SNP to consider raising Scotland school starting age to six years old

The Scottish Government could be set to raise the school starting age to six years old if the SNP follow the Scottish Greens in calling for the policy.

Such a move would bring Scotland closer in line with most European countries, but out of sync with the rest of the UK.

Children usually start school at the P1 stage at around the age of four or five years old.

However, a motion submitted to the SNP’s conference by its policy development convener, Toni Giugliano, could see this replaced by a kindergarten stage.

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This would be a statutory play-based stage for three to six-year-olds, aligning Scotland with countries such as Ireland, Spain, and Germany, with formal schooling starting after this stage.

The SNP’s coalition partners, the Scottish Greens, have previously called for the school starting age to be raised to seven as part of their manifesto for the 2021 Holyrood election.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have also backed the move.

The SNP could follow other parties in calling for the school starting age to be raised.

If accepted for debate and passed by the SNP conference, the motion could pave the way for the Scottish Government to make the change with the backing of a significant majority of MSPs.

The motion argues that evidence demonstrates those in play-based kindergarten have higher levels of health and wellbeing, and such a move would help close the attainment gap – a key promise made by Nicola Sturgeon at the start of her tenure as First Minister.

James McEnaney, the author of Class Rules: the Truth about Scottish Schools and lecturer, said such a policy would be “potentially game-changing”.

He said: “Raising the school starting age is a genuinely progressive and potentially game-changing idea, and one that already enjoys widespread support across political divides and broader society.

"Our current approach is out of date and out of step with the world's top-performing education system and our kids deserve better.”

Mr McEnaney said after years of “horrendous education policy” by the Scottish Government under the SNP, the policy could be a “much needed” turning point.

He said: “We must be clear, however, that this change hinges on something much more challenging, which is the complete transformation of Scotland's early years sector. This means ending the current patchwork of provision and providing a truly national service that, like schools, should be free at the point of use.

"If the SNP membership has the courage to back this, then they should be applauded, and the party leadership should make it an absolute priority.”

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary at the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the largest teaching union in the country, said raising the school starting age was not a simple suggestion.

He said: “The issue around raising the school starting age is entirely dependent on what comes before that.

"The EIS, for example, has pressed for current nursery provision to be statutory and for teachers to be deployed across the sector to ensure the best possible start for children within our 3-18 curriculum, but the current Government has presided over a marginalisation of teachers in pre-5.”

Mr Flanagan added: "Significant discussion would be required before any change as there will be considerable suspicion on the part of teachers that such a move was being motivated by a cost-saving agenda rather than an education rationale.”

The first episode of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, is out now.

It is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.