In October 2013, in correspondence to a parent, the Department for Education wrote, “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.”
But on June 12, 2014 the DfE published new guidance (this time for free schools) advising them that “deferral may be appropriate in exceptional cases such as where a child has missed a lot of school because of a severe* illness, or if they are extremely gifted“.
And despite assurances by Ministers in the past year (e.g. Elizabeth Truss MP’s promise to ”empower parents‘ and her assertion that “It should be the parents who are the primary decision-makers” on this issue), this new DfE advice says, “it is up to you as the admissions authority to decide whether you accept a request” and “No“, parents cannot appeal against your refusal to allow Reception class at CSA.
And incredibly, the document just gets worse…
The DfE says, “You should strongly advise parents to think through the implications of such a request as any school the child later moves on to will not be obliged to continue to educate their child out of the normal age group. This could lead to children having to repeat a year of primary education or missing a year of secondary education.”
The DfE already knows that children are also being forced to miss a whole year of primary school too (if they enter Reception class at age 5), but it evidently sees this as an acceptable outcome of entering school at CSA.
The document also includes the following Q&A:
“Do parents have a right to appeal against refusal to admit their child to a different year group to which they would normally be admitted?
73. No. Parents have the right to ask you to consider admitting their child to a different year group, but you have absolute discretion whether you agree to their request.”
(*Note the DfE’s use of the word “severe” before illness above. Paragraph 2.17 of the Code actually only refers to “ill health“, and even this is just one example of the reasons a child may have missed some of the school year. The new guidance above stresses that this should really be in ‘exceptional’ cases.)
It’s bad enough that we have a DfE that refuses to fairly consider the best interests of summer born children, but the way it communicates one thing to parents and the media, and something entirely different to admission authorities, speaks of blatant duplicity, succumbing to pressure from admission authorities, or an internal battle between Ministers and/or Department officials who have very different views on how summer born admissions should be handled.
Or maybe all three?
By Pauline Hull and Michelle Melson