EDUCATION: LibDems lead historic debate on raising starting age for formal schooling  

Education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart and LibDem leader Willie Rennie.

By Lucy Ashton

Scottish Liberal Democrats education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP is leading the first parliamentary debate on raising the starting age for formal schooling.

It is part of the party’s long-term plan to make Scottish education the best again and follows on from Willie Rennie setting out at the weekend steps that Scottish Liberal Democrats would take in time for August to help education bounce back, including guaranteeing a job for every trained teacher to cut class sizes and provide more support.

Beatrice Wishart MSP said: ““This is about transforming how children learn in what is currently P1 and P2. Early years are best grounded in play, on developing skills and using the outdoors to develop curiosity and confidence, which are crucial to development of physical and mental health.

“By learning together through play children develop the skills needed for trickier tasks and are better prepared to shine in areas like literacy and numeracy.  If you start a child on those tasks before their brains are developed enough then they fall behind others in their class who were ready. They lose confidence and it has lasting impacts.

“The best way to close the attainment gap is not to open it in the first place.

“PISA comparisons consistently show that countries with later starting ages perform better. Children only start school once. It’s so important that we get this right for them.”

Sue Palmer, Chair of Upstart Scotland commented:  “We at Upstart are delighted that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be supporting a kindergarten stage for three- to seven-year-olds in their election manifesto. All the evidence shows that introducing relationship-centred, play-based education for this age-group (with the emphasis on outdoor learning) is the single most effective step Scotland can take to achieve excellence and equity in education, as well as the long-term health and well-being of our children.

“Psychologists have now linked the horrifying rise in mental health problems among children and young people to the decline of active, outdoor, social play, especially in the early years. Health and wellbeing must therefore be the first consideration for the under-sevens. Any child showing an interest in literacy, maths, etc. would of course be encouraged and supported during a kindergarten stage. But there is no reason why formal teaching of these subjects should begin at five, and much evidence that it is damaging for some children.’

Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said:  “Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have been in charge of Scotland for 14 years but they have precious little to show for it. More children than ever are waiting over a year for mental health treatment and Scottish education has fallen down the international rankings.

“What the people want is a government focused on putting recovery first and tackling the challenges they face day in day out. With Nicola Sturgeon what they get is a First Minister who is more focused on breaking up the country and fighting with her own party.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats can stop the SNP from getting a majority and ensure that the government is one that is focused on jobs, education and mental health.”

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