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MP Annette Brooke opens Westminster debate on school starting age for summer born children.

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

MP Annette Brooke has opened a Westminster Hall debate on changing the school starting age for summer born children.

MP Annette Brooke

The debate was opened by the Liberal Democrat MP to bring to the attention of the Government, the problems summer born children can face, as a result of England’s inflexible school starting age.

Currently, local education authorities offer a school place to children in England if they have had their fourth birthday before 1 September. Parents often assume they have to put them in school then but they are actually are under no legal obligation to do this.

Academics and parents have long claimed that putting summer born children in school then puts them at a disadvantage, as they start school when they have just turned four, when some of their peers born earlier are about to turn five.

Back in June, Ms Brooke tabled Early Day Motion 213 entitled ‘School Starting Age for Summer-Born Pupils’ calling for the Government to ‘ensure that parents of summer-born children are able to exercise their right to defer their child's school start up until the statutory school start time’ and allow them to put their children in Reception class after their fifth birthday.

Ms Brooke said: “The timing of my Westminster Hall debate on the same issue is particularly apt given that most four-year-olds will be starting their primary school education this week. A child born on August 31st 2009 will most likely be in the same year group as a child born on 1st September 2008.

“The Institute for Fiscal Studies Report 'When you are born matter: evidence for England' published in May this year found that relative to children born in September, children born in August are 6.4 percentage points less likely to achieve 5 GCSEs or equivalents at A*-C and around two percentage points less likely to go to university at age 18 or 19. It is surprising just how long-term the effects appear to be.

“I worry about the impact on individual children who are simply not ready in their emotional, social and cognitive development to start formal school. By definition many summer borns will not be as ‘ready’ as their older counterparts.

“An unhappy experience at the beginning of primary school can lead to behavioural issues and a lack of confidence and self esteem as the child tries to cope within the school setting and hence have further impacts on long-term achievements,” she added.

The Department for Education (DfE) published new advice in July this year stating ‘there is no statutory barrier to children being admitted outside their normal year group’ and that flexibilities exist for children whose parents do not feel they are ready to begin school at this point, (the September following the child’s fourth birthday).

In the Q&A section of its website, the DfE states 'parents who are refused a place at a school for which they have applied have the right of appeal to an independent admission panel'. However they do not have the right of appeal if they have been offered a place and it is not in the year group they would like.

“The early start to formal schooling and the testing regime in this country undoubtedly compound the summer-born problems which lead me to conclude that ideally we need to rethink our approach to the all important learning settings and experiences of four to seven-year-olds. The requirement is for the school experience to suit the child, not the child be made to fit the school. We must look at having more flexibility in school starting time and we must ensure parents are empowered and able to make the best choices for their children,” said Ms Brooke.


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