Why we need to mind our language… #summerborn

I’ve read a great number of articles and related comments & debate over the last few days regarding the imminent changes to the Schools Admissions Code. Particularly in respect to allowing #summerborn the automatic right to a reception start at compulsory school age (csa) if this is what the parents wish.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about this. The right to start school at compulsory school age has always existed. The right to request a reception start at csa has existed previously too, though has been problematic to say the least! The only change will be to reduce the number of sets of decision makers to one. The parents.

So why is there such confusion and negativity surrounding it?

So first the confusion… people are confused about what the changes will be because many are unaware of their own legal obligations relating to educating their child and the fact that options other than “your four year old will start full time in September” are often hidden away at the back of admissions brochures.

There also seems to be a lack of understanding of the term “if that is in line with a parents wish”. To clear this up, it means that if it is what you as parents want you can have it. If it isn’t what you want then don’t ask for it and you wont get it. Yes, it’s really that simple!

Secondly, the negativity. A lot of negativity seems to stem from the terminology being used. “Delay” & “holding back” seem to feature in many of the headlines. With both of these there is a connotation that it is bad. No one likes delay… no one wants to be held back! To clarify, no one is doing either of these by starting their child in school at csa. What will be being happening is a simplification of the process involved in starting your summer born in reception ON TIME at csa, the point in time determined in legislation which says your child must be in school full time (if engaging with the schools system).

So next time you hear it being discussed, or someone asks you about it be mindful of the language you use and put them straight! You are doing nothing wrong and shouldn’t feel like you have to apologise for it nor defend yourself!

Dear Headteacher… about my #summerborn child

Dear Head teacher,

Firstly, I would like to emphasise that what I’m about to say has no bearing on your school, your teachers or you! This is about my child, my family. I appreciate the hard work and dedication your teachers put in. I’m a teacher myself so I’m fully aware your job isn’t 9-3.15 with 13 weeks holiday a year as is often presumed. This is about my child.

My daughter was born in August, a little early by elective C-section, partly to ensure her arrival didn’t disrupt my son’s start to school. Had the timing not been such then I may well have had an autumn baby and this wouldn’t be an issue. But I didn’t, and I made a decision at that time which was right for my family then. Interestingly I was unaware at that point that I had any choice but to send him full time from September. I know better now!

I want my confident, independent, happy little girl to be allowed to be just that for as long as possible. You’ve seen her in the playground. She’s no shrinking violet! She can already count and yes, I mean count not just recite a list of words that happen to be numbers; she knows her colours; she loves to be read to and is often seen reading her version of those stories to her dolls; she is physically very able! Her language is limited, though developing daily, but her comprehension is good. She has learn these things herself. At no point has she had to sit still and look at “my first 100 words” picture books or “count with Peppa” for example. One reason she can count is because she plays hide and seek (badly) with her brother. This is also how she learnt colours, from drawing with him.

So you’ll sense a theme I imagine. She’s learnt this whilst playing and I’m confident she can continue to learn things in this manner. Now, as I said at the start, this is not about your teachers or your school. I appreciate reception class is very much play based. It is for this reason that I want her to access a full year of it. But not when she’s just turned four. She will start school when she reaches compulsory school age, which is the start of the term following her 5th birthday (September 2017). I know she will benefit from an extra year to develop her character, her sense of self and to basically just have fun before having to conform to the rigidity of school life. These things will impact her whole life; her education, her following profession and her being a mother herself!

I’m not going to resort to facts and statistics. They speak for themselves when it comes to summer born children and the relative age effect on their education (though I can string off a list of them should you so desire). I want you to know that my daughter will start school, hopefully yours, at compulsory school age. Not a day sooner. If you feel you can look me in the eye and tell me it is in her best interest to start at that point in Year 1 then , to be perfectly frank, I have lost any respect for you I had. I would hope that as a professional in loco parentis whilst at school you would hold the best interest of my child close to your heart. I sincerely hope this is the case.

And just to clarify, there’s no “yes, but if she starts at four…” argument. Like I have said; this isn’t about you, your school or your wonderful teachers. It’s about my beautiful, strong, funny, caring daughter, who has every right to enjoy her childhood before it gets taken away from her!

Yours sincerely,

A mother, protecting the rights of her #summerborn child.

Starting my #summerborn daughter in school at compulsory school age. Easy, right?

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:

  1. Take up a place for her in reception at just turned 4 as expected; is the norm and doesn’t rock anyone’s boat;
  2. 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;
  3.  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

Reference legislation:

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