School starting age should change, says minister
Rules that mean children must start school the September after their fourth birthday are flawed and must change, England's schools minister has said.
The September cut-off can mean some children are almost a year younger than others when they start in reception.
Nick Gibb said some parents felt forced to send their children to school before they were ready.
"Parents know their children best," said Mr Gibb in an open letter to councils, school and parents.
Parents of children born between April and August can already ask to delay entry to reception for a year but some local admissions policies then require these children to miss a year later on.
Other local authorities say children who do not start school when they are four should go straight into year one when they turn five.
This means some parents "feel forced to send their child to school before they are ready and before they are required to do so, or else miss out on their reception year at school where the essential teaching of early reading and arithmetic takes place", wrote Mr Gibb.
He said the government had therefore decided it was necessary to amend the School Admissions Code to ensure summer-born children can be admitted to reception at five if this is what their parents want.
The proposed changes will also allow these children to remain with the same year group.
The code already requires councils to decide which year a summer-born child should be admitted to "on the basis of the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child", he wrote.
"It is clear, however, that this system is flawed, with parents and admission authorities often failing to agree on what is in the child's best interests."
He said the number of parents who request their child is admitted out of their normal age group is small, "but for these parents the issue will have serious implications".
"Parents know their children best and we want to make sure summer-born children can start reception at the age of five, if their parents think it is in their best interests."
Mr Gibb said a consultation would be carried out and the changes would need to be approved by Parliament.
In the meantime, he encouraged schools and local authorities to take action to improve admissions systems.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the plan would not solve the problems of an "overly formal, narrow academic curriculum at too young an age", which research indicated was "counter-productive and damaging" to learning.
Dr David Whitebread, of Cambridge University's education faculty, said the summer-born effect was more severe in the UK than in countries where children started school aged six or seven.
"In countries with these later starting ages, there is a very much reduced summer-born effect or none at all," said Dr Whitebread.