Dr. David Ockwell very kindly contacted the Summer Born Campaign group and gave us permission to publish his submission:
I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex and Deputy Director of Research at a £10m Economic and Social Research Council funded research centre. In my professional opinion the presentation of the evidence within the DfE “evidence check” memo on summer borne children is misleading.
My independent review of the evidence on summer borne children (in my position as a professional researcher specialising in evidence based policy advice) suggests the following: 1. There is conclusive evidence (as the DfE memo recognises) that summer borne children are educationally disadvantaged by their age.
2. There is insufficient research available to reach any firm conclusions as to whether delaying starting school until the Sept after they turn five effectively addresses this disadvantage.
Unless there’s something astrophysical that affects children who come forth into the world in summer (unlikely) then, quite obviously, the educational disadvantage summer borne children face comes from being younger than others in the same educational year. It’s therefore blindingly obvious that this will be rectified by allowing them to start in reception the academic year after they turn five. There may be a lack of longitudinal research empirically proving this (point 2 above), but that’s most likely because no one would fund research on something so blindingly obvious. If the DfE would like to commission such research I’d be happy to take it forward with educational specialists here at the University of Sussex.
The only reasonable and democratically legitimate policy response to the available evidence (or lack of in relation to the impact of adjusting school starting age) is therefore to allow parents themselves to make an informed decision as to when their children start school. It is time central government moved on from reviewing what is blindingly obvious from the available evidence to instead enforce its current guidelines nationwide via legally binding legislation.
Its current failure to do so is in direct contravention of the rights of all summer borne children whose parents are at least willing to attempt to rectify their educational disadvantage by starting them in reception aged five (something my own council, Brighton and Hove, prevents me as a parent from choosing).
The DfE memo also makes reference to costs associated with childcare where parents choose to delay their children’s start date at school. But no attempt is made to compare these costs to the costs of children being in school. Indeed, there is no proper attempt at systematic assessment of costs associated with any policy decisions either way on this issue. As such, it is not reasonable to include reference to the cost element of this issue until further evidence has been gathered and systematically analysed. Any statements in the memo relating to costs should therefore be disregarded.