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Compulsory age of starting school in European countries
This table includes information on school starting ages in the countries participating in Eurydice, the information network on education in Europe.*
The ages given are those at which children must commence primary education (ISCED 1), understood by UNESCO's International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) as the phase that is designed to give a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics, along with an elementary understanding of other subjects. In a number of countries, pre-primary education (ISCED 0) is compulsory and/or most children start school before it is compulsory. In these cases, more information is provided in footnotes.
Northern Ireland 1
Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark6, France, Germany, Greece7, Hungary8, Iceland, Republic of Ireland9, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg10, Netherlands11, Norway, Portugal, Romania12, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland13, Turkey
1 Northern Ireland: has the lowest statutory age of entry to school. The compulsory school starting age in Northern Ireland was changed from five to four years in 1989 because it was thought that all children would benefit from spending a total of 12 full years at school (seven years at primary school and five at secondary school).
2 Cyprus: Compulsory school age is reached by children who are five years eight months old before 1 September. Pre-primary education is compulsory for five-to six-year-olds, that is, for one year, for children who are four years and eight months old by 1 September.
3 England: Children reach compulsory school age at the start of the school term following their fifth birthday, which may be in September, January or April. If they turn five in September to March, they will start in the reception class (ISCED 0). Most children enter primary school before they reach compulsory school age, most commonly in the September following their fourth birthday and thus spend a full year in the reception class.
4 Scotland: Compulsory education starts at age five, although many children start at four because schools have a single intake at the beginning of the school year. Local authorities set a cut-off date (normally 1 March) defining the cohort of children eligible to start school at the beginning of the following school year (normally in August). This means that Scottish children do not usually start school below the age of four years and six months.
5 Wales: As in England, children reach compulsory school age at the start of the school term following their fifth birthday, which may be in September, January or April. If they turn five in September to March, they will start in the reception class (ISCED 0). Most children enter primary school before they reach compulsory school age, most commonly in the September following their fourth birthday and thus spend a full year in the reception class.
6 Denmark: Compulsory school age was reduced to six from seven in August 2008, though for the first year, this is pre-primary education (ISCED 0).
7 Greece: Pre-primary education (ISCED 0) is compulsory for children who have reached the age of five by 31 December of the year in which they enrol.
8 Hungary: Kindergarten (ISCED 0) attendance is compulsory at age five. From 2014, it will become compulsory from age three.
9 Republic of Ireland: Although education is not compulsory until age six, approximately 40 per cent of four-year-olds and almost all five-year-olds are in publicly-funded provision in the infant classes of primary schools (ISCED 1). Four year olds in early education and care outside of schools are classified as working at ISCED 0. (Personal communication from the Department of Education and Skills, Republic of Ireland, 2 April 2013.)
10 Luxembourg: Pre-primary education (ISCED 0) is compulsory from age four.
11 Netherlands: Schooling is compulsory from age five, and ISCED 1 commences at age 6, but virtually all children start school at four.
12 Romania: Compulsory school age was reduced from seven to six from 2003/04. (At the same time, the period of compulsory education was extended from eight to ten years.)
13 Switzerland: Currently, the starting age for compulsory education ranges from four to six depending on the canton, but will be harmonised to four by 2015/16. Children start primary school at age six but there is some variation between cantons as to the qualifying date.
14 Bulgaria: A year of pre-primary education (ISCED 0) is compulsory for six-year-olds.
15 Latvia: Pre-primary education (ISCED 0) is compulsory for five- to six-year-olds.
16 Poland: As from 2011, kindergarten (ISCED 0) is compulsory from age five. The age of starting primary education (ISCED 0) is being lowered from seven to six between 2009 and 2014; from 1 September 2014 it will compulsory from age six.
17 Serbia: Pre-primary education (ISCED 0) is compulsory for six-year-olds.
*The Eurydice Network includes the Member States of the European Union (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lativa, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom); the three countries of the European Free Trade Association which are members of the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway); and Croatia, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey.
Last updated April 2013