Mr Nick Gibb, Government Schools Minister, sent out a Consultation document last week proposing the admission of summer born children to Reception Year in September of the following year if their parents wish this, allowing such children to stay in that year group as they progress through school. Initially, this may sound a great idea and would be welcomed by many parents who have been pressing for the change.
There is clear evidence that summer born children are currently academically disadvantaged against their older peers in the same classroom, so this will help many of those who take up this opportunity if it is approved. Unfortunately it sees them replaced at the bottom of the heap by two other groups of children who would then be the most disadvantaged, so no net gain, as well as introducing a complex structure that could be a nightmare to administer at a time in an area like Kent, as pressure on places at popular primary schools becomes ever fiercer.
Currently Kent County Council has a very sensible policy placing the needs of the child, which are often medical, at the fore and this article goes on to look at the current situation and possible scenarios, although I recognise it will be highly unpopular with those parents fighting for their own children’s benefit, as of course they should....
The new Disadvantaged Children
It is all very well arguing, as Mr Gibb does, that only a small proportion of children wish to take advantage of the current regulations but it is inevitable that if the rules change, a much higher number will wish to take advantage of it, predominantly from those who can afford to keep their children at home or in nursery for an additional year. They then become oldest in the class. For those who remain in the proper age group, the youngest will now be joined by children up to 17 months older, a key point I made on BBC SE this evening. This younger group would then become even more relatively disadvantaged, not only educationally but socially. The statistically poorer academic results they would achieve become even worse.
Whatever scheme is introduced, there will always be youngest children in the class who are disadvantaged in examinations and the other factors that have been highlighted in many arguments. If it is not to be those born between April 1st and August 31st, then it will devolve onto children born between Christmas and March 31st to take on this burden if the former begin in a later year.
There is no solution by changing age of admission to Reception class that is fair to everyone, but the current proposal would certainly increase social inequality, although it will be very popular with those willing and able to go down this path and to the advantage of their children.....
Kent County Council Current Policy
The process for requesting an out of year group admission in Kent is that families approach their preferred schools and seek their agreement to accept the application. KCC would expect Head Teachers to agree to an out of year group application where it was in the child's best interests. Once at least one school has agreed to accept the application then (KCC issues a letter confirming that where it is the Admission Authority) the child will be considered on an equal basis with other children applying for admission the following year. The parent is then able to apply for that school (and others which agree) through the main application round for the appropriate year of entry.
This contains no guarantee of a place at that school, for this would be unfair on other children applying, although it already has the effect of reducing the number of places available to them. If in the meantime the school has become an academy, then the letter would have no validity as KCC would no longer be the Admission Authority. Each Academy can adopt its own policy.
A classic example where delay is unequivocally in the interests of the child, would be a premature birth followed by significant delay in development although even here, there is no guarantee of a place at the specified school. KCC records that “Please note however, that all the information provided above is based on applications to mainstream schools for children who are not subject to a Statement of Special Educational Needs or an Education, Health and Care Plan. Children who are subject to a statement or plan would not go through the main admissions round and their admission to school would be handled by the Special Educational Needs Team”, so a number of such children’s issues would be resolved in this way.
KCC has not kept historical records of previous cases, but is aware of one child admitted on this basis in September 2014, the number rising to seven this September.
Currently also, some parents make a unilateral decision to delay their child’s admission to school by a year, but will then have to find a place in Year One, both having missed out on the all-important Reception class, but also fighting to secure a place in what is probably an already oversubscribed school, with little chance of success unless there is a school nearby with vacancies.
If it were become a matter of choice, then children from two different age years would compete for the available places, with a potential fifteen month age span across each class, lasting throughout each child’s career. Some other European countries adopt a more flexible approach to the issue, often promoting children on the basis of their performance in class, but this would require a complete reorganisation of our school education structure, which could be a long term programme, but is certainly not being suggested by the current proposal.
A fairer solution?
There is a possible way forward available, which is fairer to all. It is a matter of fact that many summer born children are disadvantaged, educationally and socially (by being the youngest in the class), but not all (it certainly did not do me any harm!). The Pupil Premium currently goes to provide extra support for many children who are disadvantaged by deprivation measures. There is a clear case of disadvantage by age here, and so additional (or more likely diverted) funds should in any case be provided to provide support to counter this issue, at the discretion of the school to find the most appropriate way forward.