The number of children starting school at the age of four continues to decline.
Last January, 17 percent — about a sixth — of toddlers were four years old, compared with 47 percent two decades ago.
In raw numbers, 10,483 out of 63,583 young children were four years old in the 2021-22 school year, compared with 25,662 out of 55,236 in 2001-02, according to the Department of Education.
Parents’ decision to wait until a child is five years old before sending them to a ‘big school’ is increasingly being credited to Ireland’s universal free pre-school programme.
A significant increase in the school entry age can be attributed to the introduction of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) program in 2010, which was initially designed for one year.
The trend accelerated after ECCE 2018 became a two-year program and the number of participants doubled. In 2021-22 there were 107,788 enrollments – 96 percent of all eligible children.
Under ECCE rules, a child can start the program from the age of two years and eight months, which runs from September to June.
Between the school years from September 2015 and September 2021, the proportion of toddlers who were four years old after starting school in January fell from 32 to 17 percent.
Before early childhood education, the availability and cost of childcare were factors in working parents’ decisions about when to send a child to school.
By law, children can start school from the age of four and by the age of six they must have started their formal education.
However, within these parameters, approval practices vary, often in relation to demand and availability.
If schools are overcrowded and using selection criteria, they may prefer an older child.
On the other hand, a principal struggling to maintain student numbers may encourage enrollment of younger children.
The rise in school entry ages is likely linked to another trend reflected in the ministry’s statistics — a drop in primary school repeaters from nearly 5,500 in 2001-02 to under 2,000 last year.
In younger and older infants, where recurrence is most common, the number dropped from 2,793 to 949 over the period.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/fewer-children-starting-school-at-age-of-four-41873013.html Fewer children starting school at the age of four