An Overseas Perspective – Letter to Stephen Hammond MP

IMG_6572As a former resident of Surrey, I have written the letter below to Stephen Hammond MP, as per his invitation via Twitter yesterday. Dear Stephen Hammond MP,

I applied for a Reception class place for my summer born son at compulsory school age – to start in September 2014 – and both the school (which is its own admissions authority) and the council said he would have to go straight into Year 1.

Two local private schools were happy to enrol him in Reception class at CSAge, and another maintained school head teacher agreed to accept him in Reception Class too, but her professional view was overruled by the council. The council even produced a special document for head teachers that emphasized the importance of teaching children in their correct chronological age groups.

The ‘Placement of children out of their chronological age group‘ document that was used to make a decision in our son’s case said, “…it would be expected that they would be subject of a statement of SEN and be subject of an IEP and Annual Review“. Worse, even if we had been able to achieve Reception class entry at CSAge, the guidance made clear that remaining in his entrance year group was not guaranteed: “Parents must request for their child to remain in the out of chronological year group and provide the up to date supporting professional evidence at each of the transfer stages.

I am writing to you now with an OVERSEAS PERSPECTIVE, of how the current postcode lottery affects children like our son, including those in military families. If we decide to return to Surrey, our son would be made to miss a whole year of primary school (as others before him have), simply so that he is educated in his ‘correct’ chronological age group.

When we were applying for our son’s CSAge entry to Reception class, our school gave the example of a child that had recently arrived from Australia, and how they had had to skip one year of school and be placed in the year group above (the child missed Year 3 entirely, regardless of their years of education to date). This example was supposed to help justify the school’s insistence that our son ‘belonged’ within his chronological age year group, but I would suggest it illustrates a principle of ‘bureaucratic neatness’ over children’s ‘best interests’.

While I understand that there are many views about education in general, including the issue of a relative age effect, as you know, the summer born issue is unique in the context of primary legislation. CSAge is the term following a child’s 5th birthday, and when a summer born child enters school at this legal age, they should be entitled to a full education without any risk of missing a year of school – be that Reception class or any other year thereafter. Furthermore, the postcode lottery that now exists in England needs to end. If we were to return to the UK and live in Liverpool or Hampshire (just two examples), our son would not be forced to miss a whole year of school, but he would in Surrey, and in other areas too.

Finally, considering all the children that have immigrated or are immigrating to England, this issue of summer born children missing a year of school is actually far more widespread than first point of entry into Reception class. For example, parents moving from Scotland a few years ago had to scramble to find an alternative secondary school when the one nearest their house (purposely bought for catchment area) told them their summer born child would have to miss Year 7 completely and go straight into Year 8 – simply in order to be educated within her own chronological age group.

I also know of a family who moved to Surrey, also a few years ago (the child’s DOB was August and English was their second language), and the child was immediately placed in the ‘correct’ chronological year group. Again, this was regardless of number of years’ previous education, or any formal measure of the child’s social, emotional or academic ability prior to placement, and when I last heard, the child was struggling in school, with various types of ‘special support’ being put in place, but no mention whatsoever of placing them in the year group below, which is precisely what would have happened in the local Surrey private schools.

Consequently, unless this child is one of the ‘lucky’ ones, they will very likely be lost in the system and become another summer born statistic, with all the usual unnecessary cost to the taxpayer that this entails (summer born children are more likely to be diagnosed with ‘SEN’, with all the additional funding that is required for any extra support), not to mention the unnecessary and unhealthy impact on the child and their family.

Altering (or ‘fixing’) the attainment marks at SATs, GCSE or A-Level for children like these won’t make their educational experience any better either – it only serves to make things look better ‘on paper’ or in ‘league tables’.

Not every parent of a summer born child wants, or feels their child needs, the extra year that a CSAge start (or later equivalent) provides, but for those that do, a system obsessed with ‘correct chronological age groups’ will fail them every single time. Parents must be able to exercise their legal right to a CSAge start without penalty, and this is separate to any other issue in the education system that may need addressing or changing.

The unfair and unjustified summer born admissions lottery and bureaucracy is very simple to stop, and the DfE could and should have ended it with its December 2014 Code -but it chose not to. Fortunately, the new Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, appears to have a far better understanding of the key issue, and wants to ensure that no more summer born children are forced to start school early or miss a whole year of school.

Thank you for your time and continued support for this issue.
Pauline Hull

p.s. Thanks also for understanding that this is primarily a ‘summer born’ legislation issue and not one of prematurity. I see that you are also campaigning for due date to be used for admissions, which could certainly help children born prior to the April summer born cut-off (as outlined in the article below); though this is a far more complex undertaking given due date disagreements between parents and medical staff, and what do with children who are born overdue: Prematurity Is Not The (only) Point – Legislation Covers All Summer Born Children (August 17, 2015)
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4 Responses to An Overseas Perspective – Letter to Stephen Hammond MP

  1. Lena says:

    Such a well-argued article! We are also in Surrey and the authority still expects ECHP and other “exceptional circumstances” or the child goes straight into year 1. How can they keep doing this to children and their families? Thank you for giving us a voice.


  2. Pingback: B is for Book, Bored and Below Compulsory School Age | summerbornchildren

  3. Pingback: Summer Born Adjournment Debate in Parliament Tonight | summerbornchildren

  4. Pingback: Due Date Demands Add Unnecessary Administration to Summer Born Admissions | summerbornchildren

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