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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 16-Sep-15 12:12:27

Guest post: "We won our fight to start reception at five"

No child should be forced to miss a year of school just because they aren't ready to start reception at four, argues Rosie Dutton

Rosie Dutton

Posted on: Wed 16-Sep-15 12:12:27


Lead photo

Schools Minister Nick Gibb's proposal will end the postcode lottery and allow parental choice, says Rosie Dutton.

Just days after her fourth birthday, my daughter wasn't ready for school - or, rather, the school system wasn't ready for her. I knew she needed another year to build her confidence, self-esteem and independence in order to get the best out of the classroom and the start to her school life.

She had come into the world on a sunny mid-August day. When she was just three, I had to think about applying for her school place. Every nursery poster I saw, every form of council communication I read on the subject - they all told me she needed to be at school the following year.

I don't regret the decision I made - she didn't start school until she was five.

Olivia's education was something I had thought about from an early stage. I knew she had the option to start school just days after her 4th birthday (or later that year) or I could wait until she was of compulsory school age - the term after her 5th birthday. We have one of the youngest school starting ages in the world, and while, deep down, I always knew I wanted to wait until she reached compulsory school age - I was willing to make a final decision nearer the time. I would follow her lead.

When Olivia was three, I knew she was not ready.

I decided to exercise my legal right to wait until she was of compulsory school age before enrolling her in school. This would give her another whole year to enjoy learning through play, without the pressures of school life. Yes, reception is mostly play-based, but what about the leap to year one and the year after that?

I wanted to get the foundations right, for Olivia. I was happy in the knowledge that she would enjoy time at home and at her forest school nursery for another year. I also factored in the different adult to child ratios between nursery (1:8) and school (1:30), and at age 4, I felt Olivia would benefit from continuing to develop strong attachments with her current caregivers.

I know not every family will feel that 'delaying' their child's school entry is right, but this was my choice. Olivia went to school at five, bursting with excitement. This would have not been the case, for her, last year.

It was the right decision for our family, and most importantly, for Olivia. Parents are entitled to 15 hours free early education or childcare per week until their child reaches compulsory school age or enters Reception class. The government also plans to increase this entitlement to 30 hours per week for working parents, which will go further to helping parents with childcare costs before their children start school.

I never thought our decision could mean Olivia would be forced to miss her reception year, especially when research shows it is not in a child's best interests to miss the first year of school, or any other year. I found myself in the position that although I could request a reception place, it wasn't an automatic right (unlike Liverpool City Council's policy).

Fortunately, I found the Summer Born Campaign group, who have worked to try and ensure children are not penalised for starting school at compulsory school age. They helped me to put forward my case and in the end, I 'won' the right to start Olivia in reception last week, aged 5 years and 2 weeks. Many other parents, however, don't win this admissions fight and they are left with the options of enrolling their child earlier than they wished, missing the reception year of school, home educating, paying for private education, or leaving the country.

I know not every family will feel that 'delaying' their child's school entry is right for them, or their child, but this was my choice, and whilst others may choose to enrol their summer born child in school at four, that is their choice, which I respect. Parents know their children best, and you do what is right for your child.

Research tells us summer born children are more likely to be at a disadvantage, but regardless of this - compulsory school age is what it is and no child should be forced to miss any year of school for starting at this point.

So I personally welcome the Schools Minister Nick Gibb's proposal, which all being well will end this unfair postcode lottery and allow real parental choice.

Olivia went into school this week bursting with excitement and joy, literally fist thumping the air, and I know this would have not been the case, for her, last year.

By Rosie Dutton

Twitter: @RDut24

TwoOddSocks Wed 16-Sep-15 13:13:25

Nice post! Children vary and while some will always struggle academically and others will thrive we should give every child the chance to fulfil their potential.

There is clear evidence that starting school at 4 stops some children from fulfilling this potential. It's nothing to do with being the youngest but being too young. Other countries have flexibility in starting age and there the youngest aren't disadvantaged.

Of course some kids are ready at 4 and they should definitely start but some kids whatever their parents do to prepare them aren't ready for school, letting them delay harms no one.

SilverShins Wed 16-Sep-15 13:16:37

Absolutely agree with you Rosie. For my own child I don't feel I can ignore the weight of evidence against starting formal education at 4. She's just 3 now and only just starting nursery 2 days a week. I can't expect her definitely to be ready to be in a class of 30 next year. I'm already watching her struggle with nursery.

Every child is different and as the law does not require a child to attend school until they reach CSA, I will be exercising my right to defer entry. It will be in the best interests of my child, not because she is mollycoddled or because I can't let go.

I want her to be ready to succeed at school. I don't want her to have to confront an obstacle I can help her avoid at such a young age.

Llahharas Wed 16-Sep-15 13:21:56

Completely agree that it is down to the individual chil, and their parents to decide when they are ready for school. It has nothing to do with being premature, ha king developmental delays or exceptional circumstances it's simply knowing your child and what is in their best interests. Nick gibb has supported this and the admissions code will be changing. I just wish that Kent county council were as supportive as Liverpool and other councils across the country are being. Kent are refusing to change their position and so i am faced with my daughter not being in Olivia's lucky situation.

monkeymummy100 Wed 16-Sep-15 13:23:28

Exactly, it should be about choice. Every child is different, but overwhelmingly the data shows that starting before a child is ready is hugely detrimental.

ThumbWitchesAbroad Wed 16-Sep-15 13:32:57

I'm in Australia, and here (in NSW at least) children are not ALLOWED to start as young as your DD would have been if she'd started last year.

Children here start usually in the year in which they are already 5, or will turn 5 before the end of July (our school year is Feb - Dec). But if you feel your child would benefit from an extra year, then you can wait until they're actually 5, or even 6. They have to start school before they're 7.

DS1 was 5 and a bit when he started school and was ready. But he had peers at preschool and playgroup who were held back an extra year because, emotionally and socially, they weren't ready. And in his class (he's Y2 now) there is a boy who was held back a year, who is more than a year older than DS1.

I'm not saying that the schooling system is any better here, I can't compare - but oh I'm so pleased that I didn't have to start DS a year earlier when he was only just 4! He started preschool then instead - 1 day a week for half the year, then 2 days a week for the second half. Worked really well for him.

Camber13 Wed 16-Sep-15 13:37:17

I am pro-choice. I also don't think the government are not making these changes out of the goodness of their harts. They want their statistics to show an increase in achievement. To show their system is working and clearly the statistics that summer born children are not fulfilling their potential does not help them achieve this.
Children should not be forced to attend school at age 4. Incidentally, reception is not largely play based, phonics, blending, counting , mathematics etc are taught. So being made to miss reception would be missing an important year of education. IMO

Scan1971 Wed 16-Sep-15 14:15:32

Brilliantly Put Rosie. I hope it will educate other parents and that we do not mollycoddling our children if we chose to wait until CSA. We know what is right for our child and that all children are different.

Phoenix0x0 Wed 16-Sep-15 14:54:57

Great post!

I agree it's about parental choice and not up to an admissions team choice.

Ahhhcantthinkofagoodname Wed 16-Sep-15 16:18:23


Gerryatric Wed 16-Sep-15 17:41:46

As an ex-primary school teacher I welcome this. It makes life much easier for me as a teacher and for the child. I found in every reception class room there were always two or three (sometimes four or five) who were just too young to be there. Occasionally it would just be a case of parents not preparing the child but more often they were just young kids, more or less toddlers that just weren't ready for school.

When you have kids like this they take up an enormous amount of time both because of emotional and behavioural issues and because they're just too young for phonics and writing however much extra attention you give them. We could get away with it to a certain extent in reception by just not pushing it and putting them in a small group with phonics and basic writing in the reception year really struggled and ended up playing catch up for years.

I found for every August born who was top of the class there were at least 3 who struggled and remained in "intervention groups" for at least a few years into primary school. Another problem in itself since often the extra help was often only available during playtime so the kids that most needed the time to unwind and socialise were stuck in the classroom during lunch.

Gerryatric Wed 16-Sep-15 18:13:22

Oops that should be "putting them in a small group with a TA in the reception year but children that hadn't grasped phonics and basic writing really struggled in yr1 and ended up playing catch up for years.

IHeartKingThistle Wed 16-Sep-15 19:28:08

I'm just asking out of interest - when making the decision, did you consider the impact on her at the other end of education? So she'll be starting GCSEs after she's 16 and effectively starting college a year later.

Penfold007 Wed 16-Sep-15 19:38:48

I'm a summer born child of a summer born parent, we both started school days after our 4th birthdays. This also meant I took my GCEs at 15 and was still 15 when I could legally leave school. I took my A levels at 17. My best friend was eleven months older than me and got very frustrated that she was almost 17 and 19 when we sat our exams. I don't feel starting at school at 4 was a disadvantage but I utterly respect other opinions.

Today many children are in a formal education environment from nursery onwards so around three years of age. The government seem to want this so where do we go next?

Camber13 Wed 16-Sep-15 20:52:39

A child born on 31st August will be 1 day older than a 1st of September child. It will be very little difference in finishing ages.

Heatherjayne1972 Wed 16-Sep-15 20:53:27

My son is the oldest in his year ( early September birthday) and is in a class with children who are almost 12 months younger it's far too huge a gap imo. ( I often wonder how the teaching staff manage with all their targets they have to achieve) Parents absolutely should be able to hold their child back a year if that's best for their child and not have to worry about the child skipping a school year Having a child who was 5 when he started has been the best socially and educationally

tinkersdc Wed 16-Sep-15 21:01:29

Iheart - GCSEs exams are taken in the May/ June. So an August born (like the child in the post) will be 16 & 1/2. As will a child born in Sept... Personally don't see the issue? I've seen people say things like the child will be able to leave school without sitting exams. But this is true of Autumn borns too? Also leaving age is being raised to 18. What's your worry/ concern? Maybe I missed the point?

tinkersdc Wed 16-Sep-15 21:04:15

Penfold - why was your older friend frustrated?

Penfold007 Wed 16-Sep-15 21:08:54

Tinkersdc because she was frustrated at being the oldest and having to 'wait' to leave school or finish 6th form. I found them passing their driving test first a huge injustice! I think my older classmates got frustrated and possibly were more mature so were really ready for the next phase. Mind you this was in an era where most went into employment at 16 and going on to 6th form, college or university wan't the norm.

Serenity01 Wed 16-Sep-15 21:19:28

So brilliant that finally sense will prevail! How they have got away for so long with giving summerborns a disadvantageous and discriminatory rule is beyond me! ALL other kids can start school in the term after they turn 5.... summerborns must be given the same rule and not a different one anymore! All children must be given the same fair chance to start school on a level footing at the same age and at a point when they can access the curriculum. We already have one of the toungest school starting ages in the world so sneaking it down a further year is a scandle & Forcing children in under age by some leas has been a scandle. Already this September I am heartbroken by the amount of social media posts I am seeing of people having to drag desperately un happy distressed 4yr old children to school & having to peel themselves off them - under the advice of schools or leas when Some of these children still physiologically need naps and are not emotionally ready to be in a school environment. mounting evidence shows this can and does cause long term health and emotional problems in those who are not ready and too young and distressed by it. If a child is distressed in anyway it is only responsible to ensure their needs are met. Yet the current system sees some unready "toddlers" enduring emotional distress whilst they keep encouraging parents to "ride the storm" this is unacceptable to put a child through that for no good reason other than Beurocracy. A long overdue change to close the loop holes in the code and ensure no unready child is again put through that is VERY WELCOME! Csa is & 5 should be so for all... not just the privileges autumn winter borns ! Fairness for all hurrah!

Youseemstarshaped Wed 16-Sep-15 23:31:19

My DS started reception a 4 and one month and quite clearly was not ready. All children are different, but we regressed to wet trousers day and night for the first term, despite having been dry for well over a year. He could not eat with a knife and fork. He could not hold a pencil in a tripod grip. He could not write his name. By the end of the year he could barely read a couple of words. His speech which was delayed slightly and so was hard for the teachers to take the time to understand. He found it hard to make friends. However when he started year one, we got to October half term (5y and 3m). It was like a different child suddenly he was alive with learning. He rapidly learned to read and write. His speech developed. He started making friends. I suddenly felt like yes He is old enough to be at school now. I wish he had been able to stay at nursery an extra year, but it's ok

Serenity01 Thu 17-Sep-15 16:32:55

These children won't be a year older they will be better matched developmentally ( age is a number not an accurate measure of maturity) also there will only be only weeks or months difference, in any grouping there is an age range so this is no different

Marmitelover55 Thu 17-Sep-15 20:31:27

Doesn't it mean that the spring born children will be the new disadvantaged/youngest in the year?

Allisgood1 Thu 17-Sep-15 21:00:25

Your post sums up my reasons for (hopefully) emigrating. ????Our third son was born 4 days before the sept 1 cut off date. He will have just turned 4 when he is supposed to start school. This doesn't sit right with me. While I hope things change, we haven't "won"! What we have is a government official backing us up. There are no guarantees as to what will happen in practice.

Serenity01 Thu 17-Sep-15 23:27:11

Marmitelover55 allowing equality and flex for summerborns is not about relative age effect. It's about unfair local decision not following the law as well as pushing parents to send children to school under age. IF relative age effect is an issue this is a seperate issue... However summerborn flex would mean all children are more likely to be grouped, better aligned in their abilities (age not being the best determinant for that in a child of 4/5) so this would benefit ALL children rather than only the autumn winter borns. Also the children U mention would still also not be being forced to start school as young as the summerborns so if there was a choice between which group should take the place of relative youngest the spring group would be anyway less disadvantaged by such an archaic rule than the summerborns and so best placed for it anyway.... ALL shud Hav the right to start in term after 5 not just non summerborns and the fixation on grouping by age only, is as education leads are saying outdated arbitrary & unhelpful !

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