Ready, steady ... stay at home? The benefits of a delayed school start

November 10, 2015

The first day of school is an exciting milestone, often marked by students in oversized uniforms with nervous parents in tow. But when is the right time to take those steps?

We know that for a child to be successful in an educational environment they must be able to engage with their peers and understand the basics – such as the alphabet and counting to 25. What’s less well understood, however, is how much the age at which a child starts kindergarten may influence their future academic and life success. The question is even more significant when a child is born in the summer, close to the cut-off date for entry.

The jury is out in terms of research. Those who have examined whether a delay in formal school entry improves test scores further down the road have not found any supporting evidence. But this hasn’t stopped parents from holding their children back. In the US this is known as “redshirting” (named after the sports term that keeps a player out of the game for a year to mature). Many school districts have also changed cut-off dates so that more children enter school older than in previous years. The same is happening in the UK with announcements that parents of summer-born children can now delay their child’s education for a year. So what’s best for students?

The short and unsatisfying answer is that it depends on the child, their resources and the quality of preschool available. There is no simple answer. However, a study I recently published with Hans Henrik Sievertsen of the Danish National Centre for Social Research showed improved self-regulation in children whose entry had been delayed. Interestingly, these improvements persisted into later childhood too.