The MP for mid Dorset and North Poole, who tabled an early day motion in June on the subject, told the House of Commons last week that she has heard from parents over the years who have struggled to exercise their right to delay their child’s school start.
She said that while the statutory school starting age in England is five, and in principle, parents have a choice about which term their child starts schools within that time span, the practice may be a little different.
Ms Brooke (pictured) went on to call for more flexibility in the school system and for consideration to be given as to whether the schools admission code needs changing in the future.
The Liberal Democrat MP said that more recently she has been contacted by parents who want to have the option of delaying their summer-born child’s school start by a year, but have been told by their local authority that this would mean that their child would be placed in Year 1 and miss out on Reception.
The secretary of state for education Elizabeth Truss replied, ‘The point about flexibility is important, because all children are different. Some children may benefit from entering year 1 as soon as they reach the compulsory school age, while others would benefit from entering reception. It should be the parents who are the primary decision-makers when it comes to deciding which route is most appropriate for their child and which environment will enable their child to thrive.
‘We are absolutely clear that parents should be able to say to a school, ‘We want our child, who is aged five, to enter reception’, if they feel that this is in the best interests of their child. That is what we are elucidating in the new guidance that we issued this summer and that is what we will be following up on with local authorities and schools.’
The revised guidance published in July by the Department for Education states that there is ‘no statutory barrier to children being admitted outside their normal year group’ and ‘flexibilities exist for children whose parents do not feel they are ready to begin school in the September after their fourth birthday’.
Ms Truss added, ‘The advice makes it absolutely clear that there is no statutory barrier to children being educated outside of their normal year group. It is unlawful for an admissions authority to have a blanket policy that children are never admitted outside of their normal age group. We make that very clear in the guidance.’
However, Ms Brooke implied that not all local authorities are adhering to the new guidance and went on to ask Ms Truss how the Department for Education would ensure that the questions and answers in the revised guidance are promoted to local authorities and parents.
Ms Truss responded by saying that there needed to be time for the revised guidance to filter through and to ensure that local authorities and schools understand it.
The MP for mid Dorset and North Poole went on to raise issue with parts of the revised guidance, in particular answer eight, which states that parents who are offered a school place for their child but not in the year group they would like, do not have the right to appeal.
The secretary of state for education said she would look at whether some of the guidance should be clearer.
The ‘potentially damaging effect’ starting school can have on a summer born child before they are developmentally ready was also raised on BBC’s Inside Out South programme on Monday (2 September).
The programme, which featured interviews with Dr Richard House and Annette Brooke, followed the mother of a summer-born child who spoke to campaigners ,and visited Germany where the statutory school age is six.
- The programme is available to watch on BBC iplayer until 8pm on Monday 9 September and is also available to download to watch for 30 more days.