It seems there is an ever-growing concern over the psychological welfare of the ‘summer born child’ when it comes to school admissions.
You may or may not be aware that the compulsory age for starting school in the UK is actually 5, and not 4 as a lot of us believe. It is ‘common practice’ in this country for children to start in reception class in the September following their 4th birthday and, therefore, a lot of people are not aware that this is not a legal requirement.
For parents of ‘summer born’ children (May-August) this means there are options if you are concerned about starting your child at school so soon after their 4th birthday.
However, for parents who do decide to start their child at age 5, that child would usually go straight in to year 1 and miss out reception class completely.
But now, a growing body of parents with children barely out of nappies and yet expected to enter full time education are coming together to campaign for improved access to what they believe to be more appropriate school entry rules for their children. They are fighting for their children to be allowed to start at age 5 in reception class, with the feeling that this is an important school year, not to be skipped.
It’s not that these parents are against schools, or the teachers who work in them In fact, there is no doubt that the majority of these teachers work more hours than they are paid to do, go above and beyond the call of duty, and want only the best for the children in their care. The concern of these parents is not about schools or teachers.
And it’s not about the argument that these summer born babies will academically catch up within a year or 2. In most cases this is true, teachers can give us first hand evidence.
It is more about the idea that when you have only just turned 4 years of age, life should be about climbing trees, jumping in muddy puddles, eating worms! Instead, these four year olds can find themselves being forced into an education system, which is just too rigid for some children at that age.
Of course, reception class is supposed to be mostly play based, with only short periods of being required to concentrate. However, this does vary from school to school. It has been noted that some schools, especially those in poorer areas, whose outcomes for pupils leaving at year 6 for high school are lower, will crank up the pressure to attain targets right from the start in an effort to improve levels of attainment later on.
Research suggests that too much focus on attaining targets at such a young age can be detrimental. Children as young as 4 are now being tested, and in some cases, streamed into ability groups. While the intention of this practice by the schools is to tailor teaching needs to pupils; is the outcome of carrying it out at such a young age more likely to be that those placed in lower ability groups feel failure and learn to expect less of themselves?
So, the current concern is the question of whether these summer born children would benefit from a more flexible system for school entry. A system whereby parents are able to decide whether their child is ‘school-ready’, and yet not miss out on that all important reception year if they decide to delay.
With all that is expected from a child at school, even in reception class, it seems so important that the child is psychologically and socially ready.
In the end the decision as to whether a child will be permitted to enter reception at age 5 lies with both the local council and the individual school. And it appears that this is a request being made to them increasingly. And why not? Why should these parents not be fighting for what they feel is in the best interests of their young child?
Maybe if the pressure increases, school entry will become more flexible, and later school entry more easily accessible for these “summer born’ children. Until then, their parents will continue to fight for their child’s right to a better chance of a fulfilling and enjoyable education.