To Defer or not to Defer

Local authorities in Scotland, and particularly the one in Edinburgh, are currently encouraging fewer deferrals amongst our youngest pupils who are earmarked for going into Primary 1 in August. There has been a significant push in the last few years to make this an over-arching policy and it is, in my view, detrimental to far too many of our children. Considerable resource has been put in to calm parents’ fears of early entry but the rationale for such a move requires serious scrutiny.

It would appear that those involved in pushing for fewer deferrals are doing so with the best interests of children at heart. You will hear officials saying that it can be psychologically detrimental not to be placed with one’s peer group, that schools should provide differentiated material for those who fall behind and that deferral can ultimately lead to being socially disadvantaged.

These suggestions are the stuff of nonsense as this policy is quite clearly about saving money. The fewer children who defer the better, because the cost impact of providing nursery provision falls. When you take into account that funded nursery provision only comes into play the term following a child’s 3rd birthday then you can see the lack of sense in the policy. If a child’s birthday is in February, then a funded place in Nursery will only be available from April. This means, effectively, that the child has only four terms of nursery provision entitlement whilst those who are born in July will receive a fully funded six terms’ provision. So our youngest children are at the wrong end of a double whammy.

Early years’ education in Scotland has always been widely respected because of its focus on entitlement, funded places and the personalisation of each child’s future education. In other words, Scotland has, until now, taken into account the individual needs of children and respected the wishes of parents. Those days are fast disappearing and it is to our educational disadvantage that they do so. Is it really the case that we want our youngsters to come out of school having just turned 17, because that is what this policy ultimately leads to?

Scotland should once again put the interests of individual children ahead of financial considerations. Education is personal and we only get one shot at it – the parents of young 4-year-olds should not be ‘assertively encouraged’ into starting school early – after all, what exactly is the rush?