Summer-born children starting school

two children in school uniform laughing

A child starting school is a big step – both for them and for you, and your anxieties may be amplified if you have a summer-born child. Luckily, there are ways to help to ease them into full-time education

When do children start school?

A school place will be available for your child in the September following their fourth birthday, and most parents are happy for this to be their child's school starting age. However, all children develop at different rates, particularly in the early years.

Because of this, the compulsory age to start school is now five. Officially, a child reaches compulsory school age on the “prescribed day” following their fifth birthday (the prescribed days are 31 December, 31 March and 31 August). Children are required to begin full-time education at the start of the term after the corresponding prescribed day.

  • Children born between 1 September and 31 December reach compulsory school age on 31 December, and must be receiving full-time education at the start of the spring term (ie after the Christmas holidays, in January).
  • Children born between 1 January and 31 March reach compulsory school age on 31 March, and must be receiving full-time education by the start of the summer term (ie after the Easter holidays, in March or April).
  • Children born between 1 April and 31 August reach compulsory school age on 31 August and must be receiving full-time education at the start of the new school year (ie after the summer holidays, in September).

Summer-born children are those born between 1 April and 31 August, and aren't required to start school until a year after the point when they first could have joined. At this stage, children in their age group will be moving from reception to year 1.

Can I delay my child starting school?

The crux of the matter is this: your child does not have to start school at the age of four if you don't think they'll be ready to. However, whether they start at age five in reception or in year 1 is up to the school(s) you've applied to – meaning that not starting this year might mean they're missing out on the reception year altogether.

If you're concerned that they might not be ready to start in September, talk to the schools you're considering about what life will be like for your child in the reception class. You could ask them about how they'll support the individual needs of all the children in class, and you also may wish to find out more about the early years curriculum.

women talking

If, having spoken to the school, you think that your child will not be ready to attend full-time in the September after their fourth birthday, you can ask to delay their entry until they reach the compulsory age of five.

Who would I contact about this?

The admissions authority will be the local authority for community/voluntary controlled schools. For foundation and voluntary aided schools, it's the governing body, and for academies and free schools, it's the academy trust.

Ultimately, each school's admissions authority will decide at what stage your child should start school, and the admissions authority must take into account the views of the school's headteacher. You'll need to present a case to the school authority, explaining your child's circumstances and why you believe a certain option would best suit them (this can include a statement of special educational needs). The authority will then consider what's in the child's best interest (in terms of education and wellbeing), for both the short and the long term.

The government would agree that, in general, children should be educated in their normal age group, with the curriculum differentiated as appropriate. And therefore that they should only be educated out of their normal age group in very limited circumstances.

The school admissions authority will consider a number of things when looking into your request, including:

  • Whether your child was born prematurely
  • Whether he or she has delayed social, emotional or physical development
  • Whether they are in circumstances that mean they are not ready for school

As they might need to consider a number of cases, discuss it with the school(s) you've applied for as early as possible.

What happens if your child's application for deferred entry is accepted?

The school will let you know whether they've approved your application prior to National Offer Day, which falls in mid-April. If you're agreed that your child's place will be deferred, you'll need to withdraw the application and make a brand new one next year. When it comes to SATS, your summer-born child will take them at the end of each key stage with the rest of their class. And if your child starts school later, they will, of course, finish primary school out of their normal age group.

parents reading letter

If you're deferring, your summer-born child will still be entitled to 15 hours' free childcare per week, for 38 weeks of the year. The free childcare must be with an approved childcare provider. This stops when your child starts in reception class (so if deferring, when they reach the compulsory school age of five).

What if your child's application for deferred entry is denied?

Unfortunately, if the school and admissions authority refuse your request but offer a place in an alternative year group, you won't be able to appeal. You can, however, make a complaint, which the school must consider.

If you've applied to multiple schools, one's decision does not impact any of the others. So if you're particularly keen to defer your child's entry, it's worth requesting entry outside the normal age group from all of your preferred schools – and not just from the top one or two.

Still, when all else fails, it doesn't mean that your summer-born child has to start school this year – you can skip the reception year and start them at year 1 next year if you think that's best for your child. It's an option many parents would prefer to avoid, but it might be deemed necessary at this stage.

child and teacher at primary school

You also have the right to send your child to school part-time rather than full-time before they reach the compulsory school age of five. Talk to your school about this to find out how it would work day-to-day.

One final thing to consider if you are refused a deferral: if your child is starting primary school as one of the youngest, teachers are trained in supporting children with a wide range of abilities, and you can be confident that they'll do everything they can to help the youngest settle into their new environment. And while it has been the case that younger children haven't progressed as quickly as their older peers, this doesn't mean that it will be the case for your child. All children are different, and they all develop at their own rate.

The reality…

Many parents find that they are refused the option to delay their child's entry into reception until the year after, and feel that summer-born children are being 'forced' into formal education too early. In fact, a number of parenting groups have asked for the admissions code to be re-written so that options available to parents are more clearly defined, and authorities given reason to consider these options in more cases. The hope is that parents will have more influence on the decision, based on what they believe is best for their child.

For support and advice in preparing your child for school, check out our education Talk topic.

Mumsnet users say…

If you start your child later, one problem that can occur is in school sports. Kids may not be able to play in, say, under-16 competitions if they're not actually under 16.

Do what's right for the child now. If they get a rough start and school is too tiring or demanding, they may struggle to get over it.

My daughter was born at the end of July, and she’s now in all the top sets in secondary school. That’s in spite of being told all the way through primary that she wouldn’t do as well as the other children because of when she was born.

I’ve always felt that children should go to school when they are supposed to – that way they’ll be on the same level as the others. I think problems may start if they are made to feel ‘different’.