Proposals are afoot to allow those children with birthdays between April and August to start reception at age of five, rather than four, if parents wish.
At Tutor My Kids, our private tutors in Cambridge, Ely, Huntingdon and Newmarket see this issue with summer born children, especially boys, who do not excel because they are just too young to be able to make the most of the learning opportunities that are presented to them. We welcome this proposed change because we feel it will go some way to addressing some of these issues of inequality in education due to birth month.
At the moment, parents can do this, but then their children must join in year 1, which serves to perpetuate the gap in learning between summer and autumn born children which can last until GCSEs. This change will allow parents to delay a year and their kids still start in Foundation (Reception) class and remain in this class throughout their school career.
Parents of summer-born children are to be given the right to delay their child’s education for a year, with the reassurance that they will not then be forced to skip a year to catch up with their peers.
The schools minister Nick Gibb said admissions rules would be changed so children born between 1 April and 31 August would be allowed to go into reception a year later if their parents felt they were not ready for school.
A consultation will now be launched, and changes to the admissions rules will have to be approved by parliament, but the Department for Education is keen to get them under way as soon as possible.
Gibb has written an open letter to schools and local authorities urging them to take immediate action to enable summer-born children to start in reception aged five if parents request it.
He wrote that the existing system was not working, with parents and the admission authorities “often failing to agree on what is in the child’s best interests”.
Gibb continued: “As part of our plan to extend social justice and opportunity, we want all children to have an equal chance to excel in school regardless of when they are born. Parents know their children best and we want to make sure summer-born children can start reception at the age of five, if their parents think it is in their best interests.
“We are going to make changes to admission rules, but we want councils and academies to take immediate action.”
Research shows that children born in the summer tend to perform worse academically than those born in the autumn. An Institute for Fiscal Studies report found that the differences were largest soon after children start school, but the gap remained up to GCSEs. Relative to children born in September, children born in August are 6.4 percentage points less likely to achieve five GCSEs or equivalent at grades A*–C and are around two percentage points less likely to go to university at age 18 or 19. Instutute for Fiscal Studies report
David Whitebread, a senior lecturer in psychology and education at the University of Cambridge, said the impact of being summer-born was particularly severe in the UK because of the early age at which children start school.
“When a child starts in the reception class of a primary school they can be as young as four years and one day old, a whole year younger than the statutory school starting age, and two or three years younger than the school starting age in all other European countries with the exception of Malta,” he said.
“In countries with these later starting ages there is a very much reduced summer-born effect, or none at all, and there is no evidence from international comparisons that children in the UK are better educated than children from elsewhere.
“So delaying the start of school by one year for summer-born children is a very good idea, provided that they then start in reception and receive the seven years of primary schooling that all other children in the UK receive.”
Claire Crawford, an assistant professor of economics at Warwick University and one of the authors of the IFS report, said: “Our research suggests that it is the age at which children sit their exams that largely determines why summer-born children perform more poorly in national achievement tests, on average, than autumn-born children.
“Accounting for a child’s age when calculating their grades would solve this problem, but greater flexibility in school starting dates will not. While it is clearly advantageous for the existing rules to be applied consistently throughout the country, the evidence does not suggest that this will ‘level the playing field’ for summer-born children.”
Tammy Campbell, a researcher at the University College London’s education institute, welcomed moves to address the disadvantages of younger children, but added that “flexibility in starting age will not completely solve the problem”.
She said: “It is also important to consider the other factors that create the ‘month of birth effect’. These include the reception curriculum itself. There are indications that some parts of it are developmentally inappropriate for four-year-olds.
“This means that, regardless of the exact age at which they start school, some children will fall behind their peers simply because they are not quite ready for the work expected.”