Flexible school starts urged for summer-born children

Blowing bubbles Children born in late summer can be a year younger than their classroom peers

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Ministers are being urged to ensure parents of summer-born children can exercise their right to a later school start without losing a chosen place.

Evidence suggests younger children in a class can do less well than their older peers, and some parents feel delaying the school start can help

But many parents find their children must start reception in September or go on a waiting list for Year 1.

MP Annette Brooke has tabled an Early Day Motion urging more flexibility.

In theory, parents in England can choose when their children start school up to the statutory school starting age - the first term after the fifth birthday. But in practice, Mrs Brooke says, it is difficult to exercise that right and parents often "cave in", not wanting to "make a fuss".

Fund empty place

Her Early Day Motion, which is backed by a grassroots campaign group, says: "This House notes with concern the robust and consistent evidence from around the world on birth date effects, which in England shows that summer-born children can suffer long-term disadvantages as a result of England's inflexible school starting age."

It goes on to say the government should ensure that parents of summer-born children are able to exercise their right to defer their child's school start until the statutory school start time, if that is their choice.

Start Quote

My fear is that parents feel pressured to start their children in September because they fear that their child will get left behind”

End Quote Annette Brooke MP

And this has to be "without fear of losing the place at the school of their choice" they have been allocated, it says.

She adds: "Why should a child born a minute before midnight on August 31 be automatically put into Year 1 aged five?"

"Every child is different, emotionally, socially and in cognitive development, and so it seems reasonable to me that parents should have the choice to ask for their child to be in reception rather than Year 1 when they reach statutory school starting age."

'Foster joy of learning'

She acknowledges that, taken to its extreme, it could mean children starting school at many different times, which would not work, but calls for more parental choice and flexibility.

She warns: "A bad early experience could adversely affect a child throughout their whole education. I want to foster a joy of learning, and that can only be achieved if learning experiences are appropriate to a child's stage of development.

"My fear is that parents feel pressured to start their children in September because they fear that their child will get left behind. I just feel that it should be made easier to make that choice."

Stefan Richter, a father of three summer-born girls who has set up a campaign group calling for more flexibility, said: "Admission authorities present the choice as missing a year, or starting a year earlier than legally required: not a great choice, and the crux of what we're fighting against."

The campaign is grounded in a litany of parents' distressing experiences.

Under the school admissions code, the local education authority must make it clear in admissions arrangements that parents can request a deferral until later in the academic year or until the term in which the child reaches compulsory school age.

Parents can also request that the child takes up a part-time place until they reach compulsory school age.

Mrs Brooke says parents who are concerned about the issue should encourage their local MP to sign her Early Day Motion. She has plans for an adjournment debate in the autumn.

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