Junior Infant classes can be a bit of a mix with children ranging from very young 4 year olds to very old 5 year olds and the difference between them is easy to spot, in general.
There’s also a very odd leap between pre-school and primary school in loads of ways – never mind the fact that pre-schools are not under the remit of the Department of Education at the moment.
I think we need to follow the lead of Europe and not start formal schooling until children reach the year of their 7th birthday – i.e. First Class.
Before then, Junior and Senior Infants should become part of an early years set up from 0 to 6 years of age. While this would mean lots of changes to our education structure, there are ways that it could be done easily enough using existing spaces or decent planning.
Take small schools for example. Using the example of amalgamating a number of small schools, empty buildings could be used to design early years centres.
In places where schools sit next to each other, e.g. girls’ and boys’ schools, they also can amalgamate and the early years can be done in one building or in one part of the building.
In big schools, building works may be required but a full corridor or two could be created for early years.
Next would be funding. It would be time for the DES to take responsibility for early years education properly and remove it from the Department of Children.
Teachers would need to be specialised in early years practice and they need to extend their repertoire to very young children. Similarly current childcare workers would need to upskill in working with older children.
Finally, we’d have to look at the curriculum….except we have it already! The Aistear framework could be the glue to stick it together.