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Immature children 'babysat at school'

TEACHERS are having to act as babysitters for children who are not mature enough for school, a principals' conference has heard.

Although increasing numbers of parents are waiting until children are five to start them in school, many infant pupils are ill-equipped for the experience.

It is not so much a question of age, as readiness for school, said Brendan McCabe, president of the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN).

"Some children are being sent to school too young, or, more correctly, before they are sufficiently mature," he said in his keynote address to the IPPN annual conference.

Mr McCabe said some children were ready for school at four, while others may still not be ready at five.

Children who were not ready for school had difficulties sustaining their concentration and had a major problem with socialisation, which could turn it into a negative and traumatic experience, he said.

Mr McCabe said many teachers of infant classes with 30 pupils would say that 27 or 28 were fine, but two or three were struggling and it was questionable as to whether they would ever catch up.

He said most parents had a sense of their children's maturity from how they interacted with others in a social setting – whether they were capable of looking outside themselves and socialising with other children.

Difficulties with skills such as buttoning a coat could be a sign of a child's development, but a much more important indicator was how well they interacted with others, he said.



Even though parents would judge their child's maturity, some were forced to send them to school early because of a lack of affordable pre-school childcare.

He said that the provision of a year's free pre-school, under the Early Childhood Care and Education scheme (ECCE), had been a great help.

But, Mr McCabe said some children needed a second free ECCE year and there was also a need to ensure that all pre-schools met acceptable standards and had fully trained staff.