Bright children should start school at six, says academic
FORMAL schooling should be delayed by at least 12 months because an over-emphasis on the three-Rs at an early age can cause significant long-term damage to bright children, according to a leading academic.
Pupils should not be subjected to full classroom tuition until the age of six to off-set the effects of premature “adultification”, it was claimed.
Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, said gifted pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds suffered the most from being pushed “too far, too fast”.
He quoted a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally.
Many bright children can grow up in an “intellectually unbalanced way”, suffering lifelong negative health effects and even premature death, after being pushed into formal schooling too quickly, he said.
Most Irish and British schoolchildren already start classes earlier than their peers in many other European nations. Children are normally expected to be in lessons by five, although most are enrolled in reception classes aged four.
He said: “The conventional wisdom is that naturally intelligent children should have their intellect fed and stimulated at a young age, so they are not held back.
“Yet these new empirical findings strongly suggest that exactly the opposite may well be the case, and that young children’s run-away intellect actually needs to be slowed down in the early years if they are not to risk growing up in an intellectually unbalanced way, with possible life-long negative health effects.”
Prof Howard Friedman, a psychologist at the University of California, analysed the progress of children over 80 years and found that “early school entry was associated with less educational attainment, worse midlife adjustment and, most importantly, increased mortality risk”.
Prof Friedman said that formal education usually began at six but early starters entered education at four or five.
He added: “Most children under age six need lots of time to play, and to develop social skills, and to learn to control their impulses. An over-emphasis on formal classroom instruction – that is, studies instead of buddies, or staying in instead of playing out – can have serious effects that might not be apparent until years later.”
The conclusions follow a study from the National Foundation for Educational Research in 2002 that starting late “appears to have no adverse effect on children’s progress”.