On September 14, the issue of summer born children was raised by Michelle Donelan MP during an Education Committee public evidence session, as part of its inquiry into the responsibilities of the Education Secretary.
In response, Ms Justine Greening referred to summer born children as those born in the ‘summer term‘ of school: “One of the things I’m looking at is, summer born children is really summer term.
I think the reality is that the challenges are faced by, probably parents of middle, late June and August; July, sorry, and August children. So I think what I want to make sure we do as we take this forward is that we’re clear about, yeah, who we particularly want to give more options to.”
The reality is that summer born is defined as a child born between April 1st and August 31st, and this is confirmed in the School Admissions Code (p25), and the DfE’s own advice, Admission of summer-born children in schools (p3).
The DfE is not being clear, even if MPs are trying to be, and while the Education Secretary was correct in her appraisal of the summer born issue being a “long running debate“, there is a history of education departments publishing mistakes on the facts around compulsory school age and summer born children (as evidenced in our January 2014 Summer Born Report).
It is concerning that Ms Greening’s remarks to the Education Committee have echoes of a phrase that appeared in the DfE’s original July 2013 Summer Born Advice (p3), but was deleted for the December 2014 update: “It is likely that most requests for children to be admitted out of their normal year group will come from parents of children born in the later summer months or those born prematurely.”
In fact this very citation was used by our May-born son’s school to argue against his admission to Reception class at CSAge, despite the school also arguing that missing Reception class was not in his best interests, and despite Surrey’s own data still showing disproportionately high numbers of SEN for May-born children too.
A year of missed school is no more educationally sound for the April, May or June-born child than it is for the July or August-born child.
Also, in September 2015 when the Schools Minister Nick Gibb was “very clear that he wants to make progress” (Ms Greening’s words) on the summer born issue, he did not specify any caveats on the published summer born definition, so why was the Education Secretary briefed by the DfE to ‘clarify‘ a change to the published definition of summer born?
Lesson Learned in Northern Ireland
The DfE need only look over the waters to Northern Ireland to see that creating a new arbitrary cut-off in the definition of summer born children will only lead to more problems down the road.
A parent campaign group continues to fight for greater admissions flexibility for children born in May and June because the July/August cut-off is insufficient.
There is an overwhelming body of evidence and professional opinion being communicated by early years educational experts such as Steve Biddulph, David Whitebread and others, and compulsory school age and summer born legislation at least offers some parents, who believe their children would benefit from a later age school start, a small window of admissions flexibility and commencement of formal academic teaching.
What needs resolving now is the entrenched summer born admissions postcode lottery; the debate about ‘whether or not to allow it’ should have ended by now.
This is not the time for the DfE to underestimate the problem (it’s not just July and August) or ignore the positive progress that has been achieved (look at Liverpool).
But whatever the final outcome in all this, the proof will be in the pudding, and thanks to the strength and support of the Summer Born Campaign, we already have hundreds of little puddings whose progress through school we are monitoring, and whose social, emotional and academic outcomes we will be able to report on.
We’re expecting good results.
- Written by author and journalist Pauline Hull