Liberal Democrats have backed “transformative” plans for Scotland’s education system, which could see schools ditch P1 and P2 classes in favour of a kindergarten model.
As well as proposing a new full-time, statutory, play-based “kindergarten stage”, the party wants to scrap national assessments for P1 pupils, which have been brought in by the Scottish Government.
A motion, which was overwhelming backed by the party’s virtual autumn conference, urged ministers to set up a system in a “number of local authorities” before considering a national rollout.
It argued that many youngsters are “not ready” to start school at the current age – which sees children as young as four-and-a-half go into P1 classes.
And the motion added that delaying formal education until youngsters are six or seven could have a “positive impact on children’s development and long-term physical and mental health”.
Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said the move would be a “big change” as the current school starting age was established in 1870.
But she insisted there are “long-term educational benefits of starting more formal schooling that bit later”.
Ms Wishart said the only other countries in Europe to send youngsters to school at such a young age as in the UK are Cyprus and Malta.
She told the conference: “The House of Commons chose the school starting age in 1870; they landed on the age of five so that mothers would be able to provide cheap labour in factories.
“Since then, the age we send children to school has become a deeply ingrained habit, but, just because it is a habit and and it has lasted a long time, doesn’t mean we should keep on with it without question.”
Piloting the system in some areas initially “takes people on a journey of reform”, she added, saying this “starts the conversations and opens the door to bring parents, teachers and our education system with us”.
Ms Wishart continued: “It means people in Scotland will be able to see this isn’t about putting off learning till children reach P3, increasing the school age would still see children in full-time education.”
Carole Ford, the lead candidate on the party’s list for the Glasgow region in next year’s Holyrood election, said: “Victorian policies still underpin how children start school in Scotland. We are now an outlier in Europe, with only a handful of other countries putting four- and five-year-olds in formal schooling.
“Starting that young might suit some children, but others are simply not ready. That causes attainment gaps to quickly develop, and hurts their health and wellbeing. Replacing P1 and P2 with a full-time, statutory, properly play-based kindergarten stage could be transformative.
“Countries excelling in education show that this approach better prepares children to shine in literacy and numeracy. Every child is properly supported to learn skills at a pace that is appropriate for them, with self-directed play, teacher-directed activity and more outdoor learning.
“It is why Scottish Liberal Democrats will work with international experts and teachers in the next Parliament to lay the foundations for change through pilots. This would pave the way for Scotland to rejoin the top of the global rankings.”