SCOTLAND could lead the way in the UK by raising the age when children start school, an early years expert has said.

A proposal being considered by the SNP to be debated at its conference this year in Aberdeen has triggered debate north and south of the Border.

It calls on the Scottish Government to introduce a statutory play-based kindergarten stage for three to six-year-olds replacing the P1 year.

The issue has sparked discussions on social media and was the subject of a debate on the Jeremy Vine chat show on Channel 5 last week.

READ MORE: Evidence from Finland supports delaying school entry until the age of seven

Dr Helen Williams, an education early years consultant and author based in England, told the Sunday National it would be help for the rest of the UK if Scotland led the way on raising the school age.

She said: “The plain fact is of course there is lots of push for it from practitioners and educators who understand early years, but the Department for Education (DfE) in England have got their fingers firmly in their ears and they don’t want to hear that as the ideology is completely different.

“So we are not having an open debate like you are in Scotland, but we are watching it with huge interest and have contact with practitioners and educators up there about it.”

While four or five is the norm for leaving nursery in the UK, most other European countries have a later starting age. Finland has had a school starting age of seven years old since mandatory education was established a century ago.

ONE of those who has criticised the proposal is Tom Bennett, “behaviour tsar” to the DfE, who tweeted: “When will people stop aping Finland, despite its obvious limitations as a system? When policy makers lunge into errors like this without looking at evidence bases, the damage they can cause are massive. Stop idolising play-based learning.”

Williams tweeted back: “When ‘tsars’ lunge into territory like this without looking at the evidence bases, the damage they aim to cause is massive.”

Speaking to the Sunday National, she highlighted the example of nursery inspection report of three and four-year-olds which praised their behaviour as good, including for the reason of being able to “sit for extended periods”.

“The statutory objectives they have to ‘test’ the children against at the end of the year are not helpful because a lot of them are out of sync with what is appropriate developmentally,” she said.

SNP policy development convener Toni Giugliano, who has put forward the motion with Young Scots for Independence and nine SNP branches, said he had received “extremely positive” feedback.

READ MORE: Proposal to raise Scotland's school starting age as part of 'national discussion'

“I’ve been contacted by parents and teachers from all over Scotland who want to make this happen,” he said.

“Parents who know that subjecting four or five-year-olds to the pressures of the formal school system is counterproductive. If we get early years right so much else will fall into place.

“The only scepticism I’ve seen is from right-wing education ‘tsars’ in England who are against any sort of change and don’t accept that small nations like Finland have a superior education system.

“Scotland has a real opportunity to be a leader in the UK on early years education – and I urge SNP delegates to grasp that opportunity with both hands.”