While other parents are being arrested and jailed for allowing their children to miss school, summer born children are being forced to skip a whole year of their education, against their parents’ wishes (not to mention the child’s best interests).
Just this summer, an Australian study concluded that there is “No safe level of missing school“: “A 10 day period of unauthorised absence in a year is sufficient to drop a child about a band in the NAPLAN testing.”
Similarly, this is what 7 English LEAs and teachers had to say about the impact of school absence in a 2003 research report from the University of Glasgow:
“Key findings from this project indicate that:
• Most LEAs and teachers thought that absence led to underachievement.
• Primary school teachers believed that attainment was affected because absence broke the continuity of learning and pupils missed important work.
• Teachers believed that all absence is damaging.
• Teachers could not always give children the help they needed to make up lost time.
• Secondary school teachers believed that academic underachievement would damage children’s future job prospects.”
The research also lists “The Causes of Absence” and asks “When is it all right to miss school?“. Given the DfE’s School Admissions Code, it appears this may now be applicable:
• Started school at compulsory school age and was made to miss Reception class, Year 7 or another school year in order to remain in their ‘correct chronological age group’; decision made by the school and/or LEA, not the parent.
Incredibly, this is already true:
• Moved to England from another country (possibly ESL) and was placed in the ‘correct chronological age group’ instead of continuing in the successive year group based on the number of years of education received prior to moving.
And remember – there is No Right of Appeal for parents whose children are provided a school place in a different year group to the one they applied for.
Child’s Best Interests
I’ve written about this issue before, but it really needs highlighting again, especially when the Education Committee is asking for views on the DfE’s summer born policy. My concern is that we often focus too much on ‘evidence’about what happens to summer born children who start school at 4, and how we can best mitigate the challenges faced by some, when what we really need is ‘evidence’ on what’s in the best interests of our children WHEN they start school at CSA?
Is it best for them to miss a year of their education (immediately or later on) or is it best for them to experience full access to a minimum 12 years of school – – equal to that experienced by an autumn or spring born child entering school at CSA?
Where is the evidence for treating our children any differently – and only allowing education equality ‘in exceptional circumstances‘ (as is the case in many LEAs)?
Here are a just few examples of what the councils the government and even Ofsted have had to say about missing school in general; why doesn’t it all apply to our children?
Bath and North East Somerset Council: “A pupil’s absence can seriously disrupt the continuity of their learning. Not only do they miss the teaching provided on the days they are away; they are also less prepared for lessons upon their return. There is a consequent risk of under achievement, which you and we must seek to avoid.”
Gloucestershire County Council: “Missing school can seriously affect a child’s long-term future and we are determined to make sure pupils are given every opportunity to succeed… Under the Education Act 1996, parents and carers have a duty to make sure their children regularly attend school. If parents or carers fail to do this, they can be prosecuted.” The letter continues: “[Q] Why is attendance SO important? It might sound OK to say your child attends school 90% of the time. However, this effectively means they are missing half a day of school per week. Over one year, this equates to a child missing 4 weeks of school. During the course of their education, half a year of schooling would be lost. If your child only attends 80% of the time, they are missing one day of school per week – eight weeks per year. During the course of their education, one whole year of schooling would be lost. [Q] What is the effect upon a child who misses school? Research suggests that a year 11 pupil who misses 17 days during their school year, will get one grade less at GCSE.”
Leicester City Council: “Children Missing Education – If you suspect that a child or children are not receiving an education or may not have a school place, i.e. children new to the city or who may not understand how to apply for a school place then please telephone the School Admissions Service…“
Government website: “School attendance and absence – Children must get an education between the school term after their 5th birthday and the last Friday in June in the school year they turn 16. You must make sure your child gets a full-time education that meets their needs…”
(…We’re trying, we really are.)
Ofsted November 2013 report ‘Pupils missing out on education: low aspirations, little access, limited achievement’: “What the report illustrates, once again, is the critical importance of high-quality leadership. Authorities and providers who were supporting their young people successfully were those who exercised their responsibility for leadership well – both strategically and at a personal and individual level. This was not achieved by managerial box-ticking but by a moral purposefulness in everything they did.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw: “As I have stated before, young people who grow up to become adults who lack qualifications face a difficult path, especially when trying to find employment. We owe it to all of them to ensure they are given every chance to stay safe and to succeed.”
(…Unfortunately, on the occasions I contacted Ofsted about the summer born ‘loss of a year’s education’ issue, I was advised that admissions policies are outside Ofsted’s remit…)
Parents of summer born children are being penalised by a policy that says, ‘if you don’t begin your child’s formal education one year earlier than required, it’s your fault if they are subsequently made to miss a year of their education, and/or a place in your preferred school‘.
CSA is CSA
There are undoubtedly many people who might disagree with the right afforded all children, which is to begin their education in the term following their 5th birthday, and for summer born children whose parents wish to wait until CSA, this means entering Reception class in the academic year they might (not all will) turn 6.
There is also intense debate about what England’s school starting age should be, when children should enter school (e.g. in the term they turn 5), and what the curriculum in Reception and Year 1 should look like.
But while all of these discussions are extremely important, and I commend the Education Committee for opening them up to public comment, it remains true that until/unless primary legislation on CSA changes, there is absolutely no excuse for the unclear, unfair and unjust situation that so many parents of summer born children are facing.
Summer born children starting school at compulsory school age simply should not lose a year of their education against their parents’ wishes in a country where, in a different context, allowing their child to miss school is a criminal offence.
Written by Pauline Hull