Government proposes flexible school ages

The age at which children begin school should be up to their parents, according to a new proposal put forward by Sweden's Minister for Schools, Ibrahim Baylan.

This week some 92,000 Swedish children take their first plunge into the cold water of school life, and most of them will be 7 years old. That’s relatively late compared to the rest of Europe where most children start when they are 6. In the UK and Holland school begins at the age of 5.

But Ibrahim Baylan wants to give parents the choice of sending their children to school at 6, 7 or 8.

“We know that children develop very differently,” said the Social Democrat minister.

“Therefore we want to have greater flexibility to that the school start age fits the individual child better.”

Parents who want to keep their children home until they are 8 currently have to demonstrate “special reasons”. But under the proposed rules it would be a matter for the parents alone.

“Nobody knows the child as well as their parents,” reasoned Baylan to Svenska Dagbladet.

The idea is intended to benefit those children who are born late in the year as well as immigrant children who may have arrived in Sweden just before school starts and who do not yet speak the language.

The government’s allies were divided on the subject.

While Mikaela Valtersson, the Green Party’s spokesman on school policies said that “certain children need to take things more slowly”, the Left Party’s Lennart Gustavsson pointed out that things could get complicated later on.

Before he could give the initiative his support, he said he wanted to know how it would affect the age at which children would leave school. He told SvD that the current policy of compulsory schooling to the age of 16 would also have to change.

“It’s important that all of our children get the education to which they are entitled,” he said.

At the same time, noted SvD, the government has rejected the idea of allowing some children to start school in the spring and some in the autumn.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet

Photo on previous page: F. Oppenheim/Bildhuset/