Children should not start formal school lessons until they are six or seven because of the “profound damage” the current education system is causing, a group of experts has warned.
An early focus on play should be introduced as part of a fundamental overhaul of the system that would bring it more into line with Scandinavian countries, according to 127 experts from academia, teaching, literature and charities.
In a letter to the Telegraph they call for changes to a system that they say focuses too early on formal lessons and the Three Rs from the age of four or five when children should be allowed to play instead.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former Children's Commissioner for England and one of the letter's signatories, told the paper: "If you look at a country like Finland, children don't start formal, full-scale education until they are seven.
"These extra few years, in my view, provide a crucial opportunity, when supported by well trained, well paid and highly educated staff, for children to be children."
Other signatories of the letter include Lord Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics, Dr David Whitebread, senior lecturer in psychology of education at Cambridge University, and Catherine Prisk, director of Play England.
The Telegraph said the letter was circulated by the Save Childhood Movement, which will launch its Too Much, Too Soon campaign tomorrow.
It will reportedly call for reforms including play-based schooling for children between three and seven.
Wendy Ellyatt, the founding director of the movement, told the Telegraph: "Despite the fact that 90% of countries in the world prioritise social and emotional learning and start formal schooling at six or seven, in England we seem grimly determined to cling on to the erroneous belief that starting sooner means better results later.
"There is nothing wrong with seeking high educational standards and accountability, but there is surely something very wrong indeed if this comes at the cost of natural development."
But the Department for Education described the ideas as "misguided".
A spokesman for Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "These people represent the powerful and badly misguided lobby who are responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools.
"We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer - a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about 'self image', which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up."