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How can I convince school administrators that my son is ready for kindergarten?
Jasmine Harrogate
Thank you for sending us a question from Great Britain. In America we tend to think that the British are light years ahead of us in educational practices, so it is with humility that I deign to answer your question.

In Britain, most primary schools are referred to in textbooks as “continuous progress schools” or “non-graded primary schools.” What those terms refer to is that, in British schools (and many in America), there is not a rigid first grade, second grade and so on. Rather there are “groups of children” who will, during any school year, achieve across several of the traditional grade levels. The better teachers are aware of this spread and try to prepare materials that will be appropriate for children wherever they might be functioning. So don’t be too disturbed if your son is kept from entering kindergarten when you think he should. In a high quality educational program, he should get what he needs and can respond to, regardless of what “grade level” he is placed in.

Those arbitrary age cut-offs cause a lot of problems, don’t they? In America it is extremely difficult to get approval of any kind of variance from the regulation, no matter how competent or advanced a child might seem. I suspect that it is just about as difficult in Britain. I guess boards of education have to establish firm rules about entrance age, as all of us think our children are unusually bright and probably should be in an accelerated program. Without the rigid rules, pressure from parents would present too many problems.

So my advice to you would be to find a setting in which he could acquire some of the social skills they say he is lacking. Then you can see to it that he gets the kind of attention and intellectual stimulation he needs to continue progressing. Make certain that he has access to books and toys that stimulate problem solving. Don’t let a day go by without reading to him. And find as many opportunities as you can to have him in playgroups with other children so he can improve his social skills. Finally, let me give you one bit of reassurance from research: during primary school, older children tend to do better in any given grade level than younger ones. So perhaps this extra year will give your son just what he needs. Good luck.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education