Prematurity Is Not The (only) Point – Legislation Covers All Summer Born Children

09-May-27 j birthSummer Born is Summer Born is Summer Born

If a child is born between April 1 and August 31, they do not reach compulsory school age until the term following their 5th birthday. And if a child is born prematurely during this period, their parents are not entitled to any greater legislative rights when requesting Reception class entry at CSAge, and no extra protection against their child missing a year of school later on, than any other parent – the postcode lottery exists for everyone.

It’s true that new text (specifically requested by the charity Bliss during the Code consultation period) was added to section 2.17 of the 2014 School Admissions Code: “Admission authorities must make decisions on the basis of the circumstances of each case and in the best interests of the child concerned. This will include… where relevant, their medical history and the views of a medical professional…and whether they may naturally have fallen into a lower age group if it were not for being born prematurely“.

But as the Summer Born Campaign has repeatedly warned, by keeping the admission of summer born children within section 2.17, by condoning the idea that a different (‘miss a year of education or not‘) decision might be made for different summer born children (depending on the subjective views of head teachers and/or administrators), and by legitimising the involvement of medical professionals (costly for parents and/or the NHS) by those admission authorities fundamentally opposed to flexibility (while others agree to all requests regardless of ‘special circumstances’ on the principle that no child should miss a year of education), it only made the existing flexibility unfairness worse.

In fact, numerous parents of premature children joined the SBC facebook group desperate for help when their requests were predictably denied, as a “delighted” Bliss welcomed what it called “greater clarity” in the new Code, and a “fantastic breakthrough“.Summer Born versus Premature Born

Others realised the new Code meant parents had lost their fight to automatically enrol summer born (including premature) children in Reception class at CSAge without penalty too, and although The Times reported it as losing the right to decide when their child starts school (this legal right was not affected), it was nevertheless true in practice – since many parents, not willing to face the risk of a Year 1 start or a missed year of education later on, succumbed to the pressure of an age 4 school start.

In February 2015, concerned that some members of Bliss were against flexible admissions for all summer born children (and for the automatic right to be available only for children born prematurely), I asked Bliss this directly and received the following response:
As a premature and sick baby charity, we do not have a specific policy on the age of admission to school for all summer born children.

This was a missed opportunity.

The Summer Born Campaign‘s position is founded on the rights of parents and children that already exist in legislation, and we have continually argued (see our January 2014 Summer Born report) that for the CSAge in England to be in any way meaningful, for the School Admissions Code to be truly “clear, fair and objective“, and for the best interests of children to legitimately be the primary consideration in the context of CSAge school entry and continued access to a full curriculum, no summer born child’s education should be adversely impacted by virtue of parents choosing not to enrol them in school early.

Furthermore, if ALL summer born had the automatic right to enter Reception class at CSAge, and a full education thereafter (remember, many admission authorities threaten to and/or actually force summer born children to skip a year of school later on), then efforts could be focused on the children born prematurely during the spring months.

For example, look at these two recent cases highlighted in the media:

This is what section 2.17 (children educated outside their normal age group) should be used for, and this is where ‘individual circumstances of the case‘ could come in. If we accept things as they are, parents of children like these don’t stand a chance of optimising their child’s educational opportunities if they feel a later school start would be more beneficial. Used more appropriately, section 2.17 could allow these parents to request that their spring born child enter school as a ‘summer born‘ child.

This has the potential to help far more children to access formal education – at the developmental age their parents deem appropriate – than the current 2014 Code supports.

Problem with Defining Exceptions

That said, in addition to the legislative points made above, there is another problem with solely focusing on premature ‘summer born‘ children, and it’s a very important one.

Premature birth is just one reason a parent may feel their child is not developmentally ready to start school early; there are many more besides.

In May 2014, I wrote about the case of two children with Downs Syndrome, and how one parent was told their child must enter Year 1 at CSAge and the other (who had successfully secured Reception class entry at CSAge in one school but then moved house) was told their child must now skip a school year and be educated with his ‘correct chronological cohort’.

The rights of these parents and children do not fall into the category of ‘prematurity‘ but, together with prematurity, they are covered by ‘summer born‘ legislation.

Similarly, other reasons a child might be developmentally delayed include: birth injuries, IUGR low birth weight, genetic disorders, chromosone abnormalities, fetal alcohol syndrome, metabolic disorders and maternal infections during pregnancy.

And what of the child born two weeks overdue in September, whose actual due date was in August? Or – if summer born children had automatic admissions flexibility rights – the child born in April, whose due date was in March? Would the parents of these children have the right to request entry to school one year early based on their child’s due date – or indeed be forced to start early? And think of all the mothers who disagree with the estimated due date prescribed by midwives or doctors – this could open a whole new issue in itself. How would it be managed?

You Can’t Define Exceptions

At the Education Committee‘s evidence check in March 2015, when Alex Cunningham MPP asked, “Is there any way that you could strengthen the guidance to make it clearer to the parent and the admission authority that a particular child is one of the exceptions and admitted differently?

Mr Gibb replied, “The danger of doing that is that you then start producing an exhaustive list of the criteria that should be applied. I do not think that that would be helpful, because some children who ought to have their entry into formal education delayed will not appear in that list.

Pat Glass MP said, “I absolutely agree with you for once. You cannot define exceptions.

And when the MPs discussed the possibility of children entering school according to their due date with the evidence check witnesses, notably, Alex Cunningham MP asked Bliss, “What guidance or rules would you have the Department for Education lay down specifically for premature-born children? You are saying that they are quite different from summer-born children.

Helen Kirrane replied, “Yes, we believe they are a very distinct sub-group. The recently revised school admissions code and the advice that goes alongside it highlight that premature-born children should be able to delay, or are a group who should be considered for delay, in particular those who fall into the wrong school year owing to the accident of their early birth in the summer months, rather than being born in autumn.”

We know too that others have questioned the feasibility of using a child’s due date for admissions; during last year’s Code consultation, Cheshire East (which “support[ed] the need to agree admission to reception, and not year one, of summer born children“) asked, “how appropriate or necessary this is – if the justification is to be social, educational emotional, is it really necessary to enquire about the original due date. Most births are not on the ‘due date’. Whilst unlikely, this could give rise to requests for earlier admission to school on the basis the child was ‘late’. But moreover, is this a step to far and what information would admission authorities be requesting in support of this? I would argue that the social, emotional and educational argument will cover everything, without having to look into how premature the birth was.

Recommendations and Action

Following the evidence check, the Education Committee made recommendations that the Summer Born Campaign was highly critical of (Education Committee Recommendations Miss the Mark – 2014 DfE Code and Advice ARE the Problem so Why Recommend Further Implementation?), and we questioned whether a new ministerial promise could be trusted.

Importantly, we also set out why, as a campaign, we were not interested in securing a right of appeal for parents, as this would simply add another layer of stressful bureaucracy without removing the real fear of forced Year 1 entry and no school place at CSAge.

The response from Bliss was very different: “Bliss welcomes these clear recommendations to consider the merits of using a child’s due date rather than their actual birth date in schools admissions policies, as well as address the lack of consistency in different authorities and produce clearer guidance for parents of premature children.

Bliss would like to see the Government take forward all of the committee’s recommendations, so that premature children are able to start school when they are ready.

Bliss also reiterated its December 2014 view: “We want parents to have full rights to appeal and children should be guaranteed to stay in their adopted year group throughout their school career.

Summer Born Campaign Commitment to Code Clarity for All Children

  • Back in 2013, when we were writing our Summer Born report, Michelle Melson contacted the Education Select Committee and begin the process that would eventually lead to the Summer Born Campaign‘s May 2014 meeting with Chairman of the Education Committee. Together we wrote letters and emails to the Chair and other MPs outlining flaws in both the 2012 and 2014 Codes with respect to the admission of summer born children, and we each submitted a number of detailed comment submissions (our final one was published by the Committee) ahead of the March 2015 evidence check.
  • In June 2015, Michelle Melson met with Schools Minister Nick Gibb, and reported he was “keen that every child is given the chance to reach their full potential and will be reviewing this [summer born] issue with Ministerial colleagues at the earliest opportunity.”
  • In July 2015, Mr Gibb confirmed this commitment in a letter to the Education Select Committee, and again during a BBC television interview; and then a letter to a parent from the DfE said: “The minister has, therefore, decided that it is necessary to amend the School Admissions Code further to ensure that summer born children can be admitted to reception at the age of five if it is in line with their parents’ wishes, and to ensure that those children are able to remain with that cohort as they progress through school.”

In the same month, when Bliss reported on Mr Gibb’s letter to the Committee, it said, “This is fantastic news, and follows Bliss’ appearance at the Education Select Committee on this issue in March 2015. We are delighted and we will be following up with the committee to make sure the special needs of premature children born in the summer months will be met.”

But crucially, if the Minister keeps his word to address the summer born issue, which we are very hopeful he will, then “the special needs of premature children born in the summer months will be met” by default – alongside the needs of every other child born in the summer months – as we believe is only right; and again, this could open up the potential of extra help for parents of children born prematurely in the spring months.

Just as we know that there are many summer born children who do incredibly well academically, and who enjoy every aspect of school life (just read the comments section of any summer born news report), there are also children who are born prematurely and have a very positive experience too. But we also know the opposite is true – for both sets of children – and the evidence clearly demonstrates this.

  • Therefore, we maintain that seeking the legal right to avoid being forced to miss a year of school or start school early is a legitimate call from the parents of ALL summer born children, regardless of their individual reasons for wanting to enrol their child in school at CSAge.

Different but the Same

All children are different; they all develop at different rates and in different ways, and the same is true of summer born children.

But summer born children are also different because they reach CSAge in a different academic year to children born at any other time of the year; and they’re different too because currently they don’t have the same right of access to a Reception class education and an uninterrupted curriculum thereafter.

All summer born children deserve the same educational rights and the same admissions application preferences (which currently they don’t have), and these shouldn’t differ by virtue of where they live or where they might relocate to – regardless of which gestational week they were born in.

When You Are Born Matters, yes, but right now, Where You Live can have a greater impact on the educational prospects of a summer born child, which is wholly unfair.

Putting an end to this postcode lottery is long overdue.

Written by author and journalist Pauline Hull


21 Responses to Prematurity Is Not The (only) Point – Legislation Covers All Summer Born Children

  1. Finally, a piece that looks at the contribution of Bliss and their role in the evidence check. So much more they could be doing to highlight the neurodevelopmental needs of premature children starting school. Clearly, they have a long way to go on this together with their understanding of legislation.


  2. Rachel Burnell says:

    I’m currently applying to delay my current 2 yr old (who is due to start reception next September) to compulsory school age not for prematurity, physical developmental or language skills. I want to delay her for emotional reasons, she has not yet got the skills or coping strategies to regulate her emotions when upset or exhausted ( and reception is physically and mentally exhausting for all children). I do not believe that even in another year she will have mastered this skills sufficiently.

    I volunteered in an infant reception class last November and witnessed one little girl who would spend most of Thursday and Friday afternoon periodically quietly crying to herself whilst sat at the desk or on the carpet. She was spring born and it was all too much too soon for her. The teacher and classroom assistant cared but there was little they could do apart from assure me that the children get used to school eventually and learn to cope.

    Why should my daughter potentially have to learn to cope. She shouldn’t and as her advocate I am hoping to delay to allow her to gain emotional maturity and resilience to cope with the pressures of school and in doing so hopefully helping to safe guard her future mental health especially as self harming behaviours are becoming more and more prevelant in today’s generation of teenagers.


  3. nicola szarowicz says:

    With preemie twins born in July instead of September I do hope the legislation changes very soon…


  4. Jenny Warrington says:

    CSA start is law. Starting in Reception shoykd be every child’s right. Forcing a child to miss a year of education as a result of parents’ choice to abide by the law is discriminatory at best. In my mind it is akin to child abuse. Shame on LA’s who forces a missed year of education or an early start against the child’s best interests!


  5. I’m fortunate to not have great experience of premature births (quite the opposite!) but I fail to see what the big difference is when it comes to starting my #summerborn in reception at CSA to a child who has been “born in to the wrong year” starting in reception at CSA? My daughter has no additional medical needs, but is still as entitled to start reception at CSA as anyone else born April to August.

    CSA is a term defined in legislation. There doesn’t need to be any distinction within this group to say some #summerborn are more entitled to a YR start at CSA than others!


  6. Rachel Beirne says:

    Summer born children whose parents are requesting a start at CSA do so for a number of reasons. Whilst there is no doubt that one of them is prematurity and all that can come with that, it is by no means the only reason. It is impossible to have a legislation which states every possible criteria and circumstance which is why this overarching flexibility is long overdue. Let’s hope that this time the code is amended properly and fairly once and for all so that no more families have to suffer through this situation and the lifelong ramifications.


  7. tina says:

    Im a mum of end of July born boy. He should start Reception this September but I’m not sending him yet.
    He is not ready at all, mostly emotionally. Ive visited the school with him a few times and seen how much pressure is put on children in Reception class. He would not cope if starting at age 4.
    I just hope the code will be changed soon that we can apply for Reception at CSA, as at the moment my council i saying a big NO to Reception at CSA…their answer is Year1 and missing Reception class!


  8. RDutton says:

    ‘Summer Born is Summer Born is Summer Born’

    I don’t think much more needs to be said than the above. Compulsory school age is what it is, no summer born child; premature birth or not should be forced to miss a year of education for purely starting school at CSAge. Missing one year of
    learning opportunities has been associated with poorer average performance for both pre-term and
    full-term children (as reported in the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, ‘Delayed school entry and academic performance: a natural experiment’.
    All children are affected, not just premature children.
    This is a really great article highlighting the need for fairness for ALL summer born children.

    There is never any excuse to force ANY child to miss a year of education.


    • alex says:

      If I may reply, I am a mother of July born and after the first term we knew was way too early for him to start school. That said I want to highlight that parents who are worried and care are not coming mostly from the poor background, totally opposite. I would even say that starting the school for many summer born children coming from the poorer conditions and not being ready for it will result with their lack of will to study and continue the education further which means at the end for UK to have more and more people that will end up on benefit. I was not born here and I still see a lot of advantages in British education system but having my elder one starting school when being 7, learning to read and write only at this age and today being one of the best performing student in her junior school I can say 4 years olds no matter if they are summer born or not are too young for it. they should stay home, spend time on learning how to cycle, swim, discover the world with their parents, grannies, build lego draw not being stressed out that they do not follow the pace in reception in maths and reading skills. Current UK system is for sure not built to keep the best benefit for the youngest ones in mind.


  9. Elena A says:

    Legally, as a parent of my child, I decide when she is to start full time education. I do not want her to start before she is legally required to. The law is clear, she turns compulsory school age on 31 August when the peers of her “correct” cohort move from reception to Y1. The admission authority is trying to convince parents like me to send their children to school one year early or they will force them to miss reception altogether. A year of education, which DfE called “critical” and “crucial”… Why? How come they have the powers to do it? The Code says the decision about the year group should be made in the best interest of the child concerned and the admission authority has to give reasons for such decisions. So, how is it possible to justify these? And does it really matter if the child was premature? Is it ever in any child’s best interest to skip reception if they start school at compulsory school age… for ANY child regardless which month they were born in?


  10. ellena outram says:

    I love this article. We successfully delayed our daughter to yr r at CSAge, she is late August born and arrived on her EDD. She simply wasnt ready emotionally and physically. She hadn’t matured enough to cope with the rigours of school life. She needed that extra year to play, naturally develop and become comfortable within her own skin. We questionned time and time again if this decision was within her best interests, even when we won after a very stressful fight we sat down and reviewed again as no responsible parent takes a childs education lightly. We decided to delay and a year later we have a happy, confident, excited, more mature little girl who is ready for her next steps. Everyone around us agrees. It is also worth noting that it is only 3 weeks until she starts school, a year later than the LEA wanted, a year EARLY than we who know her best wanted and yet despite all this she is still ONLY 4, some of the children in her chronological age group are about to turn 6 especially for an August born that is a vast difference to cope and contend with.


  11. Sara Hasted says:

    We have just had a reception at CSA start agreed by KCC after months of fighting and after writing to our MP. I was told by my LA that I was taking a risk by not sending my son to school at just 4 years old. It is our legal right to start our son at school at Compulsory School Age. So I am not taking a risk by exerting my parental right and having him start school when it is legally required by the government.I know my son is not ready for school at just 4 years old, I am not sending him before he is ready, Its called compulsory school age for a reason! I’m giving him the best chance to develop socially and emotionally before starting formal schooling! I know my son better than anyone not some bureaucrat sat in an office who has NEVER met him! So how can they make such an important decision that will effect the rest of his life?? If he he is forced to start before he is ready or forced into year one without having experienced reception that will have a detrimental effect on him for the rest of his life! Some summer borns will be ready, every child is different, it should be the parents decision. The system is outdated and discriminates against summer borns, all summer born children should have access to a full education. The law needs to change so parents will have the automatic right to delay start if they feel their child isn’t ready.


  12. Vikki Hughes says:

    CSA is the term after a child turns 5 – which is September for a summer born. That is the law. This is still early for formal education in my eyes, so I do not want to send my daughter before this time (regardless of prematurity/maturity).


  13. Helen C says:

    Great article. ALL Summer born should have equal rights to a full education and no child should be forced to miss a year of education simply for starting school on time at Compulsory School Age. No admissions authority can effectively argue that it is ever in a child’s best interests to miss an entire year of schooling, especially as they can and often do penalise parents for taking their children out of school for just one day!


  14. Charlotte says:

    For me the finishing sentence of this article is the most significant. At present the final decision about a summer born child accessing Reception at compulsory school age lies with a person that is employed as an Admissions Manager within your LEA. This person may have personal reasons why they do not promote summer born children accessing Reception at csa. It may be that this particular person’s job rewards are based on a smooth running admissions. Admissions may be processed through an IT system that does not manage out of year admissions, it may complicate their job to allow a child to be taught out of year group. It may be that a person has done this job for twenty years and historically out of year group admissions have been denied, are these people unable to accept change and adapt to new ways of working?
    It is glaringly obvious that some in these positions do not understand what ‘the best interests of a child’ means or is it the case that a better outcome in relation to the their job description is more important that a child’s best interest?
    The admissions at Norfolk County Council currently discourage summer born children accessing Reception at csa and openly promote a child missing a year of education and going straight into Year 1 at csa. I am aware that this decision for my child has been made by one person and I know that the decision making process that person used was majorly flawed.
    It may be the case that you live in an area where your Admissions Manager is open minded, open to change and able to manage the flexibility that is required to allow a summer born to access reception at csa, congratulations if you do. I do not live in one of those areas. Am I going to allow a person employed by my local LEA to deny my child a year of their education when I am well aware that summer born children in other LEAs are able to access Reception at csa? Hell no!
    The sooner parent’s are given the right for their child to access Reception at csa and this decision is taken away from a person employed to run admissions the better, only then will ALL summer born children be treated fairly.


  15. birchrm says:

    I acted on the Summer born advice and saw the fact that our child was born prematurely as my trump card (he was born at 36 weeks, had he been born at 37 he would not have been classed as premature, his due date was 40 weeks SEPTEMBER). The point is I should not have had to see this as my trump card, I wanted our child to start reception class at CSA, that is our right, it should not have been 3 years and 11 months of angst before our request was granted. Prematurity is an issue, but it is not ‘the issue’.


  16. Sarah says:

    We took advantage of the summer born code to delay school start for our April born SEN child who was not premature. We are using the extra year for continued therapy and we hope that he will have more independence skills and be better equipped to join a mainstream school. Had he started school this year he would have needed so much 121 support as he simply doesn’t have the skills to both cognitively & emotionally cope with it. In fact we suspected that it would have caused him a further regression and created more problems. Although it was our decision we were supported by professionals working with us including from our local council’s education department. Part of our problem was the huge delay in getting him referred, assessed and diagnosed. Delays which vary significantly by area. We strongly felt that he should not be penalised in his education for failings elsewhere in the system.


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  19. alex says:

    If I may reply, I am a mother of July born and after the first term we knew was way too early for him to start school. That said I want to highlight that parents who are worried and care are not coming mostly from the poor background, totally opposite. I would even say that starting the school for many summer born children coming from the poorer conditions and not being ready for it will result with their lack of will to study and continue the education further which means at the end for UK to have more and more people that will end up on benefit. I was not born here and I still see a lot of advantages in British education system but having my elder one starting school when being 7, learning to read and write only at this age and today being one of the best performing student in her junior school I can say 4 years olds no matter if they are summer born or not are too young for it. they should stay home, spend time on learning how to cycle, swim, discover the world with their parents, grannies, build lego draw not being stressed out that they do not follow the pace in reception in maths and reading skills. Current UK system is for sure not built to keep the best benefit for the youngest ones in mind.


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