During today’s Common’s Debate (held in Westminster Hall at 4pm), Elizabeth Truss, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, answered some of MP Annette Brooke’s concerns regarding the current problems being faced by the parents of some summer born children.
She stated that the Department for Education is fully aware of this situation, and importantly, in statements emphasising the department’s recent Q&A advice for admission authorities, and adding even further clarity, Elizabeth Truss stressed the importance of a parent’s role in any decision-making (my emphasis below):
“What we want to do is to empower parents to be more demanding about how their child’s level of development is reflected in whether they join reception or year 1 when they enter school after reaching the compulsory school age.
…The way to do things is to empower parents and ensure, first, that they have the complaints and appeals procedures at their disposal and, secondly, that the DFE is following up on those procedures. We have a working group on admissions, which is monitoring this issue. As a Department, we will also be monitoring any complaints made by parents, such as the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) mentioned in his speech, and following up to ensure that our guidance is being adhered to.
…The point about flexibility is important, because all children are different. Some children may benefit from entering year 1 as soon as they reach the compulsory school age, while others would benefit from entering reception. It should be the parents who are the primary decision-makers when it comes to deciding which route is most appropriate for their child and which environment will enable their child to thrive.
…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 that is in the best interests of their child. That is what we are elucidating in the new guidance that we issued this summer and that is what we will be following up on with local authorities and schools.
…One of the reasons why we issued the new guidance is that we felt that earlier guidance was misunderstood and that it was not necessarily clear enough. I also agree with my hon. Friend’s comment earlier about the “floodgates”. Like her, we do not think that the new guidance will open the “floodgates”; we think that it is about schools being responsive to parental needs and that there are not a massive number of complications in doing that. We want schools to be responsive to parental needs.
…I have mentioned the non-statutory advice that we issued on 29 July. We make it absolutely clear that there is no statutory barrier to children being educated outside of their normal year group and that it is unlawful for an admissions authority to have a blanket policy that children are never admitted outside of their normal age group. We make that very clear in the guidance.
…We have been clear with local authorities about where their responsibilities lie, and about the fact that we want to see them being flexible and giving the parents the choice for their five-year-old child of joining reception or year 1. Having too much central guidance the other way would be wrong. What we need to do is to ensure that local authorities are absolutely aware of their responsibilities.“