Tasmania’s State Government has moved to allay concerns that the proposed new starting age for schoolchildren could be detrimental to kids’ health.
Earlier this year, Tasmania’s Premier Will Hodgman announced the Government would lower the starting age from five to four years and six months, following a review of the Education Act.
At five years, Tasmania currently has the oldest minimum starting age for schoolchildren of any other state or territory in Australia.
However, Early Childhood Australia’s Tasmanian branch President Anne Barwick told The Mercury that the proposed change has “the potential to impact children negatively”.
“A high percentage of Tasmanian children access kindergarten – a non-compulsory year – and this change equates to children as young as three years, six months being integrated into a school environment,” she said.
Further concerns have been raised by the union for childcare workers, the Tasmanian Association of State School Organisations, Rural Health Tasmania and the state Opposition, causing the Government to respond with a new fact sheet on the initiative.
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff announced the fact sheet, saying it aims to dispel concerns raised by detractors of the plan.
“The Government is proposing to lower the compulsory starting age for prep by six months — not 18 months as is being falsely claimed by some,” he said.
“This means instead of starting prep at the age of five, Tasmanians will start at the age of four and a half years. This is a very significant but by no means a radical change, this simply brings Tasmania in-line with the rest of Australia.”
Mr Rockliff confirmed Ms Barwick’s concerns, however, stating that parents will have the choice to send their kids to kindergartner sooner, starting at the age of three years and six months.
The Mercury reports that Opposition education spokesperson Michelle O’Byrne contends the initiative is not backed up by solid evidence.
“All that Tasmanians have been told by the Government is that the justification for changing the school starting age is that it will bring the state into line with the rest of the country … there is no definitive Australian school starting age.”
A “Stop lowering the school age in Tasmania” petition organised by United Voice has so far been signed by 2,561 people.
The school starting age fact sheet can be found on the Tasmanian Department of Education website.