With just weeks to go until the first day of the school year, an abrupt change to prep and kindergarten eligibility requirements in Queensland means up to 5000 four-year-olds could potentially skip kindergarten altogether.
The Department of Education, Training and Employment announced at the beginning of the year that the eligible kindergarten entry date will this year change from June 30 to July 31.
It came after a change to prep entry requirements in late November that reduced the minimum age of a prep student at December 31 - at the end of the child's first year at school - from five years and six months to five years and five months.
The move means those children born in July 2010, who were just outside the kindergarten eligibility requirements last year, can skip their pre-school year altogether and move straight into prep in 2015.
According to the Independent Education Union, about 5000 Queensland children would be able to enrol in school without a kindergarten year, if a school principal deems a child capable.
However, the ultimate decision lies with the child's parents, IEU Queensland and Northern Territory branch secretary Terry Burke said.
He urged parents not to rob their child of the vital learning year.
"It's well recognised the developmental play of the kindergarten year is critical in terms of building the development of the child's mind, so missing out on those activities and the learning opportunity is the critical concern," he said.
"We would be encouraging parents to have a really serious conversation with the principal, which is essential in forming a balanced view."
An Education Department spokeswoman said the change was made to bring Queensland kindergarten and prep eligibility requirements into line with New South Wales.
"The cut-off age for early entry into the preparatory year in a Queensland school under the recent amendment aligns with the school starting age for children in New South Wales, which is the youngest school starting age in Australia," the Department spokeswoman said.
"However, in Queensland schools, early entry into the preparatory year is at the discretion of principals, based on an assessment of the child's attributes."
Gwynn Bridge, chief executive of the Australian Childcare Alliance Queensland, said the move to align the July 31 cut-off date with New South Wales was a retrograde one.
"Most other states are April or May, New South Wales is the only state where it's July, so it's amazing to us we went backwards rather than moving forwards to make the children older when starting kindergarten," she said.
"Children, if they are pushed too early, will not have the benefits of being prepared right through their schooling years."
Both Ms Bridge and Mr Burke said the decision to change the eligibility requirements this year was a sudden one and questioned whether consultation over the move was widespread enough.
Ms Bridge said the decision would also leave kindergartens across the state having to accommodate students born in a 13 month timeframe, rather than the usual 12, which would inevitably lead to larger class sizes.
"We didn't expect it to come in on January 1 and here we are with kindergartens now having to assign additional places," she said.