New options for starting school

Changes to the Education Amendment Bill mean new entrants such as Ilona Schenk and Myles McHugh from Pillans Point School may be able to start school before their 5th birthday. Photo: Nikki South.

The ability to have children start school in a group rather than in dribs and drabs as they blow out the candle on their 5th birthday has been welcomed by local principals.

But school communities will be consulted before any changes are made.

The passing of the Education Amendment Bill last month means that schools can now opt to have children starting school from the beginning of the school term closest to their birthday, rather than on the day or week of their 5th birthday.

The ‘cohort entry' option means some children could start school up to eight weeks before they turn five and some will start several weeks after their 5th birthday.

Pillans Point School principal Matt Simeon says the cohort entry option does suit bigger schools such as his that can see a handful of new entrants start each week.

The school currently has a roll of 515 but is expecting up to another 75 five-year-olds to start by the end of the year.

“From a planning side of things cohort entry is an advantage. For example, I can advertise for staff to start at certain times.

 “Our local cluster of schools have begun conversations but we haven't made any clear decisions as a group. Having spoken to some of our feeder ECEs (early childhood centres) they can see pros and cons. They will have some kids for longer and some there for shorter periods.”

The school already asks parents to start their children at school on the Monday after their birthday, which is easier for the classroom teacher to manage than having children start five days a week.

“If we could start a whole bunch of new entrants together in a group of 15-16 that's better for everybody,” says Matt.

The Mid-Canterbury Principals' Association has collectively decided that schools in the region won't be enrolling any children under the age of five, however the Western Bay of Plenty Principals' Association has not yet had any discussion as a group.

President Dane Robertson, who is principal of Kaimai School, is not an advocate of children starting school too early.

In a newsletter to Western Bay of Plenty principals he said that out of 206 countries, New Zealand was one of only 21 that starts children at school at the age of five. Research shows that starting school later can be beneficial to children's development.

Peter Reynolds, chief executive of the Early Childhood Council, said some early childhood centres would struggle financially with groups of children leaving at once and some parents may take their children out of early childhood education early to save on fees.

Dane agrees it would be cheaper to place a child in a school classroom than in an early childhood centre.

“Perhaps it is time we stopped doing what is fiscally prudent and start implementing what is based on research, and is morally honourable.”

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