My ideal was to not have summer babies. But I have two. I’m a “summer born” myself. It would be very easy to say I did well so they’ll be fine… but who’s to know whether I could have done better either academically, socially or emotionally? And school was a very different place when I was there a little too long ago that I’d care to mention!
So here I am. My youngest is coming up to 3 and it’s time to get serious about decisions concerning her schooling. I’ve read a lot; I’m surprisingly good at reading considering I didn’t learn phonics and wasn’t tested when I turned 5! Mostly I’ve read about the #toomuchtoosoon and #summerborn campaigns (where I earned my twitter stripes). These really strike a chord with me, though I’m not entering into specifics about these just now. Suffice to say I wish I’d read sooner and maybe changed the way my older son started school. But I didn’t and fortunately he’s doing well (not fine, not coping, but well!) in spite of this. Again, it would be very easy to presume that my daughter will do similarly well but I know better now and I wish to do better by her.
So, my decision is an easy one. I want her to start school in reception at compulsory school age (CSA) rather than a year earlier when she’s expected to start at just 4 and 3 weeks! There are several pieces of legislation covering school admissions and education. I will reference them and not bore you with them now, but there are a few key points I need to share.
- Compulsory school age is set out in section 8 of the Education Act 1996 and the Education (Start of Compulsory School Age) Order 1998. A child reaches compulsory school age on the prescribed day following his or her fifth birthday (or on his or her fifth birthday if it falls on a prescribed day). The prescribed days are 31 December, 31 March and 31 August.
So my daughter reaches compulsory school age on 31st August 2017 and she “should” have already completed a year at school in reception by then since:
- The School Admissions Code, revised Dec 2014 states in section 2.16 that Admission authorities must provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday.
So even though she doesn’t legally have to be there for another year the LA MUST have a space available for her. And this is a statutory document; must really does mean must!
Now, since the school MUST make provision for her to start a year early you’d expect there to be equal legal provision for her to start in reception ON TIME at CSA wouldn’t you? Well, there isn’t. And for reasons unknown if I chose to start my daughter’s schooling at CSA the process is so very different and in practice is even more complicated. It assumes she will start in year one as default!
Firstly it’s taken several complaints, one to the LGO by a local fellow campaigner and one by myself to the OSA for the LA to amend it’s process for the application of summer born children at CSA so it is legal and in accordance with the School Admissions Code and the accompanying Summer born guidance. This is happening in other areas where resistance to change is met even harder!
Secondly, I have to provide reasons to justify why I wish to send my daughter to school ON TIME at CSA and have her start at the beginning of school! You’d think I was making an extraordinary, unreasonable request.
Once I’ve done this the manager of school admissions, who as far as I’m aware has no experience in education other than the allocation of school places, decides on the future of my daughter whom she has never met. (I appreciate she may well be a lovely lady, but that’s beside the point!) She will take the view of the head teacher of any prospective schools into account and if they would not support my request then they have the final say regardless.
And I know what you’re thinking. I do this as a normal application the application round before the September she would start. Well, you’d be wrong. The Summer born guidance advises LA that I should apply for a place at the “usual” time so that I have a reception place for her aged 4 that I can subsequently turn down. Thus taking up a place that I have no intention of accepting and potentially taking it away from another child who would!
If I’m lucky (And luck shouldn’t come in to this at all!) they will tell me before national offer day in April 2016 whether they agree to my daughter starting reception at CSA. If I’m not it will be later.
If I’m lucky I will be “allowed” to start my daughter in reception ON TIME at CSA. If I’m not, I have a few options:
- Take up a place for her in reception at just turned 4 as expected; is the norm and doesn’t rock anyone’s boat;
- Take up a place and exercise my right to send her part time or defer her start to later in the school year as stated in the School Admissions Code, section 2.16;
- Leave her in an EY setting and take my chances with a year 1 start at any school that may have places available for her the following September.
Oh, and before I forget. Being lucky (and again, luck shouldn’t come into this) with an agreed reception start ON TIME at CSA isn’t as simple as that. Of course not! I get to apply again the following year and hope that I get preferred school (the school my son already attends) otherwise I will be offered a place elsewhere and if that head teacher doesn’t support the reception start ON TIME at CSA they will offer her a year 1 place to which I have NO RIGHT TO APPEAL (School Admissions Code section 2.17B Parents have a statutory right to appeal against the refusal of a place at a school for which they have applied. This right does not apply if they are offered a place at the school but it is not in their preferred age group.)
And that’s not even mentioning the fact that at any point in her school life she can be made to skip a year to fit back into what bureaucrats deem her “correct cohort”. That isn’t just when moving from primary to secondary but also if we need to move schools or further afield and encounter a different LA, or even just a new head teacher at her school who favours “bureaucratic neatness”, as Schools’ Minister Nick Gibb might say!
I’m hoping that you’re shocked. I’m hoping that you agree that sending my daughter to school ON TIME at CSA isn’t something I should have to navigate so carefully and cautiously. I’m hoping that, if nothing else, you give full consideration to all the options available to you when your child starts school. Many parents are happy for their child to start school full time at the point the LA must make provision for them. I’m more than happy to support your choice to do that. I only ask that you support my choice not to!
Full acknowledgement and thanks to Pauline Hull & Michelle Melson of the Summer born Campaign www.summerbornchildren.org
School Admissions Code, Dec 2014 can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-admissions-code–2
Accompanying Summer Born Guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/summer-born-children-school-admission