Nick Gibb said that rules requiring children to start school the September after their fourth birthday are flawed and must be changed.
The minister has called for local authorities and schools to take immediate action ahead of the change to allow summer-born children to start Reception at the age of five in line with parents’ wishes.
The move comes in response to complaints from parents of summer-borns who continue to feel that the system is still ‘not working’ despite Government attempts to clarify the issue.
Children born between 1 April and 31 August are not required to start school until the September following their fifth birthday, the term when Reception children move into Year 1.
The Department for Education amended the school admissions code last December to state that decisions about the school start should be made in the child’s best interests, and that admissions authorities should take account of parents and head teacher’s views and information about the child’s development.
The current code allows for summer-born children to start school out of their normal age group, but some parents feel under pressure to start their child at school sometime during the Reception year or put them straight into Year 1, meaning that they miss a whole year of school.
Children do not reach compulsory school age until the ‘prescribed day’ following their fifth birthday (or on their fifth birthday if it falls on the prescribed day – that is 31 December, 31 March or 31 August.)
In an open letter to parents, schools and local authorities the minister said that the Government intends to amend the school admissions code further and will carry out a public consultation on the plans.
‘It is disappointing that some parents continue to report that the changes are not working,’ Mr Gibb wrote. ‘They either feel forced to send their child to school before they are ready and before they are required to do so, or else miss out on the reception year at school where the essential teaching of early reading and arithmetic takes place. I have also heard that some children who are admitted out of their normal age group are later required to miss a year and move up against their wishes to join the other children of the same age group.’
Campaigners welcomed the minister’s letter and planned changes to the code.
They praised the approach taken by some councils but warned that unless the changes become mandatory the postcode lottery for summer-born admissions would continue.
Michelle Melson of the Summer Born Campaign said, ‘We have maintained for years now, there is no excuse for admission authorities to deny children access to their Reception class year, and to a continuous curriculum thereafter, simply for starting school at England’s compulsory school age.
‘It’s very important that any amendments to the code and its drafting are robust and leave no room for any ambiguity, otherwise some admission authorities will utilise anything they perceive as a loophole to block parents and remove parental choice.’
‘We would urge admission authorities to take the proactive approach that Liverpool City Council have taken and agree all requests for Reception class at compulsory school age prior to any amendments to the code.’
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, ‘ATL has consistently argued that early years education needs to be flexible enough to support all children to succeed regardless of the age at which they start school. Although some parents will want to delay the start of school for their child, today’s announcement will not solve the problems.’
She added that the increasingly formalised curriculum and assessment in were the main reasons why parents wanted to delay the school start for their summer-born children.
She said that a better approach would be for schools and early education and care providers to work together to develop staged transitions to school.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘We warmly welcome the fact that the Government has recognised that that no child should be forced to start school before they are ready, and that it is for parents, not admissions authorities, to decide when this is.
‘It is vital, therefore, that the Government now takes definitive action on this issue and ensures that there is no longer any room for misinterpretation on the rules around summer-born admissions.’