Investigation of SEN misdiagnosis should include DfE’s role in ‘Correct but Avoidable’ diagnosis of Summer Born children

When Diagnosis is Correct

We’ve known for a long time that summer born children are more likely to be diagnosed with special educational needs (SEN), and now the Education Committee has asked the government to “Undertake an analysis of the additional cost of summer born children being misdiagnosed …which might be avoided if there were more uptake of admissions flexibilities for children who are not ready to start school” (an excellent recommendation), but isn’t it also plausible that many are also correctly diagnosed with SEN – and that their SEN is actually caused by the education ‘system’ and DfE admissions policy failures?

Experts in Early Years development and education have been warning the government for years (albeit for the most part falling on deaf ears) that children are in danger of being ‘damaged‘ by the introduction of formal education in their early years, before they are ‘developmentally ready’ (e.g. September 2014 (Hawthorn Press), January 2014 (BBC), October 2013 (BBC), July 2013 (Guardian), April 2013 (Telegraph), May 2012 (Telegraph), May 2012 (Daily Mail), August 2011 (Open EYE).

But arguably nowhere could the potential for damage be greater in England than for summer born children forced to start school at age 3 or 4, or forced to miss their ‘critical’ foundation Reception year and start school in Year 1 at age 5 instead.

This week, the Summer Born Campaign‘s Michelle Melson noticed new non statutory advice (March 2015) published by the DfE, which makes for very interesting reading in this context.

It says, “[28.] The new SEND Code of Practice sets out clear guidance for early years settings and schools on the process for appropriate identification, monitoring and securing further support for children with SEN… It will also challenge schools to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all pupils, rather than inappropriately labelling some pupils as having SEN.

Now compare this with a recent statement on summer born admissions (Independent, March 19, 2015) by a DfE ‘spokeswoman’:

Decisions on whether to admit a child outside of their normal age group are rightly made at a local level based on the individual circumstances of each child. Our school admissions code makes clear that councils and academies should take into account the views of headteachers, as they may be able to tailor a child’s school experience to allow them to thrive.

Years and years of evidence showing disproportionately worse outcomes for summer born children, and the DfE’s answer is to pass the buck:-

  • Tell schools they must ‘improve the quality of their teaching and learning‘ instead of ‘inappropriately labelling‘ summer born children as having SEN.
  • Tell parents that they must accept local decisions and trust that a new ‘tailor made‘ school experience (i.e. the loss of one whole year of education and entirely non-evidence-based) could allow their child to ‘thrive‘ – when the summer born children who have gone before them were disadvantaged if they missed just one term of Reception class (Rose Review & IFS findings).

The DfE may never own up to its failings in this issue, but the Summer Born Campaign group will continue to expose them, and if justice prevails, there could well be legitimate legal complaints made by parents whose children have suffered as a direct result of this government’s summer born admissions policies.

If only all summer born SEN diagnoses really were misdiagnosed, but it looks extremely likely – especially to anyone with knowledge of parents’ harrowing descriptions of the adverse physical and psychological impact  of school on their child – that eventually, for many children, the SEN diagnosis is real.

And so what’s ‘special’ about summer born ‘SEN’ is how easily they could be avoided…

SEN Legislation

Michelle Melson has looked again at how the 1996 Education Act defines SEN:

Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for them.

Children have a learning difficulty if they:

a) have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age; or

(b) have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age in schools within the area of the local education authority

(c) are under compulsory school age and fall within the definition at (a) or (b) above or would so do if special educational provision was not made for them.

Special educational provision means:

(a) for children of two or over, educational provision which is additional to, or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children of their age in schools maintained by the LEA, other than special schools, in the area

(b) for children under two, educational provision of any kind.

Michelle explains:
“The DfE has legislated that CSAge summer born children entering Reception class are ‘outside their normal age group‘, and as such, it has classified 4 year-old summer born children entering Reception class one year early (i.e. as youngest in year) as being with children ‘of the same age‘.

This is despite primary legislation definitions of ‘Reception class’ and ‘Relevant Age Group’ of course, but even leaving that aside, the SEN legislation above (for children having significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age) means that support and special measures are more likely to be put in place for summer born children starting school at age 4 than at age 5.”

And since we already know that summer born children entering Reception class at age 4 have a greater difficulty in learning what is being taught than other children in the class, where is the logic in a DfE admissions policy that allows admissions authorities to force summer born children into Year 1 at age 5?

What does the DfE expect will happen to the SEN rates of those children?

Must we really wait 5 or 10 years for researchers to do an evaluation of their SEN rates – or is the DfE’s plan to pressure head teachers into ‘improving the quality of their teaching and learning‘ instead of ‘inappropriately labelling‘ summer born children as having SEN – and leave these children to struggle through without any additional SEN support at all?

Pauline Hull
Author and Journalist


12 Responses to Investigation of SEN misdiagnosis should include DfE’s role in ‘Correct but Avoidable’ diagnosis of Summer Born children

  1. Julie says:

    Fantastic article .. And certainly very emotional for me … After 8 months of sheer agony and emotional trauma at school with untold damage my son has been labelled and is going threw the SEN process, his head teacher spent 7 hrs filling in his form , followed by a 3 hour meeting with everyone involved and then further follow up meetings and expense to the school of the Ed PhSc coming in , along with the inclusion officer visits yet if the LEA had listened to me back when I applied for my son as I asked for my son not go to school at age 4 all of the above ,I am convinced , would have been avoided … The head teacher is now in agreement with me that my son will repeat reception and continue his education with that class … I’m so angry because it isn’t until the child suffers that people the right people finally listen … The government need to be more proactive listen to us patents and not be so dam reactive after the damage is done .. And stop pushing the issue back to schools .. My head teacher has approached her bosses to ask for more support and they basically said there’s no money so the school will continue to struggle to meet the individual needs of the children… They are all ready doing everything they can .. Sorry for the rant but the Dfe really doesn’t seem to understand what is a very simple solution and would absolutely save thousands of pounds of wasted time and money .. Gerrr 😁 x


  2. Amanda Smoth says:

    I agree. My summer born, late August son, has struggled and started to refuse school as too difficult and too hard and confusing and no fun. He was a normal, lovely, calm, happy 3 year old until he was made to start Reception at just turned 4 years old and start phonics too early and year 1. He became stressed, unhappy, had tantrums, which he never really had before, began to hate spellings, reading, homework and refuse to go to school. School want to refer him to CAMHS!!! We have taken him out to homeschool him now and found that more and more parents are doing the same, particularly with boys. Something is very wrong with our education system at the moment. Too much, too soon, causing profound damage to our children. It is all so unnecessary. Who ever wrote the government curriculum for ELY and KS1 has NO understanding of child development and has created a very age inappropriate curriculum that is causing profound damage to our youngest children, particularly the summer born children. Thankfully, my son, who is a bright boy, has calmed down and is becoming a lovely, happy calm boy again, but we are having to find an alternative approach to mainstream education to achieve this.


  3. Gem says:

    How much money have spent over the years supporting sen summerborns when an extra year would allowed them to live without the label – truely a scandal


  4. soldan says:

    Yes yes yes! My son was born early on August 22nd…so started reception at barely 4. Regardless of the fact he could have missed reception and started in year 1 which would have been shocking, children that young ALSO miss out on a whole years worth of cognitive and social development as well. Its almost like comparing a baby who can’t walk yet because they are too young to a toddler who can walk and then telling the baby they are stupid and need to be tested for whatever reason. My son is now 12 and the effects of being told he is stupid (or now feeling like it) are profund. No self belief. He is 12 and now in year 8 and secondary school…..his friends are turning 14 before he even turns 13……..because of all of this, he is now being robbed of, what i feel is essential education at secondary. I do not say this lightly….i know personally, teachers, head teachers and social workers………..if only i had known i had a chance to fight for my son years ago, i would have! SO for any parents out there….fight! you really do have power xx


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