We have Benjamin Disraeli to thank for the compulsory school starting age, going back over a century. The age of five was introduced to the 1870 Education Act as part of a wider parliamentary debate about establishing a national system of elementary education.

What concerned MPs was not so much the age at which children should start school but the age at which they should be allowed to leave school in order to earn a living, in the factories and particularly on farms. If they were to be allowed to leave school soon after the age of 10 to contribute to the family finances, the argument went, they needed to be got into school early to learn to read and write and add up.

However, two MPs thought five was too young. They suggested six as an alternative. At this point Benjamin Disraeli decided the debate had run long enough. The point was trivial, he thought. Why couldn't the Members get on with it? The amendment was withdrawn and the age of five went forward to the statute book.

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