Skip to main content

Visit our coronavirus hub for information and advice.

Can my child defer starting school?

If your child is still age 4 on the day they would usually start primary 1, you’ve got the right to delay (or defer) when they start primary school. This means they can start school the following year, when they’re 5. There’s a lot to think about, so we’ve put together some things to consider before making a decision. 

When do children usually start school in Scotland?

Generally, children in Scotland start school when they are aged between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half. When they are eligible to start school depends on when their fifth birthday is:

  • If your child’s birthday is on or between 1 March and the first day of school in August, your child will usually start school in the August (the beginning of Autumn term) of the year they turn 5.
  • If your child’s birthday is on or between the day after the first day of school in August and the last day in February, your child will usually start school in the August (the beginning of Autumn term) in the year before they turn 5.

What is deferred entry to school?

Deferred entry to school means that children start primary school one year later than the typical start date.

All parents and carers have the legal right to defer their child’s entry to primary school if they are not yet 5 years old at the beginning of the school year. 

In the current system, the youngest children (those with a January or February birth date) are automatically entitled to an additional year of funded early learning  and childcare (ELC) at their nursery, childminder or playgroup, when they defer P1 entry. Those with an August to December birthday can still defer their school start, but have to apply to the local authority to request funded early learning and childcare for that year. Local authorities should make this decision based on the needs of your child.

What's changing?

For now, there are no changes to the rules around ELC for children who defer, and your local authority will have the best information about the process where you live. 

From August 2023, a change in the legislation means that all children who defer will automatically be able to access funded ELC.

A small number of local authorities will be piloting these changes from August 2021, to help to plan for the full roll out in August 2023. If you are in Angus, Argyll & Bute, Falkirk, Scottish Borders or Shetland, you can contact your council for details of what’s changing.

Further information on the pilots can be found at the participating authorities’ web pages:

When do I need to decide?

This will depend on your local authority. Have a look at the information on registering for school on your local authority’s website, or contact your local school to find out what you need to do.

How do I decide what’s best for my child?

Choosing to defer when your child starts primary school is a big decision. 

Before you make your mind up, it’s worth finding out a bit more about the primary school your child will be attending. If you’ve not visited a school recently, then you might be surprised at how much has changed since you were in primary 1! Speak to the teacher or headteacher about any specific concerns you might have, and if you think your child might benefit from a bit of extra support to settle in, then find out what the school can do.  

Your early learning and childcare provider may also be able to give support.

Check out the list below of ‘things to consider’ to help you make up your mind.

Things to consider for your child

If you are thinking about deferring your child’s P1 entry, here are some things you might want to consider.

  • If you are worried about ‘school readiness’, then please remember, it’s not the job of the child to be ‘school ready’, it’s the job of the school to be ‘child ready’.
  • What does the school think about deferring your child? What support would they be able to offer your child if you choose not to defer?
  • What feedback has the ELC setting given you? You can ask for a discussion to get advice from the nursery or childminder.
  • If you choose to send your child to school, what support will be available for them from the school?
  • If you choose to defer your child, what support and challenge will they receive from the ELC setting?
  • Have a think about what deferral will mean when your child is older, for example when they are 12, or 16, and they might be one of the youngest or one of the oldest in their class. 
  • Be aware of what this will mean for gaining qualifications – if a child is deferred then that might mean they would be able to leave school at 16 without achieving any qualifications.

How are 4 year olds supported in primary 1?

Schools and teachers focus on the needs of the child, not their age, whether they are in early learning and childcare or at school. Children are supported to progress through the Curriculum for Excellence at an appropriate rate. 

There has been a change in culture in schools over recent years, with a real focus on play and outdoor learning in many schools.

Your local authority is responsible for identifying whether your child needs help with their learning. If they identify that your child needs some extra support, then the local authority must provide them with this. When making decisions about support for your child, they should take into account any information you provide about your child’s needs.

My child has additional support needs, should I defer?

Any deferral should be based on the individual needs of your child. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to deferral or to support for children with additional support needs. Children with additional support needs don’t normally automatically defer. Instead, the school will consider what support to put in place for your child. 

If starting school at this point isn’t in your child’s best interests because of their individual needs, then deferring entry to primary school can be considered. It’s worth chatting to your early learning and childcare provider and school about any concerns you have for your child.

For further information about supporting your child with additional support needs please see Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning.

What if my local authority doesn’t accept my application for funded ELC?

All parents and carers have the right to defer their child’s primary one start if they will still be four at the school starting date, but for those with an August–December birthday, it’s up to the local authority whether or not to offer funded ELC in that year. 

If you’re unhappy with your local authority’s decision, you can follow their normal complaints process.

If you choose to defer but you're not able to access funded ELC, some parents choose to self-fund an additional year of ELC. It’s worth speaking to your local authority if you’re thinking about this.