In a letter to the House of Commons Education Committee, the minister for schools Nick Gibb, acknowledges that despite changes to the School Admissions Code last year parents are still facing problems delaying their summer-born child’s school start.
He says he is particularly concerned about the number of cases where parents are told that if their child starts school after their fifth birthday, compulsory school age, they will have to go straight into Year 1 and miss Reception class.
The issue was previously highlighted by the Summer-born Children Campaign group in March when a member of the group, Michelle Melson, gave evidence to the Education Select Committee.
In the letter, the schools minister states, ‘I believe that most parents are happy for their child to begin school in the September following their fourth birthday, and that only a small proportion of parents of summer-born children wish them to be admitted to reception at the age of five.
‘I am concerned, however, about the number of these cases in which it appears that children are admitted to Year 1 against their parents’ wishes and, as a consequence, entirely miss their Reception year.
‘As you know, we revised the School Admissions Code in December last year. Some of the changes we made related to the admission of summer-born children. They were intended to ensure that children’s best interests are paramount and that there is transparency for parents. Unfortunately, as yet, there does not seem to have been any reduction in the number of contentious cases.
‘I have therefore asked officials for advice on how this issue may be resolved.’
The letter also includes statistics on the proportion of summer-born children in deprived areas achieving the expected standard in phonics.
Along with this, Mr Gibb refers to existing evidence that shows summer-born children are more likely to be behind their peers in their development and identified as having special educational needs.
Responding to the letter, Neil Carmichael, chair of the Education Committee, said, ‘It’s very encouraging to see that the minister recognises the issues raised by the previous Committee. Parents told us that there is still a problem here, despite previous work on the School Admissions Code, which aimed to clear this up. No child should miss out on a year of schooling, and admissions decisions need to be made in the best interests of the child, not administrative neatness.
‘The minister’s additional evidence clearly shows that when you are born affects what happens to you at school. A child is much more likely to be identified as having special educational needs if they are born on 31 August than on 1 September. There are important issues here for the Government to look at.’
Rosie Dutton, member of the Summer-Born Campaign group, said, ‘There needs to be a change to the School Admission Code so that all children, if their parents request it, get the same opportunity as my daughter, and start in Reception at age five without missing a year. However, we now face the threat that she will be made to leapfrog a year at any point, which is horrendous. Hopefully the schools minister will sort this issue out.’
The Pre-School Learning Alliance welcomed the school's minister's promise to look again at the issue of summer-born admissions.
Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘We warmly welcome the schools minister’s promise to tackle the problem of summer-born admissions, as well as his acknowledgement that recent changes to the schools admissions code have failed to solve this long-running problem.
‘The fact that Mr Gibb has publicly acknowledged that previous action taken by Government to address this problem has been ineffective is a positive first step. We hope that the Department for Education will now waste no time in implementing the changes necessary to ensure that all future decisions on school admissions are made on the basis of what is best for the child, and not what is easiest for admissions authorities to administer.’