Decades ago, you may have started school before your fifth birthday and in fact, many Australian kids still do the same.

There’s no doubt that the Australian education system has changed dramatically in the past 20 or 30 years. The social, emotional and intellectual demands that will be placed on your child in his or her first year of formal schooling will differ greatly from those you experienced.

But when it comes to the question the best age at which to send your child to school, who should you turn to for answers? The ‘experts’? Your family? Or your own instincts?

The experts
For more than 15 years, author Steve Biddulph has been a high profile advocate of holding children, especially boys, back from starting school. In his 1997 bestseller Raising Boys he asserted that boys feel “inadequate” if they go to school before the age of six and that delaying their start to school has multiple social, emotional and cognitive benefits.

Biddulph’s book has been read by more than a million mums and dads around the world. He has influenced many an Australian parent into trying to give their child ‘the best chance of success’. This has usually resulted in an extra year at preschool and a delayed school start, all done in the hope that an older, stronger, more socially mature child will cope better than classmates who are ‘disadvantaged’ by their youth.

Most State-based Australian education systems require that children turn five before July 31 in order to commence school in that year, and yet there is an increasing number of Aussie kids who are being ‘held back’, resulting in age spans of up to 18 months in kindy and prep classrooms across the country.

The results of this relatively recent practice is yet to be fully documented here, however, researchers at the Michigan State University and the University of Illinois in the USA have found holding children back is not all that is promoted to be.

In a study of more than 40,000 American students, they found that any initial advantage older children had over their younger classmates tended to dissipate in the first few months and then sharply decline in subsequent years.

“Rather than providing a boost to children’s human capital development, delayed entry simply postpones learning and is likely not worth the long-term costs,” wrote the authors, Todd Elder and Darren Lubotsky.

And so the debate rages on…

The Family

Many parents are enthusiastically told about the success of siblings, cousins and neighbours in the months leading up to school readiness decisions.

Grandparents, who faced similar decisions more than 30 years ago, are often the most powerful forces to be reckoned with in this regard.

Ever tried explaining to your 60-something mother-in-law that your child is an individual with a unique learning style, and that it’s important that you make a choice that is based solely upon his needs?

Sometimes it’s not easy…especially if her son (your child’s father) was a boy wonder at the age of 4!

Between the ages of four and half and six, children are still developing the wide range of skills needed for schooling success.

No child is a replica of his brother, cousin or father so, as difficult as it may be for the family to accept, and despite having reached the right chronological age to start school, your child still may not be developmentally ready to start school next year.

From whom should I seek advice?

If you’re into November and you still haven’t decided if you’re sending your child to school in 2013, it’s probably time to stop researching and start talking to experts who can help you to make an informed decision.

The school
It’s worth talking to your child’s prospective school about the age range of the group that your child might be part of next year.

If your child is socially and emotionally ready for the learning leap that going to school requires, age differences may not matter – but if you are concerned that your child will spend the next 13 years with a peer group that is predominantly 9-12 months older than he is, you may wish to talk further with the school about your options.

The preschool
The professionals who probably know your child’s learning, social and emotional capacity best are the early educators who work with him at preschool.

These teachers have seen your child among his peers and should be able to give you clear and independent advice about his strengths and challenges.

An observant early educator who knows your child well is likely to be able to give you information about how your child’s levels of development compares with his peers and this could be crucial to your decision making.

Therapy specialists
Children’s health professionals who focus on supporting kids’ acquisition of functional learning skills are also good advisors. Paediatric Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists can offer excellent insights about a child’s school readiness and provide you with practical ways in which to support your child’s developing skills in the next few months so that they will be ready to start school.

Early learning and social skills programs
Finally, reputable health and education services who offer broadly based learning, language and social skills programs such as Kids First Children’s Services’ Confident Little Kids are worth contacting if you are not sure if your child is ready to start school. The exposure that your child receives to the conventions of learning with a group of peers could be of real benefit to his learning and interaction skills.

Send your child to school when he is ready to ‘thrive’, not just ‘cope’

Kids are at school for 13 years. It’s a long haul…and it can be made harder if a child is not quite ready when his journey begins.

If you are still unsure about whether your child should start school next year, talk to those who can offer you an independent opinion, consider all the things that only you as a parent can know about him – and trust your gut.

Your child is lucky to have a parent who takes his future so seriously!!


  • It is all about the child! As a general rule, most boys have up to 6-12 months difference in their communication skills as compared to girls at the same age of kindy. If your son is ready to go, can sit still, can communicate his needs and wants effectively and is emotionally fairly stable then send him. If not, then give him some more time to catch up to the girls.

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  • My son is an October baby my daughter is a November baby. My son was an average student and my daughter excelled. So I’m not sure it’s all about age

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  • Yes, I believe chronological age is very important to how kids cope at school

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  • I am so lucky that this is still a long way off for me… and the inlaws are on the other side of the world.

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  • I don’t know if it still happens but some children used to be assessed at kindergarten. I know one girl who was assessed and they wanted to put her straight into grade 2. Her parents refused as they considered that emotionally she wasn’t ready and would have struggled with being compared with the other children. Then they said grade 1. She started school mid year only a few days after her birthday in Reception with her group in Kindergarten. In some ways she was a little bit advanced but in other ways definitely not. Her teacher said they may have moved her down a class and it been quite damaging.

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  • Each child is different. My eldest was aching to start school and could have gone a year before she was legally allowed. When she was in grade 1 thankfully she was in a combo class made up of grades 1 to 3. She was often mistaken for a grade 3 as she took off with her reading and was doing grade 3 work.
    My 2nd child was held back year and my 3rd was just right.

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  • My son started school in the year he turned 5. His birthday is in October and I noticed a deficit with him and the kids whose birthdays wer at the start of the year, but he caught up

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  • Great! That was an interesting article! Thanks for sharing that knowledge!

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  • Both my kids were so ready to start school at an early age but we had to wait until the school accepted them. My youngest could have started nearly a year early based on social and academic skills. But once they were there they never looked back and loved every minute of it.

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  • Our son started school age 4 (turning 5 in the April). We agonised over this decision and discussed it with his Kinder teacher who said he was not on her radar as being not school ready. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I don’t know if we would have done anything differently. Perhaps if there was a uniform standard across the country eg. the cut-off at 31 December, not 30 April as it stands in Victoria, the decision would have been made for us. We’re one of many (particularly from our Mother’s Group) who all sent our children to school aged 4. We make sure we speak to his teachers each year to explain he is younger than the majority of the class (even now he’s in High School) and manage the situation with our son, amongst ourselves, and with the school. I’m often explaining to my son that he might be 14 and wanting to do things that his friends who are all 15, some about to turn 16, but it’s not appropriate or suitable. We just work with it.

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  • Thank you for the interesting article.

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  • Thank you, thank you. It is a question I ask myself everyday at the moment. We mapped out our 4 yrs program, then moved house throwing it all in disarray. With an intellectual 4 yr (5 yrs in Jan) his confidence is growing along with his social skills, but I am still not sure which way to go. Kinder says he should be fine, but I know one extra yr will give him confidence and reduce need for social acceptance (young kids often need – although he doesn’t seem to need now), and maybe give him better chance, but will he be bored? How do I tackle the – your mums group friends are going but your not. I am struggling with this one. Thanks for great article, I will continue my research, chats and one way or another work things out

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  • Every child is different and learn at different rates. If a child is not ready emotionally, socially and physically, then parents shouldn\’t start them in school. It\’s better if the child is at the top end of the class than at the bottom and struggling. My nearly 5 yr old could have started this year but he was no where near ready. I have 3 older children so I could tell he wasn\’t ready to cope with Prep. He goes to speech therapy which will help him to succeed with learning to read.

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  • Even though this article is really old 2012 it has great points and tips.

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  • These are very interesting points.

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