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:

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:


  • 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 🙂 .