When should children start school?

Every now and then, questions arise about the right age for children to start school. Some worry about the best age for primary school entry, others about the maturity level required before children can (or should) progress to secondary school.

Of course, opinions are highly subjective. While there is no conclusive evidence to suggest the ideal age for children to make the move to primary school, or from primary school to secondary school, entry is dictated by state and territory regulations. Generally, this sees children begin school at the age of five, or a little earlier, although it is a requirement that they have turned five by a certain point in the year. This cut-off date varies between states, so refer to the relevant Department of Education website listed below.

When is your child ready to start school?

While some parents may believe that their four-year-old child is ready to walk through the school gates, others prefer to wait until their child is closer to six years old. There are many factors that may influence a parent's decision to send their child to school early, such as the child showing the levels of social and intellectual development required to begin their formal schooling at a young age, as well as more practical reasons such as the cost of child care. On the other hand, the decision to delay school entry may come down to the child having not yet reached some of the milestones typically needed for school entry (such as toilet training) or simply because the family believes that the child would benefit from an additional year in an early childhood education program.

Overall, there are a number of things to consider when deciding if a child is ready to begin school. The following list, while not exhaustive, details three main points to keep in mind.

  • Does your child shown signs of independence? This can be anything from suggesting a meal they would like to eat for dinner or choosing a game they'd like to play, to making decisions without being prompted (such as to brush their teeth before bedtime).
  • Can your child follow instructions? Before your child begins school, they should be able to follow simple instructions, such as putting away their toys or helping to feed the family pet.
  • How does your child interact with other children? This may relate to the manner in which they play with other children and how they communicate, as well as being able to share and demonstrate (very) basic conflict resolution skills.

If you have concerns about whether your child is ready for school, it can be helpful to have a chat to their carers or early childhood educators. They can generally give an indication of your child's readiness, in addition to detailing areas in which they require further assistance before making the transition to formal schooling.

The transition to secondary school

Parents are often concerned about when their children are ready for the academic and social challenges of secondary education, noting that many children are simply not prepared for the degree of changes they will encounter particularly among those who are a little younger than the rest of their cohort.

Some Queensland parents have also criticised the move of Year 7 to the secondary system. While Year 7 is the first year of secondary school in almost all states and territories, Queensland students currently begin secondary school in Year 8. The move, currently in piloting stages at just one school, has seen parents voice their concerns about whether their children (some as young as 11) are ready to face secondary education.

The piloting stage will continue over the next two years, with a full move expected in 2015. See Introducing Year 7 into Queensland's secondary schools for more information. Western Australian schools will also shift Year 7 to the secondary system by 2015, by which time South Australia will remain the only state where students begin secondary education in Year 8.

Further information

Refer to the following state-based Department of Education websites for information and tips relating to school entry.

Popular schools
Browse more schools

Become a member

Already a member? LoginForgot password?

Join the conversation