There are currently a lot of headlines and a lot of noise on social networks relating to a letter which has appeared in today's Telegraph newspaper. The letter, which is signed by 127 childcare experts (click here to read it), calls on the government to alter its approach to early years policy, and move away from plans to test children at a young age. Further headlines have been generated by the government's response to the letter as "misguided". Wherever you stand on this argument, there's certainly a big debate now going on!
The letter forms part of the launch for Too Much, Too Soon, a campaign from the Save Childhood Movement (see previous post for details). Their call for less emphasis on formal learning in the early years is not a new one - to give just one example, back in 2007 the Professional Association for Teachers suggested that the age at which children start school should be raised to six or seven.
As you might expect, there is some information and research freely available on this topic. This table lists the compulsory starting age of starting school in European countries (correct as of January 2013) so that you can see how the UK compares to other places. You can also get more detail about the early years curriculums of the different countries by looking at their individual entries on the Eurypedia website.
For actual research on the effects of starting school early, there's a 2011 briefing paper entitled Arguments on the School Starting Age which should be of interest. On a similar note (although a little older), Caroline Sharp's 2002 paper entitled School Starting Age: European Policy and Recent Research is worth a read. It's also worth looking at the following 2011 document from TACTYC - School Readiness: a Critical Review of Perspectives and Evidence - or for a 'human interest' angle, try this article from the Guardian. This BBC article from April this year is also relevant.
Of course, it all gets more complicated when you consider the fact that some children are effectively starting earlier than their peers as they are born in the summer months. Does When You Are Born Matter? and Birthdate Effects: A Review of the Literature from 1990-on are two relatively recent research reports which deal with this subject.