Following years of complaints from parents of summer born children, the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman has published new ‘Guidance for practitioners‘.
Unfortunately, the LGO supports the practice of parents applying one year early, for a school place they do not want, so that admissions authorities can make a decision about which year group their 3 year-old summer born child should enter when they turn 5.
This additional layer of bureaucracy was recommended in the DfE’s 2014 (non-statutory) Advice on the admission of summer born children, but it does not appear in the 2014 (statutory) School Admissions Code, contrary to the LGO’s inaccurate assertion (see bold below).
The LGO discounts the 2015 (and subsequent) assurances made by MP Nick Gibb about decisions resting with parents, and children not having to miss their Reception class year, because no concerted action has been taken:
“There was a Ministerial statement by the Minister of State for Schools, in 2015, setting out his intention to amend the Code so that summer born children could automatically be admitted to reception at age five where parents or guardians want this. The Minister has since reconfirmed his commitment to making the change when Parliamentary time allows; but this has not yet happened, so cannot form part of our considerations.”
Instead, it focuses on this, from the DfE’s 2014 advice:
The LGO says:
“Parents or guardians can decide to wait until their child reaches compulsory school age (CSA) before they start school. That is their decision to make and not one the admission authority can overrule.
“Parents or guardians should be able to make this decision knowing which school year (reception or year one) the admission authority considers it would be in the child’s best interest to start, should they decide not to send their child to school until the September after their fifth birthday. This means that the admission authority is obliged to inform them of this when they apply for their four year old child to be admitted out of their normal age group, even if they are not intending to have their child actually admitted until they reach CSA.
“Decision letters should clearly set out how the admission authority made its decision, including how it had regard to any evidence provided by the parents or guardians. We recognise this is a difficult decision, more than one year in advance, but that is the test required by the Code and guidance.”
No, the School Admissions Code DOES NOT require that this decision and/or letter is made or communicated more than one year in advance; it is non-statutory advice only.
The LGO continues:
“The authority can decide it is in a child’s best interests to start with their normal school age in year one, missing reception – each case must be decided on its merits. To do so it would need to explain this decision with reference to any support available within the school.
“Once parents or guardians know the outcome of this decision they can choose whether to send their child to school earlier, before reaching compulsory school age, or wait until reaching compulsory school age.”
The Summer Born Campaign is very disappointed to see the LGO supporting this stance, with no mention at all of the excellent support being given by admission authorities that process Reception class applications for summer born children without battling parents, and without threatening a missed year of school (perhaps because the LGO does not receive complaint correspondence from parents in these cases).
To repeat, the LGO’s view concludes, even where Year 1 entry is decided:
“Once parents or guardians know the outcome of this decision they can choose whether to send their child to school earlier, before reaching compulsory school age, or wait until reaching compulsory school age.“
This is a Hobson’s choice if ever there was one, and admissions authorities know it.
And so it remains as 2018 draws to an end –
despite evidence that missing the first year of school is detrimental, and still no statement from the DfE (or the LGO here) outlining circumstances in which it would be in a child’s best interests to miss their first, or subsequent, year of school,
- Written by author and journalist Pauline Hull