On Tuesday 13th May 2014, summer born campaigners Michelle Melson, Pauline Hull and Stefan Richter, together with Annette Brooke MP, met with Graham Stuart, Chairman of the Education Select Committee in his Parliament office.
The following is a summary of this meeting:
*Having already forwarded our January 2014 summer born report via email, we summarised the very serious problems being experienced by parents of summer born children, both during attempts to enrol their child in school at compulsory school age and later in their education when forced to skip an academic year, and we outlined our growing concerns about how the Department for Education is handling the situation.
*Mr. Stuart was very shocked by some of the cases we described, and expressed some surprise at the opposition to allowing admissions flexibility for summer born children; he was already aware of research showing disadvantages for some summer born children, and suggested that allowing a later start for those who wanted it would likely mean better results for these children in the long-run, which is surely a good thing all round (i.e. parents are satisfied and the nation benefits from better educational results too).
*Mr. Stuart asked what reasons schools and councils might have for refusing requests and we cited a number of perceived funding issues (e.g. one extra year of a 15 hour per week EYE place – but not realising SEN costs likely reduced) and planning issues (i.e. how many children need school places in any given year – when all such planning is already based on inexact data incl. birth rate forecasts and mobility to and from different boroughs). Mr. Stuart pointed out that the funding always follows the child, and every child will need a school place whenever they enter, so why should it matter if they start at compulsory school age? We welcomed Mr. Stuart’s logical common sense attitude to the issue and his ability to see past the spurious and focus on the fundamental basic notion that compulsory school age is what it is and that reception class is the start of primary school.
*When the 2013 IFS report (‘When you are born matters: evidence for England’) was discussed, and namely its recommendation that pupils’ exam results could be altered in order to compensate for birth month, Mr. Stuart agreed with Ms. Brooke that this is not the right answer, not least because there will be summer born pupils who achieve the top marks without adjustment. We also mentioned that the IFS report and its findings are of little consequence to many parents; they simply want their children to start school at compulsory school age and to not be discriminated against for doing this.
*We emphasised the inconsistency in communications coming from Education Ministers and department officials, and promised to forward examples of these to Mr. Stuart via email.
*We also explained that in communication with parents, the Department for Education is trying to separate two issues that are evidently inextricably linked; i.e. first school entry to reception class and pupils not being allowed to remain in the same cohort throughout their education. Mr. Stuart easily understood how these issues are logically connected.
*From his own previous experience, Mr. Stuart also fully understood how easily primary legislation can be forgotten, misinterpreted, and/or not adhered to, even by organisations and departments whose role it is to be aware of such facts. Speaking generally, he said it is important that in cases like these, people are reminded of what the legislation is, and he commented that the group’s knowledge in this specific area appeared to be thorough.
*Annette Brooke asked whether the Education Select Committee could hold an inquiry or short inquiry into the issue of summer born children being refused access to a full 7 years of primary school education, and the associated issues, but Mr. Stuart expressed concern that there may not be sufficient time prior to Parliament’s summer recess, and in light of next year’s General Election. At no point did Mr. Stuart say the issue was not worthy of an inquiry, and indeed he suggested we should absolutely raise it again in the next Parliament, adding that parents currently affected should all write to their MPs.
*We pressed for anything more Mr. Stuart could do, and he said he would consider writing to the Department for Education in order to raise this issue with Ministers. We thanked the Chair for considering this, and for his openness and frankness throughout the meeting.