Is 4 too young to start school?


Do you think the UK should move to a system like in Finland where children start school at 7? Do you think it depends on the child and a one-size-fits-all system is bound to be flawed?


A one-size-fits all system is inevitably going to be flawed. Personally I think starting school at four is far too young and waiting until six or seven would be better, especially when you compare to schooling in Germany and France etc.

But a lot depends on circumstance - I can see that some children will benefit from the structure and learning opportunities offered by school. But when you hear of six year olds being highly stressed because of school, (head teachers under pressure to maintain Ofsted ratings etc) you have to question who is benefitting.


I think the English system is far too rigid and although 7 seems very late, 4 and a couple of days seems far too young. My middle child was born in the last week of August (we were living in England) and her birthday was one of the reasons we wanted to move back to Scotland. Looking back, she may have coped academically at 4, but she would have struggled emotionally and socially.

The easy way round this is offering deferral as we have here - parents of English/Welsh children born in July or August could easily be given the right to wait and year and send them when they have just turned 5, rather than just 4. That’s what happens here albeit with a different age group, and the system works well. Parents can make the right choice for their own children without being penalised.


What age do Scottish children have to start school by @morag_peers?


The admission year here runs from 1st March to 28th February. So any child who is 4 by 28th Feb 2016 will start school in August 2016 when they’re between 4.5 for the youngest through to 5.5 for the oldest ones born at the beginning of March. In addition, parents of children who are Jan/Feb born (so the youngest) have the right to defer entry until the following year, so their children start at 5 years 7 months as one of the oldest in the year. This is a really common thing to do, there’s no stigma to it, and parents can make the choice of what’s best for their kids.

It’s worth pointing out though that from what I’ve seen the first year of school in Scotland is “proper” school, not a half-way house like reception. It’s very much “sit down and get on with it” formal schooling from the start and not play based much at all. It’s difficult to draw comparisons between the English and Scottish systems as they are different ages of children and structure of the day, but being able to defer younger children if the parents think it’s needed is something which would be relatively simple to implement south of the border.

Of course, the school admissions system is completely different here too which helps, but that’s a whole other can of worms.


I think 4 isn’t too young to start school per se - but I agree it depends on circumstances. Every child is different. As a dad of 3, I think it worked well for our eldest. The middle one struggled. Our youngest is barely 2 yet but already acts like she’s ready for school … I think she’d suffer if she didn’t start at 4!

I also think it depends on your family, support group and personal/social circumstances. If you have a large family or a very social family, your child will get more social exposure outside school and fare better starting at age 4. If your child doesn’t get as much social exposure at home, they may struggle a bit more - though, conversely, one might argue that starting at age 4 may actually benefit them by providing this exposure.


This is such a difficult question, because 4 sounds incredibly young, and some children will be ready at this point whereas others wouldn’t. In an ideal world, children should have to show that they have reached milestones before starting school - for example being able to dress and feed themselves (obviously) and perhaps being able to write their own name and count to a certain number. They’re only simple examples, of course, but there are many things that need to be considered too.

I always feel sorry for children who are quite clearly the younger ones when they start, as they can often fall behind straight away, and there aren’t the staff numbers to help them keep up. I do think this issue needs to be addressed, as there is little point in a 4yo attending school if they’re not going to get anything out of it for the first year, as it is precious time that they could be spending with their parents for another year learning key life skills.


Four isn’t actually the compulsory age for children to start school. A child is entitled to start school full-time in September after their following birthday, but it’s not compulsory.

Parents can decide to differ until the next school year after their child’s fifth birthday, and they can request that their child starts outside of his or her age group (e.g. reception instead of Y1.)

As I’m a new user so I can’t yet post a link here, but if you google School Admission Code, you’ll be able to find more information about it.


Thanks all. I agree @hope that it isn’t compulsory but many of the parents I speak to on this issue say that they have encountered problems with schools not keeping a place open for their child. Anyone else experienced this?

Here’s the link to the Schools Admissions Code for England:


My son will be nearly 5 when he starts school and I have noticed a big jump in his maturity and readiness for school in the last 6 months. I think he would have struggled emotionally with starting school last September, and as an October born baby, he has friends who are just weeks older than him and started school last September. I am not sure I would be as happy he was starting school in September if he was going to be closer to 4 when he started. Having said that, the younger children have settled into school life well and I think that Reception year teachers are wonderfully talented at accomodating the different developmental needs of the children in their class.


My husband is a January born and said that when he started Primary school in England there was a Christmas intake as well as September. So he started beginning of January, just before his 5th birthday. Anyone know why that system was scrapped?


Not sure, Morag. I haven’t heard of this system being in place for a long time. Originally my understanding was that teachers liked the staggered intake as it have them chance to settle the children and bring one group up to speed in terms of the daily routine before focusing on the next group. BUT I think testing and the focus on levels has made teachers feel they need to GET GOING otherwise a number of children may be judged as “falling behind”. Anyone else have any experience of this?


Reading the School Admission Code, I don’t think the system was scrapped. Parents can still decide for their children to start after Christmas, as long as it’s not the start of the final term. But I don’t think parents are aware of this, and schools aren’t making it clear.


It’s your legal right to defer school entry until compulsory school age - which is five years old. I did this for my son, and he’ll start reception at the beginning of the (final) Summer term in April.

It wasn’t a simple process - but it should be. Basically, the School Admissions Code 2.16 (b) clearly states that it is for the parent to decide if they want to defer until compulsory school age.

Compulsory school age is set out in section 8 of the Education Act 1996 and the Education (Start of Compulsory School Age) Order 1998. A child reaches compulsory school age on the prescribed day following his or her fifth birthday (or on his or her fifth birthday if it falls on a prescribed day). The prescribed days are 31 December, 31 March and 31 August.

My son’s 5th birthday is 18 February and so his ‘prescribed day’ is 31 March. Hence, he starts in the final term.

I applied for primary school in the usual way, and accepted a place at our chosen state school; your allocated school has to hold that place until compulsory school age. My headmaster had never dealt with this situation before. My LEA originally said that my son could only defer until the January term - until I provided them with above info and written back up from the Department for Education.

I feel four is too young and as a family we’ll have spent a wonderful extra six months together. Precious time. Deferring is not for everyone (or every child), but I do wish your rights on this issue were made clearer. The main reaction I get is: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could do that’!


Fantastically helpful feedback, Kit. Thank you so much. Can I ask on behalf of the other users how you spent the ‘extra six months’ together? Did you feel you needed to prepare him for school?


We’re still enjoying our six months, and it’s been brilliant. Play, painting, stories, cooking, theatre, being outside as much as possible, hanging out with his grandparents, other children of all ages, learning about things he’s interested in (currently volcanoes) and just having the time to read, chat or go on a walk together. I see no downside to this. I want to enjoy his early years as much as possible – plenty of time for formal education – and I’ve seen his personality, physical stamina and confidence grow. That makes me so happy. In terms of prepping him for school, I’ve kept up with the curriculum – he’s been learning about letters and numbers, but not in a structured way – and we’ve met up with his teachers and friends he already has in his class… I want to make the next step for him as smooth and fun as possible too. To be honest though, I’d start him at school much later if I could.


Wonderful @Kit. Sounds like a lucky – and very happy – boy! Did you manage to combine delaying school with work? Or does it have to be an either/or thing, a little like home education?


A wonderful story … we should all be so lucky!


Great info and very detailed too.


Apologies for my late reply. My son has now started school. There’s been a settling-in period for both of us! But he seems to have taken it all in his stride. Yes I managed to combine delaying school with my job. I work part time. He was at nursery 1.5 days a week and the rest was covered by me and my husband, who did flexi time one day. I’ve now spread my hours out (thanks understanding boss) so I can do school pick up. I do feel lucky that this is all possible.