The Rollercoaster Ride : An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Parental Decision- Making Concerning Academic Redshirting of School Entry

Prof Doc Thesis

MacKinnon, K.. (2023). The Rollercoaster Ride : An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Parental Decision- Making Concerning Academic Redshirting of School Entry [Prof Doc Thesis]. Australian Catholic University Faculty of Education and Arts
AuthorsMacKinnon, K.
TypeProf Doc Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Education

The decision concerning when a child should commence formal schooling has become increasingly complex in contemporary society. Worldwide, a growing number of children do not commence formal schooling until six or seven years of age (World Bank, 2021). In Australia, current school starting age policies afford some parents (dependent on the child’s birth month) the flexibility to decide when their child will commence formal schooling. This results in some children starting school at 4.5 years of age (Early Childhood Intervention Australia [ECIA, NSW Chapter], 2017). However, there has been an increasing number of children in Australia commencing school a year after the child is first eligible, a practice commonly referred to as academic redshirting (Edwards et al., 2011).

Approximately 15 per cent of children are academically redshirted around Australia each year (Edwards et al., 2011). In New South Wales (NSW), Hanly et al. (2019) revealed 26 per cent of children were academically redshirted, which equated to half of all the children who were eligible to do so, experiencing a delayed school entry. Both statistics are notably higher than international estimates of 4 to 9 per cent of children across the globe being academically redshirted annually (Bassok & Reardon, 2013; Dhuey, 2016). The higher incidence of academic redshirting in Australia, and in particular NSW, warranted the need for this study, to explore how parents make the decision regarding when their child should commence formal schooling.

This qualitative study used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). IPA involves exploring the lived experience of a phenomenon, with a particular emphasis on an individual’s sense-making of the experience (Smith et al., 2022). The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of parents who were making the important decision concerning academic redshirting and school entry. Data was collected individually through semi-structured interviews with 10 parents and collectively, through four focus groups with parents from various regions across NSW.
The findings of the study revealed parents experienced varying levels of stress regarding decision-making, with those making the decision for the first time experiencing higher levels of anxiety. Themes were generated from the data analysis and are based on the key concepts that were identified at the stage of data analysis: cycles of indecision, ambiguity, and experiences of misalignment.

This study makes an important contribution to the existing body of knowledge. This qualitative study has explored parents’ perspectives on the decision-making in NSW,
Australia, where academic redshirting rates are more than double the national average (Edwards et al., 2011). Methodologically, this study offers a different research lens to exploring academic redshirting practices in Australia, given most research conducted has been quantitative (see Edwards et al., 2011; Hanly et al., 2019).
As a result of this study, several recommendations are proposed. Two key recommendations for policy makers include the following: firstly, the findings indicate a need to change school starting age policies in Australia. Secondly, a stronger partnership between Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and schools needs to be established to enable a smoother school transition for all.

KeywordsAcademic redshirting; Delayed entry; Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC); Foundation; Gift of time; Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA); Relative age; Retention; School readiness; Social promotion; Starting school; Transition
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range1-440
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online15 Mar 2024
Publication process dates
Completed15 Mar 2024
Deposited15 Mar 2024
Additional information

This research has been conducted with the support of the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

© 2023, Kirsten MacKinnon.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

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