Why in God’s Name are Catholic Schools so Obsessed with Chronological Age?

IMG_3534Admission authorities’ responses to the Schools Minister’s ‘Take Immediate Action’ letter have been varied, but among those most stubbornly refusing to allow Reception class entry to CSAge summer born children are ‘own admission authority‘ schools within Catholic Dioceses – Why???

The Schools Minister Nick Gibb has said he wants summer born children to access a full 12 years of uninterrupted education (Sept.2015).

The National Governors’ Association has recommended that all its members allow Reception class entry at CSAge (June 2015).

Yet many Catholic schools are refusing to budge;indeed my own children’s Catholic primary school has said it “may amend its arrangements for the admission of summer born children” if new DfE guidelines are published but it won’t be implementing the NGA’s recommendations.

Numerous members of the Summer Born Campaign group have described similar responses, and last week two parents reported that their Catholic schools’ admissions policy states:

If your child’s fifth birthday is between April and August then they can start school the following September. The expectation would be that parents have decided that the child will miss the full reception year and they would have to apply for Year 1 places (If any remained available). Requests for full year deferral with a retained reception start will be considered individually. Parents would be expected to provide substantial and exceptional evidence of the need for this to happen (personal views and reference to national research will not suffice).

The first and most obvious thing to point out here is that parents of summer born children are not requesting a “full year deferral with a retained reception start“, and this is not what the DfE has suggested should happen, – therefore such a policy is wholly unnecessary.

The second thing of course is that a blanket policy of all parents of summer born children having to apply for a CSAge Year 1 place is unlawful – and it’s not that they “have decided that the child will miss the full reception year“; they have decided that their child will not start school until they reach CSAge, which is a different thing entirely.

My son’s school tried to lay the blame for his missed school year at our door too, which is one of the reasons I wrote the January 2014 Summer Born report with Michelle Melson (‘Compulsory School Age in England has been Lowered to 4 through an Unfair and Unlawful Summer Born Admissions Process’); under pressure like this, is it any wonder that more than 90% of children who enter Reception class are (barely) age 4 – despite the country’s legal CSAge?

Catholic Teaching Irony

Given the evident obsession with teaching children within strict 12-month chronological age groups, and forcing children to miss a year of school against their parents’ wishes if early entry is not adhered to, it is interesting to look at some of the promises that Catholic schools make; for example:

Everything in the school is for the benefit of the child“.

Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also posses a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators, because they are parents.” (Pope John Paul II 1994 Letter to Families)

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2223)

Why is this Important?

According to the Catholic Education Service, there are 2,163 Catholic schools in England, they make up 10% of the national total of state funded schools, and the Catholic Church is the largest provider of secondary education and the second largest provider of primary education.

This means that in council areas where most parents of summer born children are celebrating (e.g. Liverpool and Hertfordshire), those applying to Catholic schools cannot –  and for them, the admissions postcode lottery is much closer to home:

  • Apply to a local maintained school for CSAge entry and their child can have guaranteed access to 12 years of the national curriculum, but apply to a local Catholic school and their child will very likely only be offered 11.

No Action by DfE

What’s even more frustrating for parents was the government’s failure to nip this problem in the bud when it had the chance last year, and instead, its 2014 School Admissions Code only made a bad situation worse.

DfE officials knew full well what was happening, and how children were being made to miss a whole school year as penalty for starting at CSAge (Summer Born Campaign leaders had had meetings with them and they’d received large volumes of correspondence from parents), but despite introducing new fines for even short periods of absenteeism, the department chose to leave summer born decision-making powers in the hands of those who clearly value bureaucratic (chronological age) neatness over the best interests of children…

And I say this because there is no research or evidence that demonstrates it’s in a child’s ‘best interests’ to miss a year of school; on the contrary, see the findings in this University of Warwick study.

Fortunately, the new Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, is taking this issue more seriously than other department ministers did before him (also see: Many Ministers have Talked the Talk – Could Nick Gibb Actually Walk the Walk?).

Mr. Gibb has assured parents that it his intention to give all summer born children the automatic right to a full education at CSAge (beginning in Reception class), through a new School Admissions Code, promised for 2016.

And so until then, parents must put their faith in the minister (and the government) that he will keep his word.

  • Written by author and journalist Pauline Hull

Note: Catholic citations above link to Kingswood Academy’s website but this schools admissions policy for summer born children has not been reviewed for this article.

This entry was posted in CAMPAIGN UPDATES, EXAMPLE CASES. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why in God’s Name are Catholic Schools so Obsessed with Chronological Age?

  1. Hanna says:

    I’ve had a yes from a Catholic school though admittedly my daughter is already there and the head knows I’m a fiesty pants and it’s best just to play along….
    Personal experience locally though is that catholic schools are oversubscription and outperforming the others. There’s no need to accommodate requests like this as they will merely fill the space with somebody else if they don’t. There’s also unlikely to be any year one spaces for pupils forced to skip a year.


  2. I have been asking myself the same question, after an open day at the local catholic primary school. When I approached the head teachers (a team of two) about Summer borns, they were very aggressive in their response. They seemed to take offence in the mere fact that i brought up the subject, and upon my insistence, said that I would have to submit evidence to prove that it was in my daughter’s best interest to start reception at CSA. I felt that the problem there lied above all in me daring to question them and their authority. The fact that the school is oversubscribed seemed to give them a sense of entitlement. I have given up on applying to Catholic schools for my daughter, despite being myself a life time practising Catholic. I was appaled with such attitude of dogmatism. That is not the Catholic Church that I was brought up in.


  3. Elena G says:

    This was our experience. Our Catholic school said that we have to prove that my child needs to have access to Reception. If I don’t submit any “evidence” they will send her to Year 1. They said that they permit children only in exceptional circumstances to be educated in the year “below their chronological cohort”. This seems so unfair as all throughout the open morning the head mistress was stressing the importance of the individual and that “everything in the school is done for the benefit of the individual child”.

    This put me right off applying to this school. If they are so hypocritical that are prepared to force a child who is just starting their school journey to miss a whole year of school, what about other aspects of their education? Not happy at all.


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