A parliamentary motion to raise Scotland’s school starting age has secured cross-party support in less than twenty-four hours.

The proposal, which was exclusively revealed by The Herald, has now been signed by 18 MSPs from the SNP, Scottish Greens and Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Scotland’s largest teaching union has also signalled support for the principle of introducing a national kindergarten in Scotland, but warned that significant investment would be required.

SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart, who was a teacher for nearly thirty years before entering parliament in 2021, says that she hopes to spark a “national discussion” about early learning and childcare in Scotland. In addition to an increased school starting age, she is also calling for the establishment of a universal kindergarten system across the country.

READ MORE: SNP MSP wants later school start and national kindergarten

The motion describes Scotland as an “outlier in Europe” and argues that radical reforms could “contribute to closing the attainment gap” by helping to provide “a true level playing field for all.” It also refers to “the body of international evidence on the benefits of play-based early years education” which, Ms Stewart claims, helps to develop “physical fitness, social skills, cognitive capacities and personal qualities” in young children.

Speaking for the Scottish Greens, Ross Greer MSP confirmed that his party will be backing the motion: "The Scottish Greens have long advocated for a kindergarten stage and raising the school starting age to seven, so we support this motion from Kaukab Stewart.

"The fact that many children start school before they are even five makes Scotland an outlier in European education. Finland for example has a play-based kindergarten stage from three to six, and has far better education, attainment and child wellbeing outcomes.

"By raising the school starting age to seven we could have a three to six Finnish-style kindergarten stage that prioritises building social skills, play-based learning and outdoor experiences, all of which improve educational outcomes in the long term."

READ MORE: Q&A – why does this MSP want to change the school starting age?

The motion also looks likely to secure the support of the Scottish Liberal democrats. Willie Rennie MSP, their former leader and now education spokesperson, confirmed his party’s long-standing support for reforming early years and the school starting age:

"For several years it has been Scottish Liberal Democrat policy to raise the starting age for formal schooling to 7, transforming how children learn in what is currently P1 and P2.

"A longer early years phase would still be mandatory but it would focus on child development, social skills, outdoor learning, and 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.

“The UK is almost unique in Europe in expecting children as young as 4 or 5 to begin formal schooling. By the age of 9, pupils in Finland have much higher reading levels than pupils in the UK, having started at the age of 7.

"It’s time for a historical, radical, and positive change to improve our children’s future.”

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, also signalled support for the proposal, but warned that pushing back the school starting age would “require considerable public investment, staff training and capacity building.”

Their spokesperson continued: “A long-term vision of the EIS has always been to fully embed a kindergarten model into Scottish education, with appropriate support and funding from government.

“In the short term, we are supportive of greater flexibility in the school starting age, as appropriate for each child; universal reform of pedagogical approaches in Primary 1; minimum guaranteed access to a qualified teacher for all children within early years; sufficient focus within ITE for Primary teachers on early years, play-based education; and upskilling of other Early Years staff within the context of wraparound care provision.”

Although the motion has been submitted by an SNP MSP, it is not necessarily supported by the Scottish Government. When approached by the The Herald, a spokesperson said only that “there are no current plans to change the age at which children start school in Scotland,” adding that they “welcome all contributions to the debate on education.”

They continued: “The Scottish Government has already enabled parents and carers to have greater choice in their child’s school start date. From August 2023, all children who defer their school entry are automatically entitled to an additional year of funded early learning and childcare.”

READ MORE: Explainer – why do some want to raise the school starting age?

Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives were also asked to comment on the proposal and asked if they were likely to support it.

Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP, education spokesperson for Scottish Labour, said: “Getting education right at all ages is crucial if we are to spread opportunity for all but this is something this government can’t seem to do.

“There are several education reforms waiting on the Cabinet Secretary’s desk for action but this government remains completely static when it comes to education reform. Pupils, parents, and teachers need certainty and leadership so that all of Scotland's young people can enjoy the opportunities education gives for their future.”

The Scottish Conservatives did not respond.

At the time of writing, the full list of MSPs to have signed the motion is:

Karen Adam, Colin Beattie, Maggie Chapman, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Jackie Dunbar, Annabelle Ewing, Kenneth Gibson, Ross Greer, Emma Harper, Bill Kidd, Fulton MacGregor, Ben Macpherson, Liam McArthur, Stuart McMillan, Audrey Nicoll, Willie Rennie, David Torrance, Beatrice Wishart