On March 24 2014, in a response to a Parliamentary question posed by MP Annette Brooke on the problems faced by parents of summer born children requesting Reception class entry at compulsory school age, David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools replied, “If my hon. Friend has any information on the way in which schools are implementing their responsibilities, I would be keen to hear from her, because we will take action if we find that schools are not paying attention to parental demand.”
His response encouragingly echoed the words of Elizabeth Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, in September 2013:
“What we want to do is to empower parents… 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.””
And yet earlier in March, in his response to another question posed by Ms Brooke, Mr Laws appeared to disagree with any such ‘clear’ position, stating:
“There are no current plans to ensure that parents of summer born children can always start their child aged five in a reception class – for some children this may not be appropriate or in the best interests of the child.” Mr Laws added, “Officials are also investigating cases referred to them… to ensure admission authorities are complying with the provisions in the Code“.
But since the whole admissions problem stems from the 2012 Code’s failure to specify provision for summer born children to enter Reception class at compulsory school age, it is arguable that the DfE’s investigations are rather missing the point.
Furthermore, this campaign group has growing evidence that despite numerous requests from parents for practical help from the DfE to ensure that their summer born child CAN start school in Reception (at CSA), and that once agreed, their child will not be forced to ‘skip a year’ later on (which is happening in an alarming number of cases), such help is NOT forthcoming.
The DfE appears to be satisfied that as long as schools and councils consider parents’ requests, officials and Ministers will not intervene if the final decision is NO. Perhaps more so than schools, it is in fact the DfE that is “not paying attention to parental demand…”
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While communication from the DfE to parents remains UNCLEAR and the 2012 School Admissions Code, by the Department’s own admission is “not necessarily clear enough“, is it any wonder that admission authorities nationwide are making completely different decisions for the exact same “individual circumstances” of summer born children, and in many cases, different decisions for the EXACT SAME CHILD..?
This postcode lottery is surely an unacceptable state of affairs for an admissions system that the Education Secretary promised would be fair and simple.