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Should formal education be delayed? A view from Denmark

Alex Forrest with her son Charlie in Copenhagen. Photo: Alex Forrest

Former ITV News political correspondent Alex Forrest has recently moved to Denmark. As experts in the UK suggest formal education should be delayed until the age of six - as is the case in Scandinavia - Alex discusses the issue and the decisions she faces over her son Charlie's education.

At what age should a child start school? As a parent, I find it a really difficult question to answer.

If we were still in the UK, Charlie would begin next September, when he’s four and a half. Here in Denmark the average age is six and soon we will have to decide whether we stick with the Danish system or whether we move him into a school, which follows the English model.

Alex's son Charlie is currently attending a 'forest school' which involves a lot of outdoor play. Credit: Alex Forrest

In the UK, a group of almost 130 experts has written a letter to the Daily Telegraph calling on the government to delay formal schooling by a couple of years. They claim early education is damaging children.

In typical combative fashion, a spokesman for the education secretary, Michael Gove, told the Telegraph the experts are "misguided". In effect what he’s saying is that these academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders represent the ‘dumbing down’ lobby. To me, that seems pretty childish because they raise some really important points.

If Alex and her family were still in the UK, Charlie would be starting school next September. Credit: Alex Forrest

For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that after much debate, we decided to send our son Charlie to a Danish forest school. Of course it’s not school at all, it’s a kindergarten, where children mostly play outside in all weathers. There is no formal learning – no literacy, no numeracy – even for those kids who are turning six this year.

But he is learning through play – he’s learning self-awareness, communication, independence, self-control, as well as Danish. The question is do we stick with this model or do we decide that next year he should go to an international school where he will begin his formal education?

Alex's son Charlie is currently attending a 'forest school' which involves a lot of outdoor play. Credit: Alex Forrest

Interestingly the most popular international school here in Copenhagen offers the International Baccalaureate. But the IB system also delays formal learning. So there are many parents who have just moved here from the UK who are concerned about their child’s academic progress. It’s hard to change when you’ve had it drummed in that four year olds should be exposed to the three Rs.

Back to the letter in the Telegraph, and the signatories claim that children who enter school at six or seven “consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of well being”. Whatever your politics, surely that’s something to think about.

Alex Forrest blogs at alexfw.com. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.