Important information re starting age for pre-primary in WA

Over the last seven years – at an increasing rate each year – I have been receiving so many messages from concerned WA parents who feel their child could benefit from another year in kindergarten as they struggle with being fatigued, overwhelmed and stressed at school.

Many struggle with developmental vulnerabilities in different areas and children born late in the year and boys feature frequently in these concerns.

So often, they tell me, they have been told by their school or someone in officialdom that there is no flexibility (or that it is compulsory – ready or not) for children turning 5-years-old starting primary school in WA. These children have been forced to struggle rather than thrive through pre-school and many have developed anxiety concerns often by Easter.

The National Curriculum has pushed down more formalised learning into pre-school and so a child who needs more time will meet even more pressure than children did before the new curriculum came in.

Parents have expressed their concern to me that they have been silenced or simply not given a voice to express their concerns. Many have moved their children from local government schools to independent schools at considerable cost to allow that extra time.

Even though this only impacts a small number of children – it is a huge concern for those families.

I have also heard from a number of allied health professionals who share my concerns.

In recent months – with the encouragement of my two favourite boy champions Steve Biddulph and Clark Wight from Guildford Grammar Junior School – I set to change this ‘compulsory’ ready-or-not mandate. I have consulted with many colleagues about this and taken our concerns to the State Government. With two wonderful helpers, Alice Brennan of Riverton-Willetton Kindergarten and Rhiannon Addams a policy consultant, we met with the Minister Sue Ellery to begin. From there I headed to the WA Education Department and the Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association with the continued question “why?”.

 

I am thrilled to be able to share clarification from those meetings as to the situation in WA. Simply, there IS flexibility for children with developmental vulnerabilities to do an additional year of kindergarten or to start kindergarten and hence pre-school a year later at the principal’s discretion.

Enrolment in Pre-Primary in Western Australia

The School Education Act in WA states that for children enrolling in Pre-Primary (5 years of age) requires that every child must be enrolled in a school for the upcoming year they turn 5 by June 30.

If a parent is concerned regarding their child’s placement in Pre-primary for the following year then they need to consult their kindergarten teacher and make an appointment with the principal to discuss the most appropriate year group placement for their child. The principal has the delegated authority to make a year group preference that best suits a child who they believe has some developmental vulnerabilities and this decision is made in consultation with the families and relevant educational professionals. These vulnerabilities can be physical, emotional, cognitive, linguistic and social – essentially they lack the maturity to cope with 5 full days of schooling. It is possible that the principal in consultation with the families supports a request from families for an additional year of kindergarten. Although this will only impact a small number of children.

It is important to note that;

  1. School principals may require additional information from appropriate professionals such as child psychologist and paediatricians. If a parent is worried about their child’s development during kindergarten it is suggested they discuss their concerns immediately with their classroom teacher in the first instance.
  2. The principal has the final say for a child’s year group placement.

 

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What does this mean for parents who are concerned about their children?

Essentially you now have a voice in the choice of when your child starts pre-school in WA, in alignment with the rest of Australia. If you are a parent whose child is struggling in kindergarten or even before – because of physical, emotional, cognitive, linguistic or social reasons – and you feel they are not ready for pre-school, it is suggested you take these steps:

  1. Talk to your child’s kindy teacher about your concerns and get their view as your partner in educating your child.
  2. Make an appointment with the Principal to discuss the most appropriate year group placement and:
    • Download and print a copy of this guideline that has been prepared in consultation with the WA Education Department (as above) to take with you in case the Principal is unaware of their delegated authority to make a decision about classroom placement, under the Act.
    • If you have any supporting evidence from an OT or a speech pathologist to support your concerns please bring that to the meeting. The principal may request additional assessment from appropriate professionals such as a child psychologist or paediatrician.

This message has made me quite emotional – a mixture of relief and regret for the children who have been in need of more time to shine.

To all those out there who have helped me in ensuring our little ‘not quite ready’ children now have the option to have another year to grow in quality early childhood settings – with plenty of play, especially in nature, in the company of caring grownups who value childhood – I thank you deeply.