DfE’s New Report on Summer Born Admissions Excludes SEN Benefits

IMG_6926The Summer Born Campaign welcomes the DfE’s Delayed school admissions for summer born pupils report, as it confirms:
– the DfE is fully aware of the admissions postcode lottery
– the DfE knows children are being forced to miss a year of school
– parent requests for CSAge entry are increasing
– the DfE needs to improve communication of admissions information, and ensure equitable access for, all parents (as we predicted in 2014)
– the DfE needs to widen its focus from academic attainment to social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural benefits (these don’t appear in the report or parent survey)

What’s wrong with the report?
Just some key points:

1) Exclusion of summer born children with SEN
“We have limited this analysis to pupils that do not have a SEN flag in both Reception year and Year 1.

This hides important data. By excluding children with SEN, many of whom were only permitted entry to Reception class at compulsory school age precisely because their parents were able to ‘prove’ SEN diagnosis in their application request (many admissions authorities insist on this), it distorts the DfE’s analysis of benefits, and results in headlines like this one: School delay does not help summer-born, study shows (BBC)

Reducing SEN diagnosis, and improving outcomes for children with SEN, are hugely important benefits of allowing CSAge entry to Reception class, so where is the logic in discounting all of these children from a research report tasked with deciding whether the school system and children are benefiting from a policy of admissions flexibility?

Summer born children are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with SEN (see SB SEN diagnosisSB SEN misdiagnosis; SEN not protected from missed school year; SEN results from missed school year; SB SEN ‘label’), so the two are inextricably linked, and if children with SEN were included in the analysis, benefits would be clear.

2) Wrong comparison and wrong conclusion
The pupils who were not summer-born out-performed both the delayed and normal admission summer-born pupils in 2014/15 and this continued in 2015/16. However, in both 2014/15 and 2015/16 delayed admission summer-born pupils scored on average 0.7 marks higher than normal admission summer-born pupils… In-house analysis of the only data we have so far on these pupils (phonics data) finds an increase in phonics scores of 0.87 marks for delayed entry summer-born children between 2014/15 and 2015/16, but that is not a statistically significant improvement. This implies that we are not seeing a significant impact of delaying admission to Reception on the performance of pupils in the Phonics Screening… Nor does this research offer insight into whether delaying admission will improve the outcomes of summer-born pupils. External research* suggests that it will not and our earliest evidence (from phonics data) is broadly in agreement, but this will require further and careful monitoring as more data becomes available.

To analyse benefits of a CSAge start versus age 4 are, the DfE needs to ask:

– ‘How much better did those children with an age 5 start do compared with HOW THEY WOULD HAVE DONE if they’d started at age 4?
– ‘Are the educational outcomes of children born between April and August improving (i.e. what are the overall scores for summer born children compared with previous years, and what is the gap between their overall attainment and that of their autumn born peers – is this gap closing?)

It doesn’t matter whether CSAge summer born children ‘only’ outperformed their age 4 entry peers by 0.7 or 0.87 marks; what matters is how much lower their marks might have been without CSAge entry.

In fact, what’s more important to observe in the DfE’s comparison is that CSAge entry is working well. There had been fears that 5 year-old summer born children would drastically outperform their peers, or be bored in school, yet these figures show that they fit right into the mix. It’s a positive result.

*The external research we’re aware of does demonstrate improvements in outcomes for children who start school later. For example:
– Danish Research Highlights Mental Health Benefits of Later School Start
– Vital Link Between Improving Mental Health, Delaying School Start of Youngest Children and Reducing NHS Costs
– Study: ADHD Dramatically Reduced with Later Kindergarten Enrollment

And missing a year of school is also (obviously) detrimental:
– New Research Suggests DfE’s Policy of Summer Born Children Missing Year of School is an ‘Unnatural’ Social Experiment

3) Ignores parents’ main considerations 

2018-May DfE sumemr born research report - Figure 5 - parents' reasons

The DfE’s analysis focuses on results from the Year 1 phonics test (in itself not without controversy), ignoring natural cognitive development considerations, and the social, emotional and behavioural benefits that summer born children (plus their families, teachers and classmates) may experience following CSAge entry.

Notably, the survey for parents didn’t even list these as potential reasons, and more than a quarter (26%) of respondents needed to select ‘Other‘ in order to provide their answers.

It’s deeply concerning that after more than 6 years of correspondence with parents of summer born children, the DfE has still not grasped that their child’s phonics test results (or Key Stage tests for that matter) is not their main motivation for choosing CSAge entry.

4) No reference to cost
In January 2017, when the DfE’s Minister Nick Gibb said, “We are currently undertaking evidence gathering and analysis to estimate the potential costs of providing more flexibility for summer born children”, the SBC highlighted numerous cost savings, including SEN.

16-Oct-10 School Admissions Code debate - Nick Gibb MP
The Schools Minister also raised concerns about cost in an October 2016 Parliamentary debate (above), and yet neither the DfE’s survey questions for local authorities, nor its research report, mentions cost.

This may emerge in a future report (the survey did ask local authorities if they’re willing to be contacted to discuss their answers in greater depth later), but it appears to be a strange omission.

5) The data doesn’t provide strong “evidence”
There are thousands of admissions authorities making decisions about summer born children’s entry to school, and only 92 out of 152 local authorities responded to the DfE’s survey in 2017.

The DfE research allowed local authorities to “estimate values” and it was evident that some included “own admission authority schools in their area in their figures“. Some “provided only partial responses“, and small figures had “the potential to distort changes in proportions“.

So while we welcome this report for the information it provides, and the media discussion it initiates, it’s clear that the data collected isn’t as robust as it needs to be, positive outcomes are being overlooked, and the DfE’s decision to exclude outcomes of SEN children from its analysis needs to be challenged.

  • Written by author and journalist Pauline Hull


Report’s Key findings

Local authorities
• The number of requests for delayed school entry increased significantly over the
two-year period covered by the survey of local authorities (2015-2017).
• The number of requests received for summer-born children to delay admission to
reception varied significantly between local authority areas. The number of
requests agreed also varied significantly.
• Of the 1750 requests received by the local authorities surveyed for children to be
admitted in September 2017 rather than September 2016, 75% were agreed. This
is the same proportion as in the previous year.
• In general, it appears that fewer requests are received in local authority areas
where the policy is only to grant requests that are supported by strong evidence.
This may be because parents are more reluctant to submit a request when they
believe it is unlikely to be granted. Similarly, it appears that more requests are
received in areas where a higher proportion of requests are agreed.

Parents
• Parents with higher incomes were significantly more likely to delay their summerborn
child’s admission to reception. However, the small sample size means this
finding is at best indicative.
• A majority of children whose admission was delayed were born in the later
“summer months” – 22% were born in July and 53% were born in August.
• In certain local authorities there was a sizeable discrepancy between the
proportions of black and white British primary pupils relative to the proportion of
survey respondents in those same areas, with white British respondents being
vastly overrepresented.

Early evidence
• In-house analysis of the only data we have so far on these pupils (phonics data)
finds an increase in phonics scores of 0.87 marks for delayed entry summer-born
children between 2014/15 and 2015/16, but that is not a statistically significant
improvement. This implies that we are not seeing a significant impact of delaying
admission to Reception on the performance of pupils in the Phonics Screening
Check.

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7 Responses to DfE’s New Report on Summer Born Admissions Excludes SEN Benefits

  1. Katherine says:

    While I welcome this report as evidence that the DfE has not forgotten about this subject and may even be moving towards the long-promised consultation, I found its contents pretty unhelpful for the reasons you give here. I don’t care a stuff how my daughter does on her phonics test later this term. That’s to test whether the school has taught phonics in the government-approved way, and tells me nothing about my child. I care that when she was 4 she was too young to go to school.

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  2. Nat says:

    My child is thriving having started at 5. If he had started at 4 he would have forever been playing catch up. He was in no way ready socially, emotionally or academically at 4 years old. I can see how much they struggle when started to early and they deserve the best we can give them.

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  3. Julie Thomson says:

    Could the reason local authorities with stricter policies have less requests be because they’re more likely to put parents off when they initially ask about it? If parents are discouraged when they’re enquiring (which many seem to be), they may never make a formal request and their initial enquiry won’t be included in the data.

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  4. Vikki Hughes says:

    My daughter is thriving because she started at 5. This report does not take into account the social and emotional aspects of development and only considers one area of testing – phonics. A very narrow view from this report, but one that does show summerborns starting at CSA do better. I hope the dfe do better with a larger and broader study.

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  5. Anne McConway says:

    Such a depressing report from the DfE 😦
    Why on earth would the result of a phonics test be an accurate measure of whether or not a child starting school at CSA is beneficial? I despair at the government’s obsession with data. Not even reliable data! Makes me want to home school my child.

    Like

  6. AAD says:

    I didn’t spend 18months fighting my local LA for a better Phonics Test result (or SATs, or GCSE’s for that matter!). I did it as my child was not emotionally or socially ready to deal with the demands of school, and a child who is not ready is never going to learn!! The Postcode Lottery has meant that my child couldn’t start at CSA R, so has missed a proportion of their Reception Year, but at least they were were emotionally ready for school!! I certainly know in my area that people are not asking for CSA because it has a very strict – ‘just say no’ approach so many parents are put off fighting, but it seems the Local Authority continues to get away with it!
    I just despair that this government constantly thinks that testing and getting children to school as young as possible is the answer. Instead why don’t they have meaningful conversations with our European counterparts to find out why their children have less mental health issues, and have better academic results. The answer is staring them in the face!

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  7. Kelly says:

    I think the report misses the point. Legally children are not required to be in education until the prescribed day after their 5th birthday. The analysis should show how missing reception or any year of schooling affects children’s attainment and mental and emotional health, the cost to support those children. If the government believes that children missing even one day of school is detrimental, imagine what being forced to miss a year would do.

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