Head of Drama and English teacher at an Independent Preparatory School, Joanna Britland (Kingston)
There is a long standing obsession with keeping children taught in chronological age groups without looking at what is best for individual children. This needs to change. I have taught children in classes in the independent sector with ages ranging up to 17 months apart, and this has made no difference in my teaching methods or to the attainment and outcomes of the class. As a professional with 8 years’ experience, I would welcome parental choice on when a child starts school, and would welcome more flexibility in the system going forward. The rigid year groupings we have become culturally accustomed to needs to change, and although the government has made positive steps forward, I would like to see this secured in policy.
Primary school teacher and children’s yoga teacher, Amy Turton (Surrey)
I fully support the Summer Born Campaign. In classrooms, it is very apparent which children are summer born. Their motor skills are less developed, which automatically makes many tasks harder for them, and they are more likely to be on an SEN register. They are also less emotionally mature and more likely to suffer ‘meltdowns’ throughout the day. Additionally, they are less self-confident. I think any step which addresses all this is a very positive one.
ANON former teacher, still working in education (Manchester)
After more than 20 years in education and educational research, in posts including classroom teacher, teacher trainer and learning developer for a Russell Group university, I understand the amazing abilities of classroom teachers to support the learners in the room, and the inevitable struggle to make sure each child gets what he or she needs to thrive, and the research that underpins both of these realities. Put simply, the Summer Born Campaign is working to rectify an injustice, one which is supported by extensive and long-term research, to ensure that children are able to thrive in school, and teachers are able to teach students who are developmentally ready for the work.
Primary school teacher, Tehseen Syed (Harrow)
In my 12 years’ experience as a primary school teacher I have had to track various groups of children against progress (for example, gender, ethnicity, certain special needs etc.). However, to date, I have not worked in a school where summer born were tracked or offered interventions based on them being younger. Most councils, including Harrow, insist that it is fine to send children to school before CSAge, as teachers will differentiate work for summer born children. This is untrue in my experience.
ANON Reception class teacher (Gloucestershire)
Giving summer born children the option to start Reception at CSAge means that there will be fewer young children struggling with a developmentally inappropriate curriculum, it will reduce the need for unnecessary educational interventions, and will ultimately result in happier children who are more ready to thrive in their education. The Reception year allows children to build vital foundations in their personal, social and emotional development, communication skills, early maths and literacy skills, alongside many other important aspects of school life. This CANNOT be skipped, and therefore forcing summer born children to move straight into Year 1 when starting school at CSAge is putting them at a clear disadvantage, from which I feel, as a Foundation Stage teacher, would be very difficult to catch up from.
ANON Reception class teacher (Devon)
As a reception teacher and the mother of a summer born child, I have decided to delay the entry of my daughter until CSAge. I see summer born children struggle with the heightened expectations of Reception class, not just academically, but more importantly, socially, emotionally and physically. It is a fact that most summer born children need more intervention to bring them in line with their peers. This means that they are taken out of the play based learning they so desperately need, to work on concepts that they have yet to acquire. My daughter has gone into school at 5 years old, a confident and happy little girl who is now ready to face the challenges of the next 7 years of primary education.
Former Head of Citizenship and ICT teacher at a secondary school, Gary Badh-Roberts (Coventry)
As a secondary school teacher and Head of Department for over a decade, a parent to a summer born child, and being summer born myself, I am very well aware of the detrimental aspects associated with being a summer born in the education system. For example, summer born children are far more likely to be diagnosed with autism and/or ADHD, perform worse academically than their peers throughout school, including up to A-levels, have far weaker literacy and numeracy levels, experience increased incidents of bullying, and have more social and emotional issues and behavioural concerns etc. These issues are also exacerbated when the child is a premature baby.
Parents of summer born children have no wish to ‘play the system’ but just want to be able to start their children in Reception in the term after they become of CSAge (5 years old) if they feel their child is not ready – whether this is in terms of academic, social or emotional readiness.
The current school admissions policy from the government instructs parents of summer born children to apply for a place starting them at age 4, and then withdraw this when they apply again for age 5 entry. To clarify, parents do not want to do this; they just want their summer born children to start in Reception at CSAge. However, many academies and local authorities nationally are going against the letter of guidance from Nick Gibb MP, and refusing parents this access; many state that the child will have to go straight into Year 1 instead of Reception if they start at CSAge.
Despite this decision having to be ‘in the best interests of the child’ according to admissions policy and guidance (and I’m sure anyone would agree that being forced to skip the Reception year of education is NOT in the best interests of any child), many parents still face this from admissions authorities.
Not only is the comparative age difference between a summer born child and their peers a major issue, but many feel (and it is given significant credence by the wealth of research that has been carried out) that starting formal education at such a young age is not appropriate, and does not yield the best chance of success for the child academically or for their psychological wellbeing. There are many other countries where children start later (e.g. at 7 years of age) and outperform UK children academically.
ANON teaching assistant (North Yorkshire)
I am a teaching assistant in a Reception class, and a Qualified Social Worker. My own child started school at CSAge and is now thriving in Year 1. As a TA, I am reminded on a daily basis why I fought the fight to send my child at CSAge and not earlier. I see so many summer born, just 4 years old, who are struggling emotionally, developmentally and academically. They are almost a year younger than their September peers, but the educational system does not allow for or recognise this. I teach a phonics group and surprise, surprise, of the six children deemed to be struggling, five are summer born. They are not delayed, behind or slow, but they are a year younger than their peers. They are on the verge of being labeled SEN and teachers “are worried about their attainment”. The pressures on children are immense and I worry about the summer born in my class and their emotional wellbeing. I see anxious children, children who don’t want to come to school as the work is too hard, and those who already have a low self-esteem. Had they started school at CSAge, they may have been ready for the challenge, but instead, they start their educational journey full of anxiety and pressure.
ANON primary school teacher(Wiltshire)
I’m a teacher at a school with one and a half form entry. As a result, we have classes with mixed year groups, and so have the benefit of being able to place children in a class with a cohort that is closer to their academic ability, thus narrowing the developmental gap. So often, we find the it is the younger children in the year that need to be placed with children in the year below so that they can spend another year being nurtured rather than forced to participate in work that it beyond them. It makes so much sense for summer born children to have the option to start school at CSAge in Reception. Forcing them to do things that they are not developmentally ready for will only make them resent school right from start, and once they have formed that relationship with the education system it is very hard to change it.
Speech and language therapist, Charlotte Whitehead (Dudley, West Midlands)
Speech, language and communication development is one of the key learning areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework used to track children’s progress before the introduction of the national curriculum in Year 1 in English schools. Summer born children are measured against the same learning outcomes as children almost one chronological year older than them. This is not how a Speech and Language Therapist measures language development, and is not supportive to the child or family. We use chronological age, not ‘school year’ age groups. Allowing CSAge school entry for summer born children gives them the chance to develop their fundamental skills, which are the cornerstones of their academic career, before they enter formal learning. Many diagnoses of SEN, including speech and language, social communication and behavioural difficulties, could be avoided if this disadvantaged group were given the chance to mature in their own time and access appropriate pre-school support, should their family desire this.
Norbury et al (2015) found that, “The youngest children starting school have relatively immature language and behaviour skills and many are not yet ready to meet the academic and social demands of the classroom. At a population level, developing oral language skills and/or ensuring academic targets reflect developmental capacity could substantially reduce the numbers of children requiring specialist clinical services in later years.”
ANON Preschool manager (Staffordshire)
I support the flexibility this group is trying to achieve. I believe that many children and summer born children in particular are not developmentally ready to face the pressures that our current education system forces upon them. I wholeheartedly believe parents of summer born children should have the final decision on when to admit their children to school and cannot understand how it would ever be in a child’s best interest to miss the Reception class year! My own son will be starting school at CSAge and I had to laugh (it’s ridiculous!!) when I realised he (and other summer born children) would only be 3 years old when visiting the school in the summer term prior to his ‘normal’ start.
ANON teaching assistant (South West)
I am a teacher’s assistant who has worked in both Reception and Year 1. Because of my role I have had the opportunity to experience the difference between these school years and the effect that it can have on all of the children, not just those who are summer born. The current class that I’m working with is boy heavy. Last year the behaviour of the class was ok as there was free flow into the garden, which meant that a lot of the time most of the class were outside regardless of the weather. This year however, we don’t have free flow, as Year 1 is structured very differently, and the difference in the children’s behaviour is incredible. The younger children are especially affected by the more formal style of learning. In Year 1 they have to sit still for periods of thirty minutes and more for assembly, they have much more time sitting at tables doing group work, and significantly less time being active outside. I find it frustrating when people say “Reception isn’t that different from nursery” in order to justify why children as young as (just turned) four are entering full time education. From my experience, Reception class isn’t the problem; it’s Year 1. I would like to add that this isn’t the fault of the teachers, but is in fact due to the nature of the National Curriculum.
Jessica Heslop, Primary school teacher (Cambridgeshire)
I have spent years studying child development, child psychology and teacher training, but it wasn’t until I had my daughter in June 2012 that I really felt passionate about allowing children to learn through play for as long as possible.
When the time came around, and her nursery teacher handed me a school admissions form, I looked at my little girl who had only turned three a few months before, and I knew she wouldn’t cope with starting school just weeks after turning 4 years old. Also, more alarmingly, she wouldn’t be ready for the formal learning and pressures of the National Curriculum in Year 1 after just turning 5.
It wasn’t until I began researching CSAge that I really realised we are one of the only countries in the world that starts our children in school at age 4. I then read that children in the UK need to start school by the term after their fifth birthday, so I thought, great! She doesn’t have to go for another year, and can start September 2017 instead of September 2016. Little did I know that the next eight months would be so emotional, stressful and exhausting…
I made contact with Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) and received quite a negative reply. I was made to feel that unless my daughter has SEN, she is unlikely going to be allowed to start school at CSAge, unless she goes straight to Year 1. I was shocked that they thought it would be acceptable and in her best interests to skip an entire year of school. I know firsthand from teaching Reception and Year 1 classes just how important and crucial it is. A child’s introduction into school needs to be a positive experience. I have seen many children, often summer born, who find the first year of school emotionally and physically draining, and this impacts on their learning. Their first year needs to be a positive experience, as a foundation for their future success in education. I did not understand how CCC could argue that my daughter should miss this fundamental year and be forced straight from her flexible, informal play based nursery setting for two days a week, straight into Year 1, where she will be expected to conform to a school environment and routine and follow the National Curriculum. After four months, the panel decision confirmed that it was refusing my daughter a place in Reception at CSAge, and suggested she would have to miss an entire year of school and go straight to Year 1. I was distraught for her.
Fortunately, I gained support from my local MP, Steve Barclay, who was very helpful and supportive, and wrote letters to CCC and Nick Gibb MP for me. My daughter’s nursery was also in full support that she was not ready to start school at age 4 and would fare much better starting at age 5, and she would not cope going straight from nursery into Year 1.
After eight months of sleepless nights, tears, letter after letter to CCC, communication with my MP, and meetings at the CCC after making a formal complaint, I finally received the good news that someone had listened to me! Admissions staff at CCC had listened to what I had said about my daughter, read the letters from her nursery and agreed she could start in Reception at age 5. Technically this is what she is legally entitled to anyway! So it was totally ridiculous and unnecessary that I had to endure the last 8 months to get this decision.
My experience was awful. I was physically and mentally drained from the hundreds of emails, letters and meetings, especially since if I lived 50 miles down the road in another county, I wouldn’t have had to go through any of this.
I am so glad I have finally gained my daughter a place in Reception at CSAge, but I am still disappointed it took so much effort. I am just glad CCC finally listened, and I hope another parent doesn’t have to go through what I did. Local authorities should be putting the child’s interests at the centre of all their decisions, and they should allow summer born children to start school in Reception at CSAge, as other children can.
- Compiled and edited by author and journalist Pauline Hull