Sun 21 Feb, 2021

Scotland should introduce a kindergarten stage, with children starting formal primary schooling at seven, the Scottish Greens have said.

Research shows a Nordic-style kindergarten system between the ages of three and six, with learning undertaken through ‘creative play’ rather than a ‘formal learning’ approach, would improve children’s wellbeing and educational outcomes later in their school career.

Education and child wellbeing outcomes are far higher in Finland than Scotland, which has in part been credited to their kindergarten system and primary school starting age of seven.

The importance of play-based learning and prioritising wellbeing is recognised on paper in both the Curriculum for Excellence and Scotland’s national play strategy, but Scottish Government policy in recent years has instead prioritised a formal learning approach, including by introducing standardised assessments starting in primary one.

The policy launch follows a report written for the Green MSPs last year by noted education academics Prof Mark Priestley and Dr Kylie Bradfield. Their report drew on international evidence of differing approaches to kindergarten, starting ages for formal education and their associated outcomes. 

Launching the policy, Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said:

“The pandemic and home learning have shone a light on the importance of children’s wellbeing. As we turn towards the recovery, we should seize the opportunity to leave behind the least effective parts of our education system. We can replicate the success of countries such as Finland if we replace our current situation, where children start formal schooling at as young as four and a half, with a kindergarten stage followed by primary school from age seven.

“This is the opposite of the Scottish Government’s current approach, which has included the introduction of standardised tests in primary one. We need a play-based kindergarten stage from three to six, drawing on the success of countries whose education and child wellbeing outcomes are far better than Scotland’s.

“The UK is an international outlier in how early children start school. Of the handful of countries who share our system, almost all are former British colonies. It’s time Scotland ditched this totally outdated model and did what is best for our children’s future.”

Sue Palmer, chair of Upstart Scotland, which campaigns for a kindergarten stage, said:

“This is wonderful news. It’s a great step forward to see the call for kindergarten stage in a mainstream party manifesto and we’re hugely grateful to the Scottish Greens for their support for Upstart Scotland’s aims.

“Now that Scottish children have fully-funded entitlement to early learning and care from the age of three, it would be fairly easy to raise the starting age for formal schooling to the year children turn seven and provide developmentally-appropriate education for three- to seven-year-olds, as they do in successful Nordic countries.

“Upstart recently sent every MSP a copy of our recent book Play is the Way, explaining how and why this policy will lead to improved health, well-being and lifelong learning for all children.  We hope MSPs from other parties will read it and see the light!”

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