Tonight I will be holding an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on allowing summer born and premature children to defer their start to school. I wanted to raise this issue with the Minister as it has been a problem a few constituents have faced.
It is well documented that these children can suffer long-term development issues and can lag in their educational attainment as a result of their date of birth. Some children are even labelled as needing special educational help when again their problem is their date of birth.
Whilst there are no statutory barriers in place to a child being admitted outside the normal age group, there are some formidable hurdles. Summer-born children are defined as being born between 1 April and 31 August although the reality is that the vast majority of applications to defer are from parents of children born in July and August.
The Government has set out a Code of Practice and guidelines but unfortunately there is no consistent application of the rules. Initially there is the issue that some councils refuse to defer with no parental right of appeal. Thereafter, the two most common issues after a refusal to defer are firstly that parents are told that a child can defer entering Reception but must join Year 1 as per that child’s normal cohort. Secondly parents are told that they can defer Reception, proceed with primary education with the new cohort but must reapply at Year 5 or Year 6 to defer secondary education or face going from Year 6 to Year 8 missing Year 7. These are both highly unsatisfactory and worrying to both the child and the parents.
I think we need a system flexible enough to allow children to start education at the right point in their development. Nick Gibb and the DfE have been excellent; there are guidelines in place but their application is uncertain. Tonight I hope to persuade the Minister to revise his guidelines. Firstly, I wish to clear up the distinction between defer and delay. Ideally I want parents to have an automatic right to delay a start date to education if a child is born between 1 June and 31 August. I would like it then clarified that the child will then remain in that cohort throughout the whole of their school career – both primary and secondary. Ideally the above must apply to pre-term premature born children.
I am hopeful that these relatively minor changes to the guidelines which favour parents and take discretion from local authorities will meet the Minister’s approval. These may be small changes but will have significant impact for summer-born and premature children.