Father fights back over school age admissions policy

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A father of three children, whose birthdays are in the summer, is calling for more flexibility in the schools admission system.

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Stefan Richter has faced opposition from his local authority over wanting to defer his two-year-old daughter's school entry by a year so that she can start reception after her fifth birthday at the end of August.

By law, children must start school by the term following their fifth birthday. Children born between 1 September 2008 and 31 August 2009 start school in September 2013.

Mr Richter claims that the local authority is pressurising parents into applying for full-time school places for their children as early as possible and using 'scare tactics', such as telling them that their child will have to start in Year 1 and miss Reception if their entry is deferred.

Last month, education campaigner and child psychologist Dr Richard House called for an independent inquiry into raising the statutory school starting age to six. This was in reaction to research that suggests formal learning at an early age leads to lower academic performance.

Mr Richter says he has been told by the schools admissions department that in order for his youngest daughter to start Reception class a year later, when she is five, rather than four, she will have to be classed as a 'low-flyer' and require a psychological assessment.

The father of three has branded this 'ridiculous', as he says that he only wants his daughter to start school when she is legally meant to, rather than start a year earlier when she will be one of the youngest in the class as her birthday falls less than a week before the school entry cut-off point on 1 September.

Despite this, he claims that the school, which his other two children go to and which he wants his youngest daughter to attend, is happy for his child to start Reception class a year later. But the head has raised concerns that his daughter may have to leave the school a year earlier in order to start secondary school at the correct age.

Mr Richter said, 'There is real pressure to get children ready for school. My two-year-old daughter is going through potty training and in 14 months time she is meant to start school.

'There is so little flexibility with the school system. Everything is based on a child's date of birth and there is no consideration for the wishes of parents.

'If my daughter's school entry was deferred a year she would be one of the oldest in her class rather than the youngest. My other children have summer birthdays and the one whose birthday is in June has had some difficulties.'

He added, 'This is such a precious time. In Reception class children have to learn how to write and do maths, whereas we want her to be able to play at home for another year.'

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'There are no plans to change the legal age by which children must be in school.

'It is ultimately for parents to decide what is best for their child, and for individual schools and local authorities to give guidance to parents - based on what they think is the right approach for local children.'

Mr Richter and the head of the school are due to speak to the local authority in September. The father of three has also created a Google group, 'Campaign for more flexible schools admissions for summer born children,' as a forum for other parents who may be experiencing similar issues.

http://groups.google.com/group/schoolstart

BETTER A LATE START THAN AN EARLY ONE

A new study has found that children who started school later at the age of seven had better reading skills than those who started school at age four or five.

The research, co-authored by Dr Sebastian Suggate from Regensburg University in Germany with academics from Otago University in New Zealand, tracked children who started school at different ages. This included children living in New Zealand, where Steiner schools allow children to delay formal education until the age of seven. The study revealed that in some assessment of reading, children who started school later overtook their peers by the age of ten.

The authors suggest that children who start school later have more time to naturally develop their language skills in the early years and so have a better foundation for learning than children who start school earlier at the age of four or five.

The study, 'Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier', is published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

http://www.journals.elsevier.com/early-childhood-research-quarterly/

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