Linda Wyrill reports on changes aimed at providing greater consistency in education.
Changes to the intake dates for preschool and school will begin in South Australia in 2013, with full implementation by 2014. Under the Department for Education and Child Development's (DECD) Same First Day policy, all DECD preschools and schools will have one single intake per year, in Term 1.
A DECD spokesperson says the Same First Day policy will ensure all children receive four terms of preschool as well as Reception, rather than the present three to six terms of Reception. "The policy will provide a more stable environment for all children, with fewer changes to classes throughout the year," she says. "The benefit of all children receiving a consolidated year in Reception lasts throughout their schooling. It also helps schools, as they are able to plan for a single cohort throughout the year, which means greater consistency."
DECD schools will be affected by these changes from 2014. Children who turn five before 1 May will begin school in Term 1 of that year. Children who turn five on or after 1 May will begin in Term 1 of the following year. The same cut-off date will also apply to preschools from 2014. In 2013, most preschools will continue to enrol children in terms 1 and 2 to ease this transition. This means children who turn four on or before 29 January 2012 are eligible to start preschool in Term 1, and those whose fourth birthday falls on or before 30 April may start in Term 2.
Early-childhood worker Kristy Baldock says families need to be aware of these changes so children starting preschool in Term 2 don't miss out on their full preschool entitlement of four terms. Full-time preschool is 15 hours per week during the school year. To ensure children receive the equivalent of four terms of preschool, individual arrangements will be made for the additional hours to be completed in terms 3 and 4. "It's important for families to contact their local preschool to discuss how these changes will affect their children," says Riki Duncan, teacher at Happy Valley Kindergarten. Duncan sees many benefits from the new system. "Group cohesion is the biggest positive. All children will begin at the same time and access the curriculum at the same time." She says friendship groups will also be strengthened. "Children can develop strong friendships with children who then go off to school. Now they will stay with their friends for the whole year and participate in school transitions at the same time."
Trish, whose daughter Elise turns five in June 2014, is concerned about the changes. "Elise has been at preschool since age three. She will be emotionally ready to start school when she turns five, yet will have to wait another two terms. We will also have to find another six months of childcare."
Duncan agrees there will be an impact on families, especially those whose children turn five shortly after the cut-off date. "Some parents will have to wait up to six more months if they're planning on entering the workforce or increasing their working hours when their child goes to school," she says. "However, research shows that starting school later has a positive effect on children's verbal and cognitive development. Some children will go to school younger, but will have four terms in Reception as opposed to only three, which would most likely be the case under the current system."
The policy brings SA into line with other States and Territories, which all have one intake at the start of the year. Catholic Education SA has introduced a policy consistent with the DECD's, however independent schools will have their own procedures regarding intakes. Families need to check with individual schools about start dates.
This article was first published in the August 2012 edition of Adelaide's Child.