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Sinead Ryan: Starting school at five? Parents will be paying the price

Aren't parents supposed to be a child's primary educator? Aren't we told again and again that trusting our instincts regarding their development is key?

Well, it looks like one of the main decisions parents make about their kids is about to be taken out of their hands -- the age they start school.

The Government wants to push it to five -- not because the children will be mature and better prepared, but because it will save money. How immature and ill- prepared is that?

There is no such thing as a 'normal' child. They develop individually. My nephew was toddling by 10 months; it took my son a tortuous 16. My baby's first tooth broke through at three months (clamped onto me, as it happens), for others, they're gummy until they're crawling.

Parents fret over all these things, desperately wondering if it's 'okay' before realising that knowing your own child is the most important thing -- what's 'normal' for him is what matters.

So, deciding to send him or her to school at four or five is wholly a decision based on their progress, their social interaction and whether they were 'ready'. Parents know this intimately for each child and make their call accordingly. Some put the child down for four only to get there and realise they've another year of 'growing-up' to do. Others, like me, wait till five, believing the extra year was needed, only to find he's caught up within six months and is bored for the next three years.

Saving money is all well and good, and necessary, but if we saw anything from the Leaving Cert results this week it's that children need more time in the education system, not less, as we struggle to have them do well in important subjects like maths -- 10pc of students failed it this year -- which won't be helped by cutting a year out early on.

And what of those elderly children who are born in October or November? They'll be blowing out six candles on their cake before the mid-term break.


At six, they should be adding up numbers, reading fundamentally and well able to cope with the discipline of school. Instead, they'll be the new kids; many of them will have been at home for all of the previous years, or in their third year of pre-school or Montessori.

And where are parents to fund this extra year?

By the Government saving money, families have to pay -- another year of childcare, pre-school or a delay in going back to work.

It's an added stressful burden they don't need.

The early childhood grant has been cut -- the free year that was provided by the government only covers a child from three years and two months to four years and seven months.

Other money saving 'solutions' based entirely on the sweep of an accountant's pen include getting rid of transition year. As a parent of a child just finished it, this appals me.

What next? Well we could get rid of chairs, I suppose, and have everyone standing; or ditch the books and go back to chalk tablets.

This retrograde step, if it is pursued, will be fundamentally damaging to children -- who are, after all, our future taxpayers.