Research from the US and Denmark shows that delaying a child’s first day of school for a year reduces the chances of hyperactivity and inattention, meaning children do better at school.

The research came to light in an interview with Wellington principal Mark Potter. An NZEI member leader, Potter is working on guidance materials for the new Communities of Learning, which include an emphasis on better transitions for young children.

At the Berhampore School Potter leads, early childhood practices are blended with the New Zealand Curriculum in junior classes. He also works closely with local ECE providers, particularly to ensure that children with special education needs make the move to school as smoothly as possible. These practices are adopted in many New Zealand primary schools, where educators appreciate that formal learning simply isn’t appropriate for some new entrants.

But this professional stance has been undermined by the imposition of National Standards which demand formal learning and assessment almost as soon children are in the door.

The standards lead to impossible pressures on teachers and children, and perhaps the tragic case in Wanaka where a seven-year-old has been expelled from school is a case in point. If the tens of millions of dollars that have gone into National Standards had instead been spent on special education as educators have been crying out for then real progress could have been made on improving teaching and learning.

The current government has dug itself into a hole with National Standards – talking up better transitions for young children, and policies centred around the 0-8 age group, but at the same time imposing standards which do exactly what the research tells us will damage the learning of young children, and as a result their lifetime prospects.