Parents struggle to delay school start dates

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Parents are experiencing more difficulties delaying their summer-born children's entry to school, campaigners claim, despite the Government amending the School Admissions Code to include clarifications about deferred entry.

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Campaigner Michelle Melson's son Aiden is a summer-born child

School reform minister Nick Gibb has said that he will look at the issue.

According to the Summer-Born Children campaign group, the revision of the School Admissions Code last year and Department for Education (DfE) advice for local authorities and school admission authorities on the admission of summer-born children have failed to make it easier for parents to request that their child start Reception rather than Year 1 at age five.

The current difficulties follow concerns voiced by the group last December that the revised code did not go far enough to guarantee that all children of compulsory school age can start in Reception. In evidence given to the Education Select Committee, campaigners have blamed inconsistent DfE advice, and the lack of clarity in its guidance to admission authorities and schools published last December.

'Postcode lottery'

michelle-melsonMichelle Melson, a campaigner from the group who spoke at last week's Education Select Committee, said that as a result of this, admission authorities are able to make their own rules, which is creating a summer-born admissions 'postcode lottery'.

In some cases, parents are being told by their admission authority that if their five-year-old starts in Reception they will have to miss a year of either their primary or secondary education.

Other examples include parents being given conflicting decisions by their school or admission authority, or told that schoolwork will have to be sent to their child's pre-school if they do not start school at age four.

According to Ms Melson, there are also inconsistencies with the amount of evidence admission authorities require in support of a parent's request to delay their child's school start.

As part of the process, parents must provide evidence as to why they think their child should start school the following year.

But Ms Melson said that in several areas across the country, admission authorities are making summer-born admissions a special educational needs issue, asking parents to provide medical, academic and social evidence.

This goes against what the revised admissions code says - that there should be no expectation that parents will obtain professional evidence, and admission authorities must consider requests that are not accompanied by this type of evidence. The code states that in such cases, the supporting information might simply be the parent's statement as to why they have made their request.

Ms Melson said the problem is that the code legislates, for the first time, that a compulsory school-age summer-born child's admission to Reception be classified as 'outside their normal age group'.

Information about summer-born admissions is included within paragraph 2.17 of the code (see box), which came into force on 19 December 2014, under the heading 'Admission of children outside their normal age group'. Ms Melson, as part of the campaign group, is calling for this information to be removed from paragraph 2.17. One option is to move it to paragraph 2.16, 'Admission of children below compulsory school age and deferred entry to school'.

She said that the information's current position in the code means that any parent who wants to defer their child's entry to school to the term after the child's fifth birthday has to put in a specific request to the school or admission authority that they start in Reception.

Appeals process

Another issue raised at the evidence hearing of the Education Select Committee was the absence of an appeals process for parents wanting to challenge a decision about the year group their child is placed in.

While parents can appeal the decision of a school place, they can only make a complaint to their admission authority about the year group.

Government response

Responding to the submission of evidence, Mr Gibb acknowledged the issue, and said the DfE would consider creating a more flexible appeals process.

He said he was aware of the inconsistencies across admission authorities from DfE evidence and parents' complaints, and was trying to address it.

When pressed by the Education Select Committee on the numbers of parents complaining to the DfE about the schools admissions process for summer-born children, Mr Gibb said, 'Hundreds, not thousands, of parents have put in complaints. This is not a large number, but still concerning.'

While the minister said he was not aware that parents were experiencing more difficulties deferring their child's place since the revised code came into force, he said he was concerned by the evidence from the Summer-Born Children campaign group.

He added, 'Headteachers and local authorities need to do what is in the best interests of a child. However, it is whether admission authorities understand that this should be their main concern rather than cohort neatness. It's a mindset that we need to change.

'The revised admissions code, and guidance, was published relatively recently, so perhaps some admission authorities are less aware of the new advice than others. But the advice is clear: there is no statutory barrier against children being outside of their age group.

'We may need to do more on this. I will look into the advice and see if action is needed.'

THE REVISED SCHOOL ADMISSIONS CODE

2.17 of the code states, 'Parents of a summer-born child may choose not to send their child to school until the September following their fifth birthday, and may request that they are admitted out of their normal age group - to Reception rather than Year 1. Admission authorities must make clear in their admission arrangements the process for requesting admission out of the normal age group.

'Admission authorities must make decisions on the basis of the circumstances of each case and in the best interests of the child concerned.

'When informing a parent of their decision on the year group the child should be admitted to, the admission authority must set out clearly the reasons for its decision.'

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