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To Defer or not to Defer…?

This time of the year many parents are undecided if they should delay their child's entry to Primary School. Edinburgh Council will fund an extra year at nursery, so we asked the Headmaster of Clifton Hall School, Mr Rod Grant, what advice he can offer parents.

Local authorities in Scotland, and particularly the one in Edinburgh, are now allowing deferrals to all pupils who are earmarked for going into Primary 1 in August. There has been a significant push in the last few years to make this an over-arching policy and it is, in my view, an excellent approach and one that is long overdue.

This, of course, means that it is now up to parents themselves to decide what the best path for their children is. Which, of course, begs the question, ‘To Defer or not to Defer?’

There are a variety of arguments that are put forward by experts in the field of child development. Most, I believe, would argue that deferral is no bad thing. However, not all agree. Some say that deferral, in itself, can be psychologically detrimental – mainly because there is a thought that not being placed with one’s peer group is a negative. You will also hear that Primary 1 teachers are adept at providing differentiated material for those who fall behind and so ability level and social maturity are not particularly important factors. Others go further and say that deferral can ultimately lead to being socially disadvantaged, though I find this suggestion puzzling.

However, what I want to put forward is based on thirty-three years of teaching, 17 years as the Head of a Nursery, Junior and Senior School. There is no question in my mind that it is a very real advantage for your child to be at the elder end of the age spectrum within the class, rather than being one of the youngest. If your child has a November, December, January or February birth date, I would almost always suggest (or at the very least, consider) deferral as being the best option. This is particularly true for boys who lag behind their female counterparts, particularly in terms of emotional and social maturity.

When starting school at age 5, there is definitely an increased chance of higher levels of confidence within the child and this can manifest itself in higher attainment. As I say to parents who are questioning what the right of action for their child is, ‘Starting children at a young age can be a risk, whereas deferring can never be a mistake. You are simply giving your child the best possible chance of succeeding at school.’

As parents, we always want to do the best for our children. When you see successful education systems, particularly in Scandinavia, that do not commence formal education until the age of seven, it seems to me we should be following that pathway rather than starting school at too young an age.

The other major benefit of deferral actually comes at the end of a child’s school years. Starting at University at 18 years of age is far better than arriving at University at 17 – for all kinds of reasons. In the final analysis, education is personal and we only get one shot at it – young 4-year-olds should not be pushed into starting school early – after all, what exactly is the rush? And what is the actual benefit?

I have not seen any demonstrable evidence suggesting that starting school earlier than legally required leads to improved outcomes. Quite the reverse. So, if you have any doubt about when to start your child at school and your child is young, take it from me: defer, defer, defer.


Mr Rod Grant


Clifton Hall School

Newbridge, Edinburgh


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