Is Your Child Too Young for School?

With the cut off date for applications to be in right now for the schools September intake, I thought I’d write about something that many parents are taking more and more seriously. And that is whether their child IS ACTUALLY READY FOR SCHOOL.

There is growing concern amongst parents and education professionals that a child who is just turned four, or a ‘Summer Born’ is simply too young to start school.

Anyone that’s read my blog before, especially this recent post regarding my twins O and H starting school before I felt they were ready, and my ongoing torment surrounding the effects of summer born children in school, will know how much I, myself, have stressed about this issue.

My boys were born prematurely, mid August instead of the end of September and therefore falling into the wrong school year, and I have had major concerns about them being too young to start school literally just after they turned four. Three decades of research proves that the younger children in a year group are at a disadvantage. But for most parents, like myself, it’s not just because of their age, it’s about them, their personality; the fact that they simply don’t seem ready. My twins are painfully shy, quiet and immature. They are very small and in my opinion, vulnerable.

Parents of summer born children and those born prematurely are beginning to realise and voice their concerns that their children are not going to be ready for reception. Some children at this tender age are still very immature, physically much smaller and have not yet developed their social skills which means they struggle to settle into school and could even be at risk from bullying. Safety issues come into play too when children so small are in a cohort with much bigger classmates, especially on the playground. This, as well as the research that proves summer borns, in general, do not perform as well academically as their older peers, simply because they are, in some cases a whole year younger. This is known as the ‘birthdate effect. All this can have a very negative impact on the rest of their education, their whole school life and indeed, their future.

If you’re worried about your child, you need to know that YOU HAVE OPTIONS.

The DfE (Department of Education) have responded positively to the increasing concerns of parents, and with the support of MP’s such as Annette Brooks who has campaigned tirelessly, and Elizabeth Truss who is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, the DfE issued much needed official guidelines to the Local Education Authorities (LEA’s) across the country last summer.

These guidelines were Q and A based:

http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/a/advice_summer_born_children.pdf

These official, but not legally enforceable, guidelines were to remind LEA’s what should be known to them already but which they may not have been clear on, or worse, were choosing to ignore, and that is that any parent can request for their summer born child to delay entry into reception UNTIL THE FOLLOWING SEPTEMBER; that these requests should be taken seriously and that there is no ‘statutory barrier’ preventing them from doing this.

Of course, the LEA’s must use their discretion in such cases to make an informed decision but they were simply being told, by Government, that they CAN allow a young, summer born (May to August) child to start in reception the following year if their parents feel it’s in their childs’ best interests. It shouldn’t be a problem.

But there is a problem.

LEA’s are not allowing this to happen. Not easily anyway, and that’s not right.

At the moment, when concerned parents are turning to their LEA’s for help because they believe their young child is not ready for school, the LEA’s insist (as do schools) that their child starts school when he/she should, the September after they turn four, or (if you’re lucky) by the very latest, Easter. Most schools will insist January is the latest time. If a parent wants to wait until the term AFTER their child is five (which they are legally entitled to), which means starting in reception a whole year later, they are being told NO and are being forced to apply for an in-year school place to start school in Year 1, but even then there’s no guarantee there will be a place available. No parent really wants to do this as it would mean the child missing that vital transitional year in reception, therefore being at a further disadvantage on all fronts; basic learning skills are taught, friendships would already be formed etc… and parent’s are scared they won’t get a place at their preferred school.

Basically, parents are being made to feel they don’t have a choice so reluctantly, they send their child to school when the ‘system’ tells them to, which is the September after they turn four, even though they feel their tiny, young child is no where near ready.

It really isn’t fair. A year between ages four and five is hugely significant. Why would anyone in their right mind expect a child who has just turned four to keep up with and be compared to a child who is five? This is what happens at school and no matter how much teachers like to dress it up as….. ‘no, we don’t compare them’… they do. The system does because at the end of year 2 they all sit the same SATS. They do the same things in a classroom and this can often leave the younger children feeling inadequate because they can’t quite grasp what’s being taught.

It’s cruel and can crush a childs’ confidence.

To be clear, a child doesn’t legally have to be in school until the term after they turn five years old, so even if you have a January child, you can still wait until the summer term to send him/her if you so wish. For a child born in the summer term it becomes complicated, because the term after is the following September, which technically is the next year group.

Most parents have no idea that they do NOT have to send their child to school until the term after they are five and they certainly have no idea that they can in fact, delay school for a whole year.

Of course, many young summer borns are more than ready for school, and even though initially the differences between the oldest and youngest is very noticeable, as time goes on it becomes less so. You will hear of stories whereby an August born child has been top of the class. But this isn’t the case for most.

As a parent, YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD BEST.

This campaigning group are paving the way to ensure some much needed change occurs and they are helping parents to exercise their rights and challenge Local Authorities. They are on hand to give advice and support.

Delaying school for a year is not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to make sure you have thought it through properly.

There are lots of things to consider.

Being the oldest in the year group could have many advantages and not just academically. It would mean being emotionally stronger, enabling them to be more self assured, enabling them to cope with certain situations better. It would mean being physically stronger which (especially for boys) will result in greater confidence levels and being more likely to excel in sports.

But there is a flip side.

A whole year is a long time, your child might be more than ready by the time the following September arrives and feel out of place in a classroom which will obviously have some much younger children in. They may become bored.

There can be complications further down the line when it comes to secondary transfers. You would need to address this at the time as you will still receive the applications when your child ‘should’ transfer, had they been in the correct cohort. Also some senior schools insist your child ‘skip a year’ so that they’re in the right chronological year group, this is so it doesn’t cause difficulties when generating their GSCE result reports etc and possible confusion with funding. Although legally they would have to prove this is in the childs best interest which would be difficult, but nevertheless, it could be stressful.

Some grammar schools don’t like to take students who are ‘too old’ for the year group. You would need to check your local one if this is something you anticipated for your child. Our local Grammar schools DO accept this…. I called them and they take children in at the year they have been educated in.

Children can be cruel too and once your child is a certain age, he/she could come under question from their classmates as to why they are in a lower class. Do you want them to feel different?

It’s an important decision that only you can make.

It’s worth noting though:

The legal definition for Reception class is primarily defined as a ‘class for 5 year olds’. (section 142 of the SSFA 1998).

Lots of summer borns, including my twins, won’t be five in the whole academic year they begin school in – not until the summer holidays anyway!

For us, after much soul searching and lengthy dealings with the council, we HAVE started our twins in reception. In the correct cohort. The reason being that our council were digging their heals in. They are a notoriously difficult LEA to deal with on this matter and I didn’t want to risk my boys not having a place at the school I wanted, where their older sister is a pupil. The Head Mistress reassured me that they are completely prepared to work closely with my boys and could see no reason why they would not flourish. The school has been giving an ‘Outstanding’ status by Ofsted, it’s a lovely school, so I decided to give it a go.

I was worried though. If you go by their due date and not by their actual birthday, they were still theoretically THREE when they started last September. They looked out of place and it broke my heart.

But, they HAVE surprised us all and settled in, better than some of their older peers in fact. They are now in their second term and they’re happy. They started off by attending mornings only for the first half of last term (I insisted), then built up to two whole days by the end of term. If they were very tired I kept them off. This worked for us as we enjoyed lunch together and spent the afternoon together just the three of us. It meant they weren’t overwhelmed and it wasn’t really any different to being at nursery. Doing this wasn’t detrimental to their development either, it helped because they were happy. Children won’t learn if they are miserable. The school have been very good but I believe part of this is because I stood my ground and didn’t want to force my boys into full time education until I felt they were ready. I knew I had every right to do this.

This term they are doing more of the same. They have an amazing teacher and classroom assistant who they adore. The teachers understand my concerns and liaise with me frequently. The Head Mistress keeps pressuring me to get the boys in for a whole week but I’m not backing down yet. They will do a whole week of full days when I say so. When I feel they are ready. After all, they’re still 4 and legally don’t have to be at school!

Time will tell how they cope academically but being happy and therefore, being able to flourish has always been my main objective.

If you believe your child isn’t going to cope with school and would benefit from another year at home, to have the opportunity to mature before being forced into the classroom situation at such a young age and you want to delay starting school, I would urge you contact your local LEA as soon as possible. This will give you the best chance of a positive outcome.

My advice would be to NOT APPLY for a place in the normal round of admissions and fight your LEA to apply the following year. If you have already applied but decide later that your child isn’t ready, tell the school and your LEA that you will not be taking up the place. You must understand though, by sacrificing your school place, there will be no guarantee you will receive another place there the following year.

If you think deferring your childs place like I have done would be preferable, which means either having your child attend part time or even starting a little later in the year, then make an appointment to see your childs new Head Teacher as soon as you have accepted his/her place. You can discuss your concerns and come to a mutual agreement. Be insistent.

You could even attend part time school and part home educate. This is something you would need to look into further, but it’s another option to consider and one that is available to you.

The summer born campaign group, as I mentioned above, will give advice if you hit a brick wall with your school or LEA. They have a great Facebook page (link on their site) where you can chat to others in a similar situation.

Whatever you do though, don’t be pressured into agreeing to something you’re not comfortable with. Flexibilities do exist. Stand your ground, know your rights and do what you feel is right for your child.

Good luck.

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Comments

  1. My summer baby started school in September. I had major concerns for him, but felt deferring wasn’t in his best interests. There was no way I was putting him into the big local school with a cohort of over 100 children. He would have been lost and overlooked. Instead I found him a place in a small school where he is in an intake of just 8 children, where each child is seen as an individual. Thankfully he is doing really well although he is the smallest in the school and is definitely academically behind the 5 year olds. But the staff are fabulous and I am confident that he will catch up.

    • Mummy Endeavours says:

      Wow only 8 children? How wonderful! It’s worrying though. I look at my boys sometimes and feel extremely upset that they’re at school – they’re babies still!!!! But keeping it gradual makes me feel so much better. We should keep each other informed on how our little young ones are progressing xx

  2. Hi excellent post! My daughter also an August prem baby did struggle with tiredness in reception for the first term. When I discussed deferring for a year our LA said that she could defer but would rejoin school into year 1 missing out a whole year in reception entirely and still being the youngest!!!! (by 50 weeks with some of her classmates) She’s in year 3 now, and meets her targets but is aware that she’s the littlest and not as good as reading as most of her class mates :( luckily she’s not too worried about it!

    • Mummy Endeavours says:

      Aww it’s such a shame. I never thought about it before. My daughter is June and I still didn’t worry with her, maybe because she seemed ok when she started. With my twins though, they seem far more immature. I am so worried that they will always be one step behind :(

  3. I have two “summer borns” – and am privileged to see this debate from both a personal & professional point of view.
    My eldest is in Reception now & whilst I felt he was more than ready for school I do think that the EYFS at his school is rather more formal than suits his needs.

    • Mummy Endeavours says:

      What ages are yours? Do you think they close the gap? I can’t see how they can really…. not fully anyway. I’m concerned about year 1 when the work increases x

  4. Brilliant post. I’m concerned that our kids start school at 4 anyway, whether summer born or not, as I think it’s too young. But, that aside, I’d absolutely fight it if I have a summer born baby. Fortunately, mine are Sep & Oct babies, which I’m very relieved about as I know that at nearly 5 (or in my Little Man’s case, he will be 5 as he was born right at the start of Sep) they’ll be better positioned to start school. I totally back that campaign, though, and I think you do know your own child – some Aug babies will be fine and ready, some may struggle, so yes, fight. #PoCoLo

  5. A very relevant post for me. Both my sons are late summer birthdays and have suffered because of the age difference. I tried to defer their entrance but they would simply have missed a year and not started reception a year later. We considered this when trying for further children, if I hadn’t of conceived when I did with my youngest we were going to stop trying for a few months until the dates would have led to a better school entry date!

    • Mummy Endeavours says:

      I honestly didn’t give it a second thought when my boys were born early in August. It’s only when I saw them around other kids that would be in the same school year that it really hit me – smacked me right in the face more like!! We shall see, hope your boys catch up x

  6. Very well said Carolynne! xxxx

  7. Interesting post. My brother was born in August and was always the youngest in his year. I don’t think in those days anyone questioned whether he should or should not have been in the school year he was. Every child is so different.

  8. My daughter was born last June, and i’m already worrying about this very thing! In an ideal world we wanted an October or November baby, but obviously things have way of not happening how you would like! I’m hoping she fits in with little problems, and it does seem such a long way off but it is a worry! I’m glad your little lads are doing well!

  9. My youngest started nursery 5 days after her 3rd birthday and full time school 4 days after her 4th birthday! She was born on Aug 29th by a planned c-section! If I knew what I know now I would of made them change the day I had my c-section to a few days later so she would of had an extra year at home…..She’s catching up now to the rest of the class but has struggled!

  10. A really interesting post. I didn’t realise there was so much legislation. I guess I am lucky as Grace’s birthday falls in the middle of the school year. I’m not sure what I would have done had she been born in August thought. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

  11. krystal says:

    Hi there. After a very stressful day I have found your blog which has really helped build my confidence this evening. My son was born at 27 weeks on July 23rd 2010,effectively being born into the wrong school year. He was due on the 23rd October. He was due to start school this year and after much debating, we decided he wasn’t ready. He is tiny,still in age 18-24 month clothes and so shy and quiet. He gets easily upset in small groups if the focus is on him and has a lack of confidence around other children. We feel emotionally and physically he isn’t ready.
    So with the new guideline from the department of education last year boosting our confidence,we set out to apply to the local authority to have his school start delayed. And after producing a very good(if I may cheekily say so myself!)application pack to the local authority, we have received the news that they too agreed with us and were happy to accept Thomas into a reception class a year later and he can remain in his current school nursery place for another year. The local authority were so very supportive of us.
    We of course were delighted our application had been a success. But the school were informed of the local authorities decision and today I received quite a lot of negativity from them regarding the decision we and the local authority had made.
    We still feel we have made the right decision for our son,who after being born so early and into the wrong school year deserves the best start to his school life and a positive start at that. All this negativity from the school today has been horrible and not what parents should be subjected to.
    So after reading your blog it made me feel more positive. I am his mummy,and I do know him best and its an amazing thing we have achieved and I am not going to let the school spoil it.
    Although I am considering going to the school wearing a disguise tomorrow so no one else can bully me about our decision!!
    Thank you for such a positive blog about your experiences. I am so glad your twins have settled into school well and their school has been supportive to this process. Perhaps you could make them ring our school?!?!
    Thank you again.

  12. Kerry-Ann Pope says:

    My little boy is also an August baby, but being my second he was actually very advanced and was more then ready to go to school it was more me letting him go. So I volunteered in his class every Monday for the whole day and I think it was very obvious that my son was the youngest (not necessarily by build or appearance as the majority looked too young) but by the activities he gravitated towards. Children close to their 5th birthday were more creative whereas my son didn’t want to leave the sand or water pit, I was always making items with them both at home so I had considered him very able in that area but given the choice his maturity was not there. I could also see differences in PE and in the playground too. I asked the teacher about this and she said they can tell the younger ones by their developmental stages but by the end of the year largely those differences are gone and she was right.
    I’m so glad your twins have settled well.

    • Mummy Endeavours says:

      Thank you for your comment. I really feel for children starting school when they’re so young. I still look at my boys when they’re with their friends and feel for them so much. Sometimes I can see they try really hard to be the ‘same’ but really like you mention, I think they’d prefer to be doing something a bit more babyish! x

  13. Thank you for this. My daughter is a July baby and I did always wonder how this works. I’m Australian and they are so much more flexible. In Australia children must be at least 5 by the time they start school but generally don’t have to be in til 6. So I find the idea of my just 4 year old starting quite young.

  14. Very interesting article. I have 9 kids and none of them were born in the Summer, but I know that all kids are different. I had a child who was very fast and physically very big and she repeatedly said that she was frustrated that she couldn’t start school nursery for another year (and I think she would have done well to go early as she knew all her letters at 2 and taught herself to read by 3 using the fridge phonics letters and word builder) Other of my children have been completely different. My only September born was a boy who has Asperger’s and he would have really struggled if he had been born in August. He wasn’t remotely ready for the transition to go to nursery even though he was the oldest in the class! All children are different and so there should be some flexibility if there needs to be to allow children to start when they are emotionally ready for it, rather than by calendar age.

  15. chrissy robertson says:

    Fortunately my babies are both born in December (8 yrs but 3 days apart!) and my first was more than ready for school but my niece was a different story. She’s a summer baby and struggled a lot through the first years. They took her out in the end and now home school. If there had been an option to start her later back then, i think it would have helped her settle much better.

  16. brenda heads says:

    This is a subject I have never even thought of luckily my children were not born in the summer, I think as mothers we will always find something to worry about but must take care not to influence our children with our concerns.

  17. Sarah Cooper says:

    It’s so lovely that you are raising this issue as lots of people just don’t know about the option of starting the child later. Totally agree with you that it can really damage a child’s confidence starting them too young.

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