Brainy kids should wait until they're six years old before they start school because they are 'pushed too far, too fast' by affluent parents, according to a top academic.
Dr Richard House said formal education should be delayed by at least 12 months because an over-emphasis on the three-Rs at an early age can cause significant long-term damage to bright children. He said clever kids who start at five suffer from premature 'adultification'.
Dr House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University's Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, said gifted pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds suffered the most from being pushed 'too far, too fast'.
A US study – carried out over eight decades – showed children's 'run-away intellect' actually benefitted from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally.
He said many bright children can grow up in an 'intellectually unbalanced way', suffering lifelong negative health effects and even premature death, after being pushed into formal schooling too quickly.
Most British schoolchildren already start classes earlier than their peers in many other European nations.
Children are normally expected to be in lessons by five, although most are enrolled in reception classes aged four.
Dr House, called on the Government to launch an independent inquiry into England's school starting age.
He told the Telegraph: "The conventional wisdom is that naturally intelligent children should have their intellect fed and stimulated at a young age, so they are not held back.
"Yet these new empirical findings strongly suggest that exactly the opposite may well be the case, and that young children's run-away intellect actually needs to be slowed down in the early years if they are not to risk growing up in an intellectually unbalanced way, with possible life-long negative health effects."
At the moment, most English children start school in nursery or reception classes at the age of three or four and are taught using the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory 'nappy curriculum'. They then move into formal lessons at the age of five.
He added that the Government must 'help slow down the premature 'adultification' of children'.
"There are of course some children from very deprived backgrounds who on balance would, and certainly do, gain a net benefit from such early interventions," he said. "But the evidence is now quite overwhelming that such an early introduction to institutional learning is not only quite unnecessary for the vast majority of children, but can actually cause major developmental harm, and at worst a shortened life-span."