‘Today’s BBC News, “Delayed school entry linked with poorer results“, which reports on new research titled, ‘Delayed school entry and academic performance: a natural experiment’, not only demonstrates the fundamental problem with using the word “delay” to describe summer born children starting school AT compulsory school age, but crucially, the adverse effect that government summer born policy allowing children to miss a year of their education – against their parents’ wishes – inevitably has.
- Cross Purposes
The press release accompanying Jaekel et al’s new research begins, “Delaying school entry could cause poorer academic performance” when what the research actually shows is the result of ‘missing a year at the start of school entry‘, The two are very different.
The Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology paper examines German children who – instead of starting school at age 6 – started school at age 7 having missed their whole first year of education; and unsurprisingly, the authors “found missing one year of learning opportunities was associated with poorer average performance in standardised tests at 8 years of age for both pre-term and full-term children.”
In England, summer born children whose parents don’t toe the line by applying for an EARLY school start at age 4, face forced Year 1 entry at age 5 or a ‘successful‘ Reception class entry at age 5 but threatened (or actual) loss of a school year later on.
- An ‘Unnatural’ Social Experiment
Notably, the research team said they “used a natural experimental design to test their hypotheses as they could not carry out a randomised trial.” And Professor Dieter Wolke explained further just why they had to rely on >20 year-old data from children who started school in the early 1990s in Germany:
“We obviously could not delay children starting school for the experiment, so we had to find a suitable study sample.”
Yet this type of ‘experiment‘ is precisely what is happening in schools throughout England RIGHT NOW – and incredibly, it is what the DfE has legislated for in its 2014 School Admissions Code.
Summer born children ‘might‘ be allowed to enter Reception class at compulsory school age, and they might not – whether they miss a year of school is purely at the discretion of individual head teachers, schools and council administrators, many of whom who the DfE KNOWS are fundamentally opposed to educating children outside of 12-month chronological cohorts.
Given today’s research, must we really wait to compare the academic, social and emotional outcomes of summer born children who are allowed to start school in reception at age 5 (and without being made to leapfrog a year later on) versus being forced to enter Year 1 and miss a year of school?
Even the Rose Review and IFS have already made it clear that missing just one term of Reception class has an adverse effect on summer born children, let alone one year.
- Primary Legislation in England
The University of Warwick study aim was to investigate “the effects of DSE [delayed school entry] versus age-appropriate school entry (ASE) on children’s academic achievement and attention in middle childhood.”
But this was in Germany in the 1990s.
Primary legislation in England makes Reception class entry in ‘the term following a summer born child’s 5th birthday’ entirely “age-appropriate” (“a class in which education is provided which is suitable to the requirements of pupils aged five and any pupils under or over that age whom it is expedient to educate with pupils of that age“).
Therefore, it is concerning that this research is being so readily applied to the current debate over the ‘appropriate’ age for summer born children to start school in England; co-author Julia Jaekel, says, “Many parents demand that preterm children should be held back, particularly if they were born in the summer. This is also supported by many charities supporting parents with preterm children.”
The press release adds: “They argue their child will not be mature enough to start school…”
True. But we’re talking about age 5 versus age 4 (and in some counties in England, age 3), not age 7 versus age 6…
- Similarities still Different
The research authors also note that they chose the Bavarian Longitudinal Study because “In 1990 to 1993, Bavarian policy required that all children were assessed by a community paediatrician 3 to 12 months before their chronological-age school entry date to determine their school readiness. All children reaching 6 years of age before 30 June would ordinarily start school the following September.”
The Summer Born Campaign group is aware of cases in England where councils have set up medical panels as part of the decision-making process when parents “request” access to the normal 7 years of primary school education for their compulsory school age child.
Some councils even employ educational psychologists in order to ‘assess‘ whether a 3-year-old child really ‘needs‘ to wait until compulsory school age before starting school.
So yes, similar (children in England reaching 4 years of age before 31 August ‘ordinarily‘ start school in that same year’s September) but still, vastly different to this paper’s German cohort (age 4 versus age 6).
Also worth examining is this quote from the research paper: “In Germany, decisions to delay children’s school entry are based on community paediatric assessments and not on parents’ requests; thus our data are comparable with international studies on retaining (the school’s decision to delay entry) but less with studies on ‘redshirting’ (the parents’ decision to delay school entry).”
Again, this does not compare apples with apples in the context of what the term “delay” meant for those children in 1990s Germany.
Delaying in the context of redshirting is not just different in terms of who makes the decision, but in terms of whether the first year of school is missed, or whether it is entered at one year older in age.
- What this Research Really Says about Summer Born Admissions
“A child’s initial entry into formal schooling marks an important developmental transition.”
“Compulsory school entry age is determined according to a child’s birthdate relative to a country-specific cut-off date which indicates the start of the academic year.”
“DSE [i.e. missing their first year of school] may disadvantage children as it denies them the opportunity to receive the early intellectual input they may need to catch up with their peers. Accordingly, DSE has also been shown to negatively affect school performance.”
“Thus, the decision to delay school entry should be taken with due caution as there may be disadvantages arising from missing a year of learning opportunities or not receiving special educational support during the critical primary years.”
And this is why parents of summer born children in England are not requesting a “delayed” entry for their child but rather an age-appropriate, fair and equitable one.
- Future Research
The academics at the University of Warwick, Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany), Loughborough University, University of Oxford and the University of Leicester conclude that:
“Future research is needed to determine the long-term effect of delayed school entry on academic achievement [and] academic performance and attainment at the end of formal schooling…, but our results certainly give parents and educational providers food for thought.”
Absolutely they do.
Except parents of summer born children ALREADY KNOW – without any more money being spent on further research – that it is not in our children’s best interests to miss a year of school.
How could it be??
- News reports of the research paper’s press release:
BBC: Delayed school entry linked with poorer results (Judith Burns, Education reporter)