Unless you’ve been hiding under a stone recently, you’ve probably seen on the news and in the National Press, this whole ‘Summer Born Baby’ debate!
It’s the argument which suggests (and 30 years of research seems to prove) that summer born children don’t perform as well academically as their older peers. Starting school aged just turned 4, as a child would in England, is simply too young for a lot of children.
A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, claims that children can “suffer serious educational disadvantages because they are less physically, socially and emotionally ready for school, compared to their classmates”. It also states that summer babies “are more likely to leave education at 16, tend to be more unhappy at school and have less chance of getting into a high-performing university”.
The difference between a child born in September for example and a child born the following August is huge. A year is a substantial percentage of their life at age 4 (25%) and the gap between a 4 and 5 yr old, even a 5 and 6 yr old, is huge in terms of maturity and having the fine motor skills to cope with classroom activities. A lot of younger children aren’t socially ready, they haven’t had as much time to mature.
Being one of the youngest can seriously affect their self esteem. They may compare themselves to their older peers and see that in relation to them they themselves are smaller and less able There’s the possible stereotyping, whereby they are viewed as being ‘slower’ or ‘low achievers’ (the majority of children on the SEN register are summer borns) – when in actual fact these children are NOT slow – they are where they should be for their age, they’re just younger.
Sport is another very obvious problem for the younger ones who are at an immediate disadvantage in terms of size and strength. Usually it will be the bigger children who make the teams!
Safety issues come into play when children so small are in a cohort with much bigger classmates, especially on the playground. There’s a higher risk of bullying too. This, as well as the research, is known as the ‘birthdate effect‘. All this can have a very negative impact on the rest of their education, how they feel about school and indeed themselves. It’s an infliction that can be carried into adulthood.
It’s not a new debate, it’s been going on for years, but it’s a subject that has gained momentum in the past few years. It also resonates profoundly with me because three years ago, when my August born twin boys were at Nursery, I knew they wouldn’t be ready for school, aged 4yrs and 1 week.
Online, I found this Summer Born Campaigning Group and began to realise that I wasn’t alone in my concerns, and maybe I had options.
I discovered that, in the Governments Schools Admission Code, the compulsory school age for a child is actually 5. Not 4, as many are when they start.
A child legally doesn’t have to be in school until the term after their 5th birthday, which in the case of a summer born, would be into the year below.
But parents weren’t being allowed by their LEA (Local Education Authority or County Council) to exercise their rights for their summer born to start school in the year below (Reception), aged 5. They were being told that if they did want to delay school entry, they could, but their child would be forced to go into Year 1, with the cohort it would’ve been in, had it not been a summer born. Going straight into Year 1 would mean a child would miss that vital reception year, where friendships are formed and fundamental skills for learning are honed. Most parents therefore, felt they had no choice but to send their child to school when they weren’t ready, at just turned 4.
Not right. And not fair.
The Summer Born Group had a growing FB community which I joined.They were supporting each other in their fight with Local Councils, to allow their child to enter school in reception aged 5 and not 4. They helped me initiate my fight with Hertfordshire County Council.
It was one I didn’t win.
Hertfordshire were known to be a very tough nut to crack. In the group, many Councils were beginning to take notice of parents, and along with new guidance from the DfE (Department of Education), they began to accept children into Reception at aged 5, not 4, IF, and this is a very important aspect, they felt it was in the childs best interests. The DfE were urging councils to look at individual cases, reassuring them that there were no statutory barriers to allowing it. Some Councils wouldn’t budge though. They didn’t like it.
Hertfordshire was one of them. In fact, they became notorious within the group for being one of the worst Councils for denying parents this right. Absolutely disgraceful as far as I’m concerned.
My twins had the odds stacked against them. First of all they were boys, who mature far slower than girls, they were premature, which meant had they been born on time they would’ve been with the year group below anyway, and they were incredibly shy and clingy. They were extremely socially immature and found lots of situations terribly stressful. It was painful sometimes to see them crumble when someone spoke to them. They simply, in my opinion, were in no way ready for school.
Of course, most summer borns ARE ready, especially those born in the early summer months. It’s mainly the very late August babies that struggle the most, along with premature babies.
I battled with Hertfordshire for a few months, back and forth with letters and hearings. I’d even managed to get direct support from the DfE, but the final decision was out of their hands. It was ultimately the LEA who had the final say.
In the end, my boys had to start school. At 4 yrs 1 week old.
I felt I had no choice. I was worried I may lose their school place that I was offered if I didn’t take it. Or that the boys would have to go into Year 1, which would’ve been pointless.
I had a chat to their Headmistress and I insisted that they go part time initially. She agreed. But really, how could she not? I was armed with the knowledge that my boys didn’t have to be in school at all until they were 5, so I knew I couldn’t be forced. Not really.
It was tough. My little boys struggled, but slowly they started to enjoy school and made some lovely friends. Their class teacher and classroom assistant were wonderful and were fully aware of my concerns. They were great for the boys and instrumental in helping settle them in.
My twins are now in Year 2.
I still feel as though they are small and vulnerable in many ways and I’m concerned that in Year 2, where there is more emphasis on academics and targets to reach, my boys will suffer.
I still feel that if I had the choice, I would 100% delay their school entry. Just having that extra year to mature and grow would’ve made a huge difference. They’re still shy, that’s them. But they would’ve been in a much better position to manage and cope.
And that’s why these new admission rules that Schools Minister Nick Gibb is pushing through Parliament, are desperately needed.
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”. He also said that he “wants 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.”
The admission rules will be changed so that children born in the Summer Term (or between 1 April and 31 August) would be allowed to go into reception a year later, at compulsory school age. The changes will have to be approved by parliament, but in the mean time Nick Gibb has written an open letter to schools and local authorities. It urges them to take immediate action and allow summer-born children to start in reception aged five if parents request it.
The Summer Born Campaigning group have lobbied tirelessly. I think they have done an amazing job to help bring about this change so far.
I will continue to monitor my twins progress at school and if they do fall behind, I will be the first to knock on the door of the Hertfordshire LEA to insist that they do something about it. If that means repeating a year, then so be it. I will fight tooth and nail for that.
Why should the month my twins were born dictate their success at school and academic achievements?
How is that fair?