NURSERY teachers and early years specialists are calling for a radical overhaul of Scotland’s education system.

The Upstart Scotland campaign is calling for the introduction of a kindergarten stage to take the youngest Scots from the high chair to the school desk.

The system, based on Scandinavian models, would see all three-year-olds enter a kindergarten system and delay formal schooling until the age of seven.

Campaigners, who include teachers, researchers and parents, say five-year-old are not sufficiently developed to thrive in a formal classroom environment and say their system has already been proven to work.Finland’s system, which prioritises play over rigid lessons for the youngestr children, focuses on overall development rather than rote learning.

The country consistently leads the world for literacy and numeracy, two key skills in which attainment has been falling in Scotland.

Sue Palmer, who chairs Upstart Scotland, says the current education system is based on antiquated logic which prioritised profit over child welfare and development.

The literacy specialist, a member of the Scottish Government’s Early Years Task Force, told The National: “We have school starting at the age of five because in 1872 politicians wanted kids off the street as early as possible so that their mums could go into the factories.

It was an economic decision. Developmental psychologists have found six or seven is the most appropriate age to start formal learning.

“All the research shows that the children who do best in the long run are the kids who, at the age of five or six, have their social and emotional development taken care of.

“The more we push them early, the more we aren’t giving the child the chance to develop in an all-round way.

“We are doing so much damage to children by pushing and pushing them before they are ready.”

The campaign is currently in its infancy and will not have its official launch for several months.

However, it has already attracted the backing of Scottish educationist David Cameron, one of the architects of Curriculum for Excellence.

Other supporters include John Carnochan, the former chief superintendent of Strathclyde Police and co-founder of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit.

Palmer, from Edinburgh, visited Finland in 2004 to see their system first hand.

She said: “When I asked how they had achieved this, the answer was that they were thinking ‘how do we get a good society?’

“The answer they came up with was ‘by doing our best for our youngest children’.

“Finland formed its childcare policy in the 1970s and the reason they started then was that the mums wanted to go out to work. We didn’t get that hitting until the 1990s.

“When Ofsted visited Finland in 2004, one of the things they said was really noticeable was that once the children did start school their concentration threshold was much higher.

“They could focus much better. The teacher wasn’t constantly distracted from the business of teaching by the pupils.”

Palmer argues that enacting the change would mean improving training for practitioners, not building new infrastructure.

She said: “It’s not about taking children out of the classroom, although hopefully new facilities would follow.

“It’s about concentrating on children’s overall health and wellbeing up until the age of seven, rather than being distracted by specifics in terms of cognition.

“That way, when formal schooling does begin, they are ready.”

Palmer, who has written and presented on education issues for 30 years, concedes that the campaign may face resistance from educators and parents keen to drive pupils on in reading and writing.

She said: “The established channels work within a paradigm which is restricting the way people see.

“There are expectations of what happens at school. In other countries where children start school later, they don’t have that expectation because they don’t have that experience.

“It doesn’t occur to a Finn or a Swede or a Swiss to question this, but because of the neoliberal consensus in the UK and US, it has been all about treating children as human capital, as units of production and consumption.

“Finland was working on a much more social capital premise from the beginning.”

She added: “In a culture in which children are not playing, they are not getting the sorts of activity they need.

“It’s an issue that falls in between the mantle of health, education, speech and language therapy. We have to start looking at the way in which our culture is affecting our children.”

The call comes on the back of recent figures which show the pupils from the poorest backgrounds are still struggling to reach university.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to close the attainment gap and an overhaul of standardised testing for primary school pupils is now planned.

However, Larry Flanagan, who leads the teaching union EIS, says this “will do nothing to raise standards”, adding: “We remain opposed to a national testing system, which will lead to teaching to the test and the construction of flawed and misleading tables.”