi Susan,

    I am glad you found Ann’s advice helpful. (Big thanks to Ann to taking the time to offer practical advice!) I would also concur that waiting until January would allow for the smoothest start to the school year back in Australia. In NSW you need to have turned 5 by July 31 to start school in that year. This would make your child one of the older children in the class, but I personally see this as a better way to go. Australian education consultant Kathy Walker talks a lot about school readiness and she is very much an advocate for allowing children more time to be kids and waiting until they are ready for school You may like to read these articles by her on this issue:

    Supporting parents: School Readiness
    Starting school: The debate continues. No, it’s not about just coping; it’s about having the time of your life!!!; June 2009
    School Readiness

    Good luck with your move back to Australia!

  19. says

    You are most welcome Susan. It’s hard moving to a new country even if its country that speaks the same language as you do! It’s a weird coincidence as only yesterday I got an email from a friend of my sister (in Dublin) and they are emigrating to Melbourne in Sept and she is in a delimma what to do with her (turned 5 in March 2010) daughter!!! Like you she wanted to know if they should start her at school in Sept when they arrive or wait until the new school year in Jan/Feb 2011!! I wrote her a very long email almost pleading with her to wait until the new year. But point is you’re not alone!

    Good luck!

    Ann

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