Friday 23 February 2018

Government plays down plans to raise school starting age

Ed Carty

The Government has moved to allay fears it plans to raise the school starting age to five or abolish transition year in a raft of radical cost-cutting.

Primary teachers launched a withering attack on the proposal, branding it educational and economic madness which goes against everything known about early childhood.

The idea was promoted within the Department of Education by the previous Fianna Fail-led government as drastic cost saving measures were explored, but no decision was taken on it.

The Department of Education said no decision has been made on the idea as a new cost-saving plan for the sector is being re-written.

"No decisions whatsoever have been taken in relation to changing the school-going age of children or abolishing the transition year," the department said.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (Into) said there is evidence of huge economic rewards to be reaped from early childhood education.

Sheila Nunan, general secretary of Into, said the proposal would have huge educational consequences for children.

"If this goes ahead many children will not be allowed into school until they are six. They will be locked outside schools at the very age when they learn most and gain most from the education system," she said.

She added: "Early childhood development programs are rarely portrayed as economic development initiatives.

"That is a mistake."

Into warned that pushing school starting age to five could see some children not starting until they are six.

"Young people who get a good early childhood education are more likely to complete second level education, own their own homes, are less likely to repeat classes, need special education, or get into future trouble with the law. There are clear social gains as well."

The proposal also sparked fears over how hard-pressed parents could cope with another year of childcare costs.

Ms Nunan said: "For many families childcare costs are on a par with mortgage repayments. Expecting hard pressed families to come up with another year of child care is not possible."

The cost-saving proposals also included a 3,000 euro flat sign-on fee for third level education.

The ideas were floated in a briefing document sent from the Department of Education to the Department of Finance during the last government.

A spokeswoman for the National Parents Council Primary, which represents mothers and fathers of youngsters in early education, said the interests of the child should always come first.

"Our view would always be that any decision made must come from a child's point of view and in the best interests of the child," she said.

"The early years, four, five and six, are the most important of the primary years - that's why we feel that classes should be smaller and the emphasis should be on play, or learning through play."

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