New Survey for Parents of Summer Born Children

c artwork for cufflink april 2011If you are the parent of a summer born child and in recent years have applied or thought about applying for a Reception class place for your child(ren) when they reach compulsory school age, PLEASE COMPLETE THIS ONLINE SURVEY a.s.a.p.

The more responses we have, the better. Thank you.

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Statutory school age is 5, but calls continue for children to start at age 2

When growing numbers of parents are fighting for the right to ensure that their 4 year-old children have full access to a full primary school education when they reach compulsory school age (i.e. the term following their 5th birthday), instead of being forced to miss a whole academic year and enter school in Year 1, it’s troubling to read persistent suggestions for children to begin their education even earlier.

It was the flexibility and choice for parents to enrol their children prior to compulsory school age – at age 4 – that effectively led to the loss of flexibility and choice for parents who want their children to wait.

So perhaps unsurprisingly, the ‘offer’ or ‘opportunity’ for an even younger start to just ‘some’ children’s education is deeply concerning for many.

In The Independent today, “Children should start school at two, says chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw“, which echoes the February 2014 Guardian report, “Schools should open doors to two-year-olds, says minister… Childcare minister Liz Truss also recommends the extension of nurseries’ opening hours.

Yet for many years now, Early Education professionals have been highly critical of the age at which British children access a formal education; and it’s not just the school age start, but what children are expected to do once they’re in school. Today is no different, as these responses show:

Sally Goddard Blythe, Consultant in Neuro-Developmental Education
Ofsted. Children starting school at 2

Dr Richard House, University of Winchester
‘Protect childhood from ‘adultifying’ education policy’ (The Telegraph)

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DfE Mumsnet Mystery

question marksOn January 24, 2014 the Department for Education wrote on their Facebook page: “We’re often asked what the policy is on summer-born children starting school. Here’s a useful article on Mumsnet where we set out our views.

It posted a link to this original article, underneath which readers began to post numerous comments; then four days later, on January 28, the DfE’s own post, plus all the readers’ comments, disappeared from its Facebook page.

A short time later, an amended version of the article appeared on the Mumsnet website. These are some of the comments that were posted, and refer to extracts that appeared in the original article:

• Re “What happens if your child’s application for deferred or delayed entry is accepted: …It’s up to the admission authority for the secondary school then to decide whether they are willing to accept that child to begin year 7 (in most authorities) at age 12 rather than the normal age 11.
A parent has sought legal advice regarding this and was advised “Applying to another school or out of borough or upon secondary transfer if the adopted group is not continued could be classified as discrimination under the equality act 2010 and would hold significant weight at tribunal…
Would the DfE care to comment on this? The DfE statement appears to be contrary to legal advice received.

• “or, the child enters reception after they’ve turned 5; technically a year ‘late’.” Those other summer borns that are moving up to Y1 at that point, started school a whole year before compulsory age, therefore it is not that summer borns starting in ‘reception class’ at ‘compulsory school age’ are starting ‘late’, rather that those moving up to Y1 ‘technically’ started a year ‘early’.

• “Many parents find that they are refused the option to delay their child’s entry into reception until the year after, unless they can prove ‘exceptional circumstances’. So while flexibility exists the reality is the final decision rests with the authorities.
Yet the DfE has previously advised parents that: it is the government’s view that there should not need to be any exceptional reasons for a summer born child to be admitted to the reception class rather than year one at age 5.
UNCRC Article 3, paragraph 1. By not ensuring that admission authorities are acting consistently (different admissions authorities are at liberty to come to completely different decisions for the SAME child) the government is failing in its obligation to ensure that the child’s best interests are appropriately integrated and consistently applied in every action taken by a public institution.

• Also there are a couple of inaccuracies – you don’t have to apply in advance of the year your child turns five unless you intend to send them that year (unless I’ve misunderstood it and it means making an application for them to start when they’re five??). Also it’s not ultimately the authority’s decision WHEN they start school – they can’t make you admit your child before compulsory school age. They can only make a decision on which year group it is in the child’s best interest to be educated in.

• There appear to be some important inconsistencies and missing information in this Mumsnet article, which is concerning given that the DfE has posted it here on its FB page, in the context of setting out its views. For example:

1.) Re: “The admissions authority will consider a number of things when looking into your request”. The DfE’s July 2013 advice also includes this factor: “the needs of the child and the possible impact on them of entering year 1 without having first attended the reception class;
This is noticeably absent from the bullet point list in the Mumsnet article; does the DfE intend to notify the authors and ensure that it is added?

2.) Re: “Be reassured, if your child is starting school as one of the youngest, teachers are highly skilled in supporting children who have widely ranging abilities. They’re well trained in helping children who are younger to settle in a new environment. Reception is a good basis for the rest of primary.
The DfE’s July 2013 highlighted the issue of “relevant research, into the outcomes of summer born and premature children“, which has long demonstrated greater challenges across academic. social and emotional measures for summer born children. Again, why is this extremely relevant information not referred to here? No matter how skilled or well trained teachers are, the issues faced by some summer born children, as a direct result of starting school too early, cannot be avoided or ‘fixed’, and many parents know this instinctively.
Also, the DfE has elsewhere in public department documents described Reception class as “”critical in enabling children to do well and enjoy their later years at school“, which is why so many parents are objecting to the Year 1 start being proposed for summer born children who begin school at compulsory school age.

3.) Re: “It’s important to note that whichever option you choose, you’ll need to apply for school places ahead of the academic year in which your child turns 5 – even if you don’t want them to attend school until the following year.
The DfE’s July 2013 advice states “A7. Parents should discuss this as soon as possible with the schools they are interested in applying for and the local authority. Parents should make it clear that they wish to apply for a reception place a year later than the year into which the child could have been admitted.

Does the DfE plan to clarify this point with Mumsnet, or is the DfE suggesting something new here – i.e. that parents should apply for a place in BOTH years, including the year that they DON’T WANT? It is questionable whether such a proposal is either ‘simple’ or ‘fair’ for parents (as promised by the Education Secretary in 2011) – or indeed for the entire primary school admissions administrative system.

The pressure on parents to succumb and apply for a place for their child earlier than compulsory school age is already immense – and worse still with no right of appeal. Therefore will the DfE clarify with Mumsnet that neither the 2012 Code nor the 2012 DfE Advice says parents “need to apply for the school places ahead of the academic year in which your child turns 5“? Or is the suggesting here that parents should probably do this because the “flexibility in the system” as it stands is extremely inconsistent throughout the country?

4. Re: “exceptional circumstances“, Correspondence from the DfE to parents of summer born children has stated in the past, “it is the governments view that there does not need to be any exceptional reason or special need for a summer-born child to enter reception rather than Y1 at compulsory school age,
And in September 2013, Elizabeth Truss MP stated, “We are absolutely clear that parents should be able to say to a school. “We want our child, who is aged five, to enter reception”, if they feel that is in the best interest of their child.” Ms Truss also talked about wanting to “empower” parents, and yet strong messages like these, which would be very helpful for concerned parents, are unfortunately absent from the DfE’s messages in this Mumsnet article.

The Mumsnet editorial team has confirmed that it worked with the DfE to gain information for the original article, and also the subsequent amendments and deletions. So while we were pleased to see Mumsnet covering this hugely important issue, we remain very concerned with the DfE’s apparently contradictory communication to parents, the media, and ultimately, admission authorities.

Article by Michelle Melson.

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Summer born Voice and Champion

Annette Brooke MPAnnette Brooke questions Schools Minister on summer-born children on March 25, 2014

Annette Brooke, MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, contributed to Education Questions in the House of Commons yesterday by again raising the issue of summer-born school children.

Annette opened by welcoming the new guidance that had been produced on summer-born children starting school at aged 5 in the reception year. Annette went on to ask if Ministers were aware that there have been cases where school admissions authorities have given varied responses to parental requests on summer-born children. Annette asked Ministers what action they will take as a result of this occurring.

In response, the Schools Minister David Laws MP stated that his department were “keeping the matter under close review“. Mr Laws said that he would be keen to hear from Annette if she had “any information on the way in which schools are implementing their responsibilities“. Mr Laws finished by declaring that his department “will take action if we find that schools are not paying attention to parental demand“.

Read the discussion in full here.

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Massachusetts schools RAISE school age to 5

IMG_7826While here in the UK successive governments have been keen to enrol children in school at ever earlier ages, news from the USA today reports on a School Committee decision for children entering Pittsfield schools to be at least 5 years old by September 1st of the school year.

This change effectively raises the minimum school starting age from 4 years and 9 months.

Interestingly, Jim Therrien reports in the Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield hikes minimum age for children starting kindergarten) that in a unanimous vote, “Early childhood instructors and teachers advocated for the change, saying too many of those students were hampered academically, physically or socially because they were younger than their classmates.

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BBC Look North report on summer born battle

IMG_0281The BBC’s Ian Wight reported on the battle that parents of summer born children are facing with admission authorities when they request a reception class place for their compulsory school age child.

Wight’s report highlighted the experience of Mary Lawler and her August 28 born son Oscar, who have just recently won their fight with Bradford Council, and included a comment from Michelle Melson, co-author of a recent Summer Born Report.

Michelle said, “Parents are the best advocates for their children… They need to pressurise their admissions authorities, don’t let it go, let their MPs know [and] ask their MPs to write to the Department of Education.

You can watch the full report HERE on BBC iPlayer (6 minutes into the programme).

You can also read reports in The Telegraph (see comments below) and Yorkshire Post.

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Why can’t summer-born children start school later?

summerborn - michelle melson pic 1On February 26, journalist Sarah Cassidy published an excellent article in The Independent titled, “An age-old problem: Why can’t summer-born children start school later?“.
Her report included the experiences of parents of summer born children who are facing a year 1 entry for when their child reaches compulsory school age – instead of equal access to the full seven years of primary school education.
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