SCOTLAND needs to “change its mindset” and abandon a teaching system which hinders the learning and development of the youngest pupils, it is claimed.

Education experts will gather tomorrow to launch a major new national campaign geared at keeping kids out of the classroom for longer.

Backed by health and teaching experts, Upstart Scotland aims to raise the age for starting school to seven in a radical overhaul designed to “reinstate play at the heart of childhood”.

Led by Scottish Government advisor Sue Palmer, the campaign calls for the introduction of an interim kindergarten stage between nursery and primary school to enable play-based learning similar to the world-leading system used in Finland.

The push is inspired by the independence referendum and work to garner support among professionals involved in early years development began last summer.

Now the campaign will be launched as a national movement on National Children’s Day tomorrow.

Literacy specialist Palmer told The National: “It is quite a task to change a mindset. We have got an uphill battle but I think it is one worth fighting.”

Scottish children are among the youngest in the world when they start formal schooling. The minimum age was established in the 1870s as politicians responded to calls from major industry to find a solution that would allow more women into factories.

Only 12 per cent of countries require children to enter the classroom before the age of six, while 22 per cent set the minimum age at seven.

This includes those with the best results such as Finland, where the state supports emotional and educational development through play in a popular kindergarten system which began in the 1970s.

Palmer, from Edinburgh, visited Finland in 2004 to witness the system in action and says some core tenets are included in Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, which she supports. However, she says an early school starting age means these principals are not put into practice.

Palmer said: “People expect school to be school even for five-year-olds, with sums and tests. What we are talking about is a change of ethos. We have to stop treating five-year-olds like teenagers.”

A growing body of evidence suggests play is crucial to human development on physical, emotional, social and cognitive levels, while both teachers and health professionals continue to raise concerns that youngsters are not getting enough exercise.

Palmer claims the kindergarten plan could provide an answer to this, allowing children more time for physical play and more time out of doors as well as having additional benefits.

She said: “When children are out playing that’s when they are developing resilience in a way they are designed by nature to develop it. There is nothing more competitive than play. We need to realise the self-regulation skills and the emotional resilience can develop in these early years. It is something you cannot teach.

“Grown-ups have this feeling that children’s minds are like their minds. They are not.”

John Carnochan, former director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, will join Palmer, consultant paediatrician Malcom Baxter and research scientist Suzanne Zeedyk at the launch, which calls on the Scottish Government to listen, while a host of leafleting and play events will be held across the country.

Palmer, originally from Manchester, said: “I was doing research at the time of the referendum and there was a feeling in Scotland that is still there, that we can change things here. We are a different country with a completely different outlook from England. It was that feeling of potential that made us start Upstart.”