Pressure is growing for the creation of a Nordic-style kindergarten stage which would see children start formal schooling at the age of seven.

The change would mean transforming the structure of early years education north of the Border, bringing Scotland into line with many countries around the world.

Campaigners say play-based kindergarten for youngsters aged between three and seven would improve their wellbeing and boost learning outcomes as they get older.

They note that attainment in Finland, which has such a system, is higher than in Scotland and claim this can be partly attributed to the later school starting age. 

The Scottish Greens have already published a plan which would deliver the reform. 

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And, on Tuesday evening, their call was echoed during a Liberal Democrat-led debate at Holyrood.

Beatrice Wishart, the party's education spokesperson, said: “This is about transforming how children learn in what is currently P1 and P2.

"Early years are best grounded in play, on developing skills and using the outdoors to develop curiosity and confidence, which are crucial to development of physical and mental health

“By learning together through play children develop the skills needed for trickier tasks and are better prepared to shine in areas like literacy and numeracy. 

"If you start a child on those tasks before their brains are developed enough then they fall behind others in their class who were ready. They lose confidence and it has lasting impacts."

HeraldScotland: Beatrice Wishart with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.Beatrice Wishart with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

Ms Wishart added: "PISA comparisons consistently show that countries with later starting ages perform better.

"Children only start school once. It’s so important that we get this right for them.”

The move comes amid concern after the Scottish Government recently confirmed that controversial literacy and numeracy tests for P1s would "remain available" for teachers to deliver this year.

Parent representatives said the move "beggars belief". 

Proposals to raise the age at which formal schooling begins have been strongly welcomed by campaigners at Upstart Scotland. They said the focus during a person's early years should be on play. 

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“We at Upstart are delighted that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be supporting a kindergarten stage for three to seven-year-olds in their election manifesto," said Chair Sue Palmer.

"All the evidence shows that introducing relationship-centred, play-based education for this age-group (with the emphasis on outdoor learning) is the single most effective step Scotland can take to achieve excellence and equity in education, as well as the long-term health and well-being of our children.

"Psychologists have now linked the horrifying rise in mental health problems among children and young people to the decline of active, outdoor, social play, especially in the early years.

"Health and wellbeing must therefore be the first consideration for the under-sevens."

HeraldScotland: Ross Greer, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens. His party also wants to raise the school starting age.Ross Greer, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens. His party also wants to raise the school starting age.

She added: "Any child showing an interest in literacy, maths, etc. would of course be encouraged and supported during a kindergarten stage.

"But there is no reason why formal teaching of these subjects should begin at five, and much evidence that it is damaging for some children."

However, Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People, said improvements could be secured without changing the school starting age.

“I am wholly supportive of the way the Upstart campaign has centrally positioned child wellbeing within their ethos and their activity,” she told MSPs. “I also strongly agree with the benefits of play-based pedagogy, child-centred learning and outdoor educational experiences.”

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But she added: “My experiences of visiting schools and early learning settings have also demonstrated to me that these extremely positive educational outcomes are being delivered without the need for the introduction of a formal kindergarten stage.

“The inherent flexibility of the Curriculum for Excellence, combined with the hard work and creativity of our education practitioners, already allows play-based approaches to be delivered up to the age of seven and, indeed, beyond.”