John O’Dowd indicates new school age rules likely for Northern Ireland

Education Minister John O’Dowd has indicated he is willing to introduce new rules to allow flexibility on the school starting age in Northern Ireland which is currently set at four – the lowest in Europe. This is from the BBC

Mr O’Dowd was speaking after a campaign group of parents and teachers addressed the Education Committee at Stormont on Wednesday.

The minister told the BBC his “mindset was to bring a scheme into play”.

He said the main issue was not whether there would be a scheme, but exactly what scheme would be introduced.

He warned legislation might be needed, but he expected to make a decision in the coming months on the way ahead.

At age four, Northern Ireland has the lowest statutory age of entry to school in Europe, according to the National Foundation for Educational Research.

The group calling for a more flexible system said the current system works for most children, but they want a degree of flexibility so that parents of children who are not ready to begin school can hold them back.

DUP education spokesman Mervyn Storey also backed the group’s campaign.

“There are a relatively small number of children in Northern Ireland with specific circumstances who should be allowed to defer starting school,” he said.

“The education minister should move quickly on this issue and there is no reason for delay.”

One of the lobbying group, Julie Thomas, principal of Clandeboye Primary School in Bangor, County Down, said: “Every year, we notice a group of children who we feel are not ready to be in the primary school classroom.

“Usually, those children are young-for-age children who turned four around May and June.”

More at:  John O’Dowd indicates new school age rules likely

Do you agree that a statutory starting age of 4 is too young and that more flexibility would be a good thing in Northern Ireland? In Scotland, Wales and England the compulsory starting age is 5 – is this still too young or about right? Please let us know your thoughts and insights in the comments or on twitter… 

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