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…
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.
“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?
Author and Journalist