Summer Born Children and the Case for a Later School Start

"Mother's Victory Opens Way for Thousands of Summer Born Babies to Start School Late"

What an interesting lot of issues are raised by this article from the Mail Online, and how liberating it is as a home educator to be free of the stresses of school admissions.

Rosie Dutton in Staffordshire delayed her summer born daughter's school start by a year, despite being told that her decision to do so could lead to her daughter having to skip reception and join her peers in Year 1 the following year. However, she did not bow to pressure, and was offered the place she wanted - in the school of her choice - in the reception class the following year. Good for her! But many similar appeals by parents up and down the country have been less successful.

The article points out that "Department for Education guidance says children in England must be in education from the term after their fifth birthday". Education here implies school with no mention that school is, in fact, not compulsory. "The law also allows for pupils to start school earlier. As a result, the vast majority of children begin their education by taking up a Reception class place at the age of four." However, the article puts forward evidence to suggest that summer born babies often do not do well if they start school shortly after turning 4. "Summer-born babies tend to perform worse in exams and are more likely get bullied by their classmates, research has found. Many experts believe that the attainment gap between children born just after the academic year starts in September and those born during the summer holidays is already evident by the age of five and, while it narrows as pupils progress, it fails to close." What is even more interesting are the statistics the article goes on to share ...

"A 2009 Department for Education report found that only 40 per cent of children born in summer were achieving a good level of development compared with 50 per cent among those born in Spring and 64 per cent in Autumn babies. Those born in September were also almost twice as likely to achieve good grades as those in August." If I am reading this correctly, this report shows that - in school - at best (amongst Autumn born children) only 64% are showing a 'good level of development'. Let's turn that statistic upside down, and it tells us that, at best, 36% (and, at worst 60%) of children are NOT showing 'a good level of development' (whatever that might mean) ... Is this not more than slightly worrying? And the list of findings goes on ....
"Of the lowest 20 per cent of achievers, 49 per cent were born in Summer months. Previous Government research has said that at GCSE level, 10,000 teenagers fail to score five good grades every year simply because they are the youngest in the academic year. In 2009 only 47 per cent of pupils born in August obtained five or more GCSES at A-C level compared with 55 per cent of those born in September." Again, turn these statistics upside down to see the failure in our educational system. The favourable figure here - 55% of those born in September achieving what we might consider the minimal qualifications (5 GCSEs at A-C level) = 45% of those children NOT achieving.

"Another study carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found 12.5 per cent of August-born pupils were assessed as having mild special educational needs by age 11, compared with only 7.1 per cent of those born in September. Experts have argued over whether they should start school as soon as possible, with their September-born peers, wait several months or even be held back a year. Department for Education figures show 62 per cent of those born between May and August fail to meet minimum expected levels in areas such as reading, writing, speaking, maths and listening." Read that again: "62 per cent of those born between May and August fail to meet minimum expected levels in areas such as reading, writing, speaking, maths and listening." Isn't that appalling?

To return to the focus of the article, and the struggle of Rosie Dutton and others like her, "There are no statutory barriers to admitting a child of five to a Reception class'" states the Department for Education. "It adds: 'Children born in the summer term are not required to start school until a full year after the point at which they could first have been admitted – the point at which other children in their age range are beginning year 1. 'The admission authority must make a decision on the basis of the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child concerned.' But the Flexible School Admissions for Summer Born Children group said years of unclear and conflicting government advice on the policy has allowed schools and councils to use a loophole to push these children into Year 1 to ease pressure on places in Reception. Bracknell Forest Council says: 'If you choose for your child not to start until their statutory school age... starting in a Reception class following a child's fifth birthday is only possible in exceptional circumstances. Reading Borough Council warns: 'You will need to apply for a place in Year 1. However, the school may then be full because the places have been allocated to children in the previous school year."

All of this adds up to pressure on parents to push their child into school before they feel they are really ready. In fact, parents ought to be entitled and enabled to exercise their best judgement about when - and indeed if - they choose to send their child to school.