WE like to think of the first day of school as a joyous occasion when children begin their educational journey to become well rounded individuals and earn important qualifications which will help them secure a good job and an independent and satisfying life.

The realisation that the event may not be a universally happy one hit me a decade ago when my oldest child was about to start school.

Primary one parents had been called by the headteacher for a pep talk about preparing for the big day. Among the dos and don'ts was one that stood out: whatever you do don't cry when you say good bye after dropping off your child in class.

Fortunately, when the time came, I successfully held back the tears, though others couldn't. Some parents broke down as their children refused to sit down at their desks, some as their sons and daughters pulled onto their legs as they tried to leave the room.

Calm was restored once the adults were ushered out and the new pupils were introduced to their daily school routine.

But the experience made me think about the wisdom of sending children to school so young, especially when most people are reaching life milestones at an older age. We tend to have children later, work for longer and retire later than previous generations.

Some of the pupils in the class, like my daughter, had already turned five, though many were just four, some no more than the size of largish toddlers and some probably not long out of nappies.

Shouldn't they be running around outside, playing on a beach, picking blackberries, painting a picture or singing songs at nursery, cuddling up with parents or grandparents, having an afternoon nap, rather than spending hours in a classroom, learning how to read, write and add up?

It was therefore with considerable interest last week that I read a motion on the draft agenda for the SNP's conference this October to raise the school starting age.

The resolution argues that the age at which children start school should be raised to six in line with most other European countries and notes that Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, is "an outlier" in terms of sending youngsters to school to school at just four or five.

It also calls for the introduction of a kindergarten stage from the ages of three to six (akin I believe to the latter stages of the current nursery education where children begin to transition from active play based learning to a more formal routine and would focus is on outdoor play, social skills – like learning how to share and give compliments - and emotional development).

The backers of the motion say international evidence shows children in countries with older school starting ages reach a higher educational standard than those with younger starts. Experts argue that this is because sending youngsters to school before they are fully ready can make them unhappy, put them off formal education and become less willing to learn.

Supporters of raising the school starting age believe it would help close the attainment gap between children from higher and lower income backgrounds, while also improve children's physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The SNP has yet to decide if the resolution will appear on the final agenda and therefore be debated at its annual conference, the first such party event to be held in person since the pandemic started in early 2020.

But having been put forward by a senior office bearer - the party’s policy development convener Toni Giugliano - there's a good chance it will be heard and also a strong likelihood it will backed on the conference floor to become party policy.

Of course, for it to be implemented, it would need to be backed by the Scottish Government, which does not always adopt party policy.

However, I suspect with the SNP's partners in government, the Scottish Greens, supporting a rise to seven, the policy of raising the school starting age to six, will indeed be taken up by ministers, albeit probably not in the immediate future with Indyref2 planned for next year, a cost of living crisis and Covid recovery to deal with, nevermind that extra public resources may be need to fund expanded early years education.

Further support in Holyrood would bound to come from the Scottish Lib Dems who have advocated that pupils begin school at six or seven since 2018.

It's not a panacea to all of the problems facing Scottish education, but I believe it would be step in the right direction and also, most importantly of all, extend the carefree days of early childhood and lead to a healthier and happier population of children and adults.

And so, in the meantime, good luck to parents of the four and five years old starting school next month - watch out for those tears.