Confusion over school entry for summer-born children

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A lack of clarity within the Schools Admissions Code is leading to ‘vast numbers’ of summer-born children being forced to start school before they turn five, say campaigners.

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Campaigners claim that 'vast numbers' of children are forced to start school at the age of four

Parents from the campaign group, Flexible School Admission for Summer-born Children, have today published a report, calling for the education secretary Michael Gove to amend the Code and to intervene in ‘unlawful’ admission practices before reception places are allocated in April.

In their report, published on the deadline day of primary school admission applications, parents Michelle Melson and Pauline Hull argue that the 2012 Schools Admissions Code is not ‘fit for purpose’ as it fails to adequately include and explain the primary legislation relevant to summer-born children starting school.

By law, children in England do not have to start school until the term after their fifth birthday.

They go on to argue that subsequent advice released by the Department for Education last July, which was intended to provide clarification, has caused greater confusion among some local authorities and school admission authorities.

Based on their own experiences and those of other parents, the campaigners say that as a result, parents in some areas are being told by their local authority or schools admission authority that if they want their child to start in Reception they must enrol them in school at the age of four. If they wait until their child is five, they must join Year 1 unless they can provide evidence of ‘exceptional circumstances’.

They conclude that faced with this pressure to secure a place for their child, the majority of parents send their four-year-old to school, especially as under the Schools Admissions Code they have no right of appeal when Year 1 is prescribed, if they chose to defer their child’s entry.

According to the authors, a Working Group on Admissions was set-up by the DfE last year to handle the influx of complaints and growing criticism, however the group has struggled to convince many local authorities to change their stance. Also, most parents are unaware that the group exists.

Pauline Hull said, ‘Parents of summer-born children must go through additional steps in the admissions process over and above those of parents of children born at any other time of the year.

‘Given the incontrovertible evidence that summer-born children are more likely to experience social, emotional and academic challenges, the Government must act urgently to ensure these vulnerable children are not forced into Year 1 at age five, against their parents’ wishes. ‘

A DfE spokesperson said, ‘We have changed the School Admissions Code so that it is more flexible for parents of summer born children, making it easier for them to defer their child's entry. Parents should also have the flexibility for their children to attend part-time until they reach their fifth birthday or request their child enters reception class rather than year 1, following their fifth birthday.

‘Schools and councils must make this clear in their own admissions arrangements - and we have recently published guidance to re-iterate these responsibilities. We are working closely with school admission authorities to make sure they are acting within the rules and we will not hesitate to intervene where this is not the case.’