Guest post: “A later start can be the best thing for many children.”
MumsnetGuestPosts · 15/05/2019 15:52
My summer-born daughter Olivia is the oldest child in her school year.
Nearly four years ago I told Mumsnet all about our ‘fight’ to start her in reception at age five.
Olivia is now in Year 3 and enjoying school.
But other parents up and down the country are still fighting for the same right, with their children being made to start at age 4 or enter Year 1 at age 5.
This is despite assurances from the Schools Minister Nick Gibb in 2015, that ‘summer-born children can be admitted to the reception class at the age of five if it is in line with their parents’ wishes’, and the promise ‘to ensure that those children are able to remain with that cohort as they progress through school, including through to secondary school.’
A later start can be the best thing for many children. Olivia enjoyed her reception year, but the jump to Year 1 was a bit of a shock and she found some of Year 2 hard. I’m so glad she had that extra year of development behind her to face those challenges.
No one could pick Olivia out in a crowd; she fits in perfectly well with her class cohort and is thriving in Year 3.
Despite all the warnings that she’d be ‘on the wrong register’, be ‘the odd one out’ or ‘have to take her SATs a year early’, we haven’t encountered any problems along the way (although she did receive a birthday card with the wrong age on one year, but that’s about as tricky as it’s got!).
Olivia even thanks me for what I did.
I have always talked about it openly (and proudly) and explained my reasons to her. She tells me that she couldn’t imagine being in Year 4 right now. ‘I’m right where I belong, mummy,’ she says.
The truth is, Olivia knows more about the law than some staff who work in admission departments, and even some school heads. She often corrects adults who tell her she ‘should’ be in Year 4, saying, ‘I could be in Year 4, not should.’
Of course, every child is different. That’s why choice and flexibility is so important (but only if it’s fair for all). Some summer-born children will enjoy school from age four and do very well, while others won’t. Whatever choice parents make should be without judgement.
Every time I read about the summer-born issue it ends in confused debate, so I wanted to finish by debunking a few myths and ensuring everyone knows the facts.
What is the law? Do you know your rights?
The School Admissions Code requires councils to provide schooling for all children in the September following their fourth birthday, but a child does not reach compulsory school age until the term following their fifth birthday.
So, for a summer-born child (defined as born April 1st - August 31st), that’s a whole year later than when they could first enter school.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Summer-born children are still the only group of children who don’t have automatic right of access to reception at that point (compulsory school age); parents can only request that their child starts in reception.
Some admission authorities have a policy of automatically agreeing all requests while others will only consider requests if parents present very strong evidence of special educational needs or developmental delay.
It’s important to know that it’s your decision when your child starts school, whether prior to compulsory school age or at compulsory school age.
The admission authority for the school has to make a year group decision based on the best interests of your child at that point (i.e. compulsory school age). The discussion should not be about ‘school readiness’ or how they can meet your child’s needs at age four.
The question an admission authority must answer is: ‘What is in this child’s best interests at compulsory school age, reception or Year 1?’ It must then clearly explain the reasons for its decision.
Incredibly, it has been nearly four years since Nick Gibb’s assurances and promises, and in that time many children have been forced to miss reception or start school before their parents wanted them to.
There needs to be a consistent approach across the country, and soon.
For further information regarding the admission of summer-born children, please see the Summer Born Campaign website and join its Facebook group.
Rosie will be returning to the post on Wednesday 22nd May to answer some user questions
Seaandsand83 · 15/05/2019 17:15
I'll be sending my summer born at CSA next year - he will have 4 other CSA children in his class! No SEN but too young for formal education at having just turned 4. I want him to thrive rather than just survive at school 🙂
Directingtraffic · 15/05/2019 17:28
My daughter was born in Aug but was very prem, her due date was Nov. Her prematurity effectively put her into a whole new year group.
She had many issues with health and development and we fought for her to stay at nursery for an extra year and then begin reception in line with when she SHOULD have been born, as opposed to her actual birth date. We were successful and she is currently in year four of a mainstream school, however, she has faced many difficulties in mainstream and even after holding her back a year she is out of her depth with the curriculum. We are now considering a special school for secondary.
Again we find ourselves with a fight on our hands. The LEA have told us that if she goes to the local mainstream secondary she will be able to continue with her current cohort, finish primary and then begin year 7 as usual. However,!if we choose a specialist SEN provision for her then she would have to omit the final year of her primary education to start secondary - effectively 'catching up'. We have opposed this and the LEA are currently considering her case, we await a response. I genuinely fail to see how omitting the final year of primary could be in any child's best interest.
Amibeingdaft81 · 15/05/2019 17:31
How does it work in the grammar school system?
And representing your school/ county at sports?
Annabelle16 · 15/05/2019 17:37
I will be starting my summerborn child at CSA in 2021 and can’t think of one single reason not to. Want her to thrive and not just survive!
Jebuschristchocolatebar · 15/05/2019 17:38
I’m in Ireland where most children are nearly 5 or already 5 going into primary school. It’s great because it gives little ones time to develop a little bit more maturity before going to school. You often see the argument they will be bored in nursery or pre school bit I really don’t think that’s the case.
cuppycups · 15/05/2019 17:47
I cannot think of any way in which my summer born child would benefit from starting school too early at 4 years old. My child will be starting Reception next year when he is 5.
All summer borns should be given the opportunity to thrive at school, not merely survive.
Great post 👍🏻.
MrsElizabethShelby · 15/05/2019 18:28
I had no idea you couldn't just apply for a school place after your child turned 5 and that they might go straight into year 1! I'm so pleased I read this post.
My DC birthday falls bang in the middle of July does this mean they will need to start at beginning of summer term or September after?
billy1966 · 15/05/2019 18:33
I have never met a parent who regretted sending a child at 5. I have met plenty whom have at 4.
It's about emotional intelligence, not academic ability.
The extra year can make all the difference to some children.
Parents know best.
HildaSnibbs · 15/05/2019 18:43
I just want to say thanks to Rosie and the SummerBorn Campaign - both my August borns have started at CSA in Reception (well, one is starting this year!) and the information and moral support the campaign website and Facebook page provided is invaluable.
We're now in the process of moving house and I'm being asked to prove it's in their best interests to stay in their current year groups...! The whole system is so unnecessarily complicated and it needs such simple and obvious reform the frustration is intense... Well done and thank you to the Summerborn Campaign!
arethereanyleftatall · 15/05/2019 18:58
I disagree with this system.
It means a child born in April 1st 2020 (to supportive parents who know all about everything) could be in the same class as a child born 17 months later (29th August 2021, to unsupportive parents who don't know about anything and have no pushy elbows). This makes things worse. Except of course for the child who's now potentially 17 months older than their classmates.
Easy for them, I'm sure they thrive. The others? Not so much.
thehairyhog · 15/05/2019 19:01
I want to give thanks too. My daughter is summer born and is struggling socially and emotionally in group care, in what was meant to be her pre-school year.
I've had a big old fight on my hands but now have agreement from one admissions authority to start at age 5 next year - although resistant initially they to their credit took the time to read through everything in our application, where other schools have not.
I cannot describe the relief that she will get another year to develop before going into a class of 30 and doing long days filled with adult agenda. Some are 'ready' but many are not - and we wonder why we have an anxiety and mental health crisis for our young people when they start off like this.
weebarra · 15/05/2019 19:06
I'm Scottish. Deferring is totally normal here for children with Dec-Feb birthdays (our enrolling year runs from March - Feb so Natch bornd are the oldest.)
DS1 was born on 23rd Dec and I really swithered about deferring. He's now 11 and I wish I had. He had ADHD but even now seems so young.
His younger siblings are August born and right in the middle of the year, I can see the difference. DS2 was born at the same time as an English friend's DD, except she was 3 months early. If they hadn't moved, she would have had to start school a full year earlier. Seems very silly!
FiremanKing · 15/05/2019 19:11
You are probably the first guest poster that I have actually agreed with!
My son will be 24 this year.
His birthday is 1st August.
Back in those days school places in my area were often spoke about in the local press about parents who had to send their children to a school miles away because there were no places nearby.
With that in mind I was very pleased that my son had a guaranteed place except they wanted him to start the September after he had just turned 4 at the beginning of August.
Now, we did have a personal upset at home on top of this as his father and I split up just before our son turned four and my son was naturally quite emotional.
With that in mind I went to see the headmistress and request a delay in starting as I felt he was not ready to start school.
He was doing well at his playgroup and they had started preparing them for starting school by trying to teach sitting down skills and paying attention rather than free for all playing.
The playgroup didn’t think he was ready for school as his attention span was lacking.
The headmistress was very cold and matter of fact and said no allowances could be made and she would not even let him start in the following January and insisted he start in the September.
She told me (which was a lie) that if he didn’t start in the September he would lose his place. The next nearest school was full and the next one too far away as I wanted my children to experience walking to school as I had done.
So I agreed to him starting. Big mistake.
He has always been tall but you could clearly see he was nearly a year younger than some of the other boys in his class who were turning 5 in the September and in the following few months.
It transpired that the 1st of August was an ‘unlucky’ day to have his birthday and he was always the youngest in his class throughout his school years.
He wasn’t the only one but he didn’t have the sitting down skills and I was being called in almost every day over incidents such as he couldn’t stand still in line for five minutes and was swinging his book bag and couldn’t keep still or getting up in class and fidgeting etc.
As the teacher said, he wasn’t a naughty boy just very immature. Well that’s because he was immature.
Now I’m not a feminist and believe there is a big difference between boys and girls (I have a daughter as well) and it was so noticeable that the girls in his reception class were so much more poised, calm and eager to please the teacher. They were also neat and tidy with their book bags, coats and P.E kit.
The boys and especially my son were not as skilled with the above.
It was quite demoralising for my son at my being called in after school every day and he felt that he was being told off all of the time.
He was quite imaginative and when asked why he wouldn’t eat his school dinner he told the dinner lady in a completely straight face that he had seen God outside the dinner hall and God held up his Trident (sic) and pointed it at him and boomed at him, “Thou shall not eat they school dinner!”
I got called in about that!
I digress. Basically my son strutted school far too soon and in my opinion should have been allowed to start a year later.
Starting too early set him up as being difficult, although the teachers likes him and he was very popular with them and other children they were at times frustrated and exasperated with him.
He was/is intelligent but as one teacher pointed out it was very difficult for them when they were giving him attention in settling him down when that attention could have best been given to a child who was sitting nicely but struggling to do the work.
Being a distraction in class is very wearing for a teacher.
That’s just my personal take and I do hope things can be different and children are able to start school when they are ready and not just by their date of birth.
Good luck and best wishes op with your endeavours.
Snazzygoldfish · 15/05/2019 19:17
I agree with everything you've said arethereanyleftatall! I can see how this benefits the children of informed and articulate parents who are able to advocate for their children, and I'm pleased for them, but leaving it to parents choice is yet another nail in the coffin of social mobility and a kick in the teeth to the most vulnerable children in society, who may well end up 17 months younger than their already massively advantaged peers.
My solution would be for the cut off date for starting school to move from 31 August to 31 march. That way, all children would be at least 4 and a half and would all have more time at nursery (which is also currently unfair on summerborns).
tattyheadsmum · 15/05/2019 19:18
My August born boy will be starting school at CSA in reception. Unfortunately, our LEA is really unhelpful with summer born requests, so we're almost certainly going to have to educate him privately, but rather that than sending him to school aged just 4 and a few days.
The Flexible Admission for Summerborns group on Facebook is a brilliant resource for anyone considering this route. Thanks for posting, Rosie.
Stuckforthefourthtime · 15/05/2019 19:23
I hugely disagree with this system. I'm totally in favour of raising the starting school age to 5, with 3 of my DCs being summer born I absolutely see the benefit.
But by making it patchy you doubly disadvantage some children. Jocasta, born 1 April to heavily involved parents who can afford an extra year of care in an interesting nursery rated Outstanding (in our area, the 'free hours' cost doesn't even let nurseries break even, so there's only discounted care not truly free, other than at heavily oversubscribed school nurseries), will be starting the year with Olivia, born 28 August, patented by a less well off family with older DCs who haven't had time and resources to invest in her development so far, and are thrilled she'll finally be ending nursery fees.for the pretty average local playgroup/childminder they used.
This is just entrenching disadvantage.
FiremanKing · 15/05/2019 19:26
I should update the story of my son. By the time he reached school leaving he had enough of school. He was predicted to do very well in his GCSE’s in all subjects but on the day of his first exam he turned round and refuses to sit it!
He said exams were a complete waste of time as he knew the subject matter and didn’t need an exam to prove it!
He wouldn’t have it that he need the qualifications to progress to college and then Uni or work and announced he was going to not take any of his exams.
How can you force a 6” foot tall lad to sit an exam? You can’t.
So he didn’t take any of them.
I went with him to his college interview and the chap was very excited about how knowledgeable my son was but then asked for the formality of his GCSE grades of which my son could not produce!
My son looked crestfallen at being told he would not be accepted but then bravado set in on the way home and he declared he was going to take a year out and play guitar on the beach!
Well, it ended up with him losing two years of his life and whilst he didn’t actually play guitar on the beach ( well he might of occasionally) he didn’t work or study.
Then he ‘grew up’ as he saw his peers/old classmates going on to Uni or going to work and he went to college but at a berry low level which was soul destroying as he knew the subjects inside and out and he was in a class with teenagers two years younger than him but it was the only way to get his qualifications and get him on to the higher college course he has wanted to do originally.
He is now at University and doing very well.
I do feel and he agrees with me that a lot of this upset was caused by him starting school too young (for him) and causing him to feel disillusioned with education as he got older.
Stuckforthefourthtime · 15/05/2019 19:26
Should also add - it also advantages children at schools who allow late reception starts over those who arbitrarily say you'd have to start straight into year 1 (as many do around here). It's a ridiculous lottery to play with our children's educations.
arethereanyleftatall · 15/05/2019 19:32
I agree @Snazzygoldfish!
If the problem is that 4 is too young to start school, then, fine, make it 5 for everyone. Start everyone a year later.
If the problem is that a child performs worse then the others because they're the youngest, well, of course they do. They're younger. There has to be a cut off. At least on the old system a child was a maximum of 11 months, 29 days younger; now some poor bugger is going to be 17 months younger. I am not sure anyone can argue that's in that child's best interest, however much it's in their own child's.
Sunshine6 · 15/05/2019 19:33
Very well written piece and hopefully getting the information out there for everyone to see will mean more parents can make the right decision for their child.
tattyheadsmum · 15/05/2019 19:36
@arethereanyleftatall, you're arguing against your own point. What this campaign is trying to do is ensure that all parents - regardless of how sharp their elbows are - have the right to start their summer born children when they feel their child is ready. At the moment, the system favours the educated, middle class parent because (in my LEA at least) you have to scour resources, write and fight on your child's behalf; it should be done automatically on parental request and then everyone would have an equal chance. You know your child better than anyone, I'm sure, and you should have the automatic right to decide - if they are summer born - whether they are read to start school at 4 or 5.
emerencealwayshopeful · 15/05/2019 19:37
I'm in Australia, and each state has different rules for starting school.
In Victoria, where we live, children must enrol the school year they turn 6. But the cut off for starting is 5 at the end of April. So mid December (after the school year ends) until April turning 5 is at parent discretion. So there is a possible 16m gap in the classroom. In reality very few April children enrol at 4 and I'm extremely glad we sent our summer babies at 6. I can't imagine either coping at 4.
Mummy0ftwo12 · 15/05/2019 19:42
I have a summer born language delayed ds and asked our local Grammar school this recently, the response i got was that they wouldn't allow 11+ to be taken out of year. I also asked our Paediatrician who wasn't in favour because she thought that the child might not get the extra help if needed.
I am still on the fence but looking for a mid year start.
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