Delaying the age children start school till seven will help give youngsters a “flying start”, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has insisted.
As the first full week of campaigning for the Holyrood elections began, the Lib Dems focused on their plans for education, with what they hailed as a “historical, radical and positive change” in Scotland’s school system.
They want youngsters to have a “truly play-based education” up to the age of seven – when more formal schooling would begin.
The expanded early years education would be mandatory, Lib Dems stressed, and would focus on areas such as child development, social skills and outdoor learning, as well as physical and mental health.
The shake-up of schooling would also see controversial national assessments for P1 pupils abolished.
Mr Rennie said: “At the forthcoming election, Scottish Liberal Democrats will ask voters to back us to put the education system first.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats will introduce a truly play-based education until age seven, to give every child a flying start.
“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.”
The Liberal Democrat continued: “The UK is almost unique in Europe in expecting children as young as four or five to begin formal schooling. By the age of nine, pupils in Finland have much higher reading levels than pupils in the UK, having started at the age of seven.”
Mr Rennie pledged his party would also “immediately abolish the national testing of four- and five-year-olds introduced by the SNP and heavily criticised by teachers”.
Speaking about the standardised assessments, he said: “Parliament voted to halt them years ago but was ignored.
“The SNP claimed the support of world-leading experts for the controversial policy, only for those same experts to call it a ‘perverse misrepresentation’ of their work and conclude the tests were ‘completely useless’.”
Mr Rennie continued: “Scottish Liberal Democrats will always be the party of education. It’s time for a historical, radical and positive change to improve our children’s future.
“Raising the starting age for formal schooling to seven is an important part of our plans to make Scottish education the best again.”