Starting School for Summer Born Children
There has been considerable media coverage lately regarding the summer born ‘issue’, that is simply allowing children to start school in reception class at Compulsory School Age [CSA].
It sounds simple doesn’t it – letting children start in an entry class to infant/primary school when they reach CSA?
Unfortunately it’s not that simple; far from it. Despite the fact that children do not reach CSA until the term after their fifth birthday, the requirement for early provision of admission in the September following their fourth birthday, has effectively led to a ‘back-door’ lowering of CSA for those who wish their children to attend school (bearing in mind that school is not compulsory, education is).
Nowhere is this more keenly felt than with summer born children.
In practice, parents of summer borns face a Hobson’s choice – enrol their child before CSA or wait until CSA under threat that their child may be forced to miss Reception class. This is an insidious form of blackmail and the admissions system to reception class for these children is entirely separate and different to that of other children, and it is not clear, fair or objective.
The most recent justification by admission authorities for not allowing a 5 year old to start school in reception class is because they say they are following the School Admissions Code.
In 2009 a review of the Primary Curriculum highlighted that some admission authorities had several points of entry during the year, meaning that many children were receiving less school-based education than those who had started school in the autumn term. Crucially, the following recommendation was made, taken on board and first included in the Code in 2010:
“The preferred pattern of entry to reception classes should be the September immediately following a child’s fourth birthday….”
Given that this recommendation was specifically implemented so that no child will be forced by an admissions system to miss even one valuable term of reception, the irony is palpable that admission authorities and the DfE now think it acceptable for a child to miss the whole of reception, simply just to keep children within ‘chronological batches’.
Keen to defend its 2012 Code against critics, the Department for Education backs the highly questionable decisions of admission authorities to make children miss a whole year of their education, while its ministers publicly claim that it should be for parents to decide.
The debate centers around what’s perceived as “normal” for children, regardless of primary legislation definitions, with even the Department for Education and the Minister of State for Schools now advising
“Where a parent wants to delay the entry of their summer-born child until they reach compulsory school age, in the September following their fifth birthday, that child will start school at the point when their peers are moving up from the reception class to year 1. The parent understandably, would want their child to begin school in the reception class rather than year 1. Technically, that would mean the child would be admitted outside their ‘normal’ year group.”
In actual fact, those summer born children moving up to year 1 at this point ‘technically’ started school early.
Whether or not it is in a child’s best interests to start school a whole year prior to compulsory school age is never questioned by the Department for Education, no doubt as a result of the Education Secretary’s statement in January 2012 “We want children to be in school learning as quickly as possible.”
Parents who want their child to start school at CSA in reception are repeatedly asked to justify and ‘prove’ why their child needs the full seven years of primary education. Some are even being required to justify why their child will not be starting school before CSA!
The Department for Education says that each case must be looked at individually, even though essentially ALL cases are the same; parents seeking an education for their children in reception, at CSA and not before.
Yet bizarrely, it is evident that a postcode lottery system has now developed, with different admission authorities at liberty to come to difference decisions, sometimes even for the same child.
What parents want is fair and equal access to Reception class. They want the gamble of the unknown to be removed. It should be the default decision of parents whether or not their child starts in reception early at age four or at age five.
The current admissions system may result in children being disadvantaged by any decision their parents make about the care of their children prior to compulsory school age, whether this be in a home, nursery, pre-school setting or a combination thereof. Disadvantage borne as a direct result of current policy.
This policy needs to change.
This is a special guest article by the Summer Born Campaign
The Summer Born Campaign fundamentally believe that parents of summer born children should not be pressurised in any way to bring forward school start before compulsory school age and should not be blackmailed with the threat that their children may be forced to miss a year of education; at any point during their educational journey. They campaign on behalf of summer born children for fair and equal access to a Reception class education upon reaching compulsory school age. They also campaign for an amendment to the School Admissions Code to ensure that this becomes a default right for children.