GROWING numbers of parents are waiting until a child is five to send them to school.
New figures show that 61pc of children starting school now are aged five, up from 51pc in 1996.
There was an even split between the four- and five-year- olds back in 1996, according to Department of Education figures.
School starting age is a perpetual talking point among parents, trying to juggle issues such as a child's readiness, availability of places and childcare costs.
The upward drift in the school starting age has been gradual, and education observers put it down to a number of factors.
Most recently, the introduction of the free pre-school year in January 2010 is seen as having a significant influence.
Thousands of parents are taking advantage of a free year – which is available for children from three years, three months to four years, six months – and delaying the school start.
Under Department of Education rules, a child must be four on September 1 starting school, so there is an overlap between the upper age limit for a child on a free pre-school place and the age for entry into primary school.
Another factor may be the shortage of school places in areas of population growth during the boom years. This left many parents with no option but to delay sending their child to school.
Anecdotally, there is evidence that in areas where there has been a limited expansion in school choice, some parents delay sending their child in the hope of getting a place in their preferred school.
Irish National Teachers' Organisation President Anne Fay said age should not be the only deciding factor about the best time to start school.
"The most important factors are the readiness of the child for school and the learning environment in the school for the child," she said.
She added parents were best placed to decide when their children should start primary education.
"There is a general belief that girls are ready for school at an earlier age than boys – but care should be taken about generalisations on the basis of gender."
Ms Fay said parents often considered many factors such as the place of the child in the family, employment situation, cost and availability of child care and the type of education they want for their child.
In 1884, a rule was introduced preventing children under three from enrolling in primary schools. The age limit was increased to four in 1934.