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Summer Born Children Starting School

I have two children. One is Autumn born. The other is Summer born. They were born nearly 2 years apart, however there is just one school year between them.

My background is in early years – working mainly with children between the ages of newborn and 8. I have spent a considerable amount of time in school environments.
However, when I was working with children in Years 1 and 2, I often found myself working on a table with a group of children, who most of the time were summer born children; either helping them to finish work, or doing extra work or reading. They were the ones struggling in each class.

I, on the contrary was summer born, but like Little Miss BB, I was incredibly bright for my age. Even amongst my peers in primary school, I and my friends (2 of whom were born later in July and August than I was), were at the top of the class.
Being academically bright does not mean that I coped well socially – I spent most of my lunchtimes clinging to the hand of the very lovely dinner lady who took me under her wing.
However, Master BB is a Summer born who also has special needs – in every area of his development!

The summer born campaign

We used to live in another county. When we made the decision to educate Master BB in the mainstream system (we did seriously consider Special School but had a lightbulb moment which changed our minds), I was resolute that I would draw on the shining examples of children with Down’s Syndrome who were thriving in mainstream school around us. Most of those children had repeated Reception. I did not want Master BB to repeat Reception and leave his peer group behind when they moved up. Thus I set out to delay Master BB’s entry to school by a year instead. The headmistress of our lovely school agreed on the spot. She said that she wished that more parents of summer born children would delay entry because “the outcomes for many children would have been very different.”

We then moved house – only to a neighbouring county, but we encountered a very different attitude. The Local Education Authority here also encouraged children with SEN being in mainstream school, but their view was to support the child in their correct school year. They said there was no evidence that delaying entry to school would be beneficial.

I disagreed. From my experience: of children and child development, of my experiences in school, and my experiences of children with Down’s Syndrome; that having an extra year early on would give Master BB the best possible chance of succeeding at school. Equally for any summer born child who was struggling in an area of development, or simply seemed young for their age, another year could only be in their best interests.

So, with a summer born child, who also has Down’s Syndrome on top, I HAD to fight for what I thought was best for my son.

We met nothing but opposition to us delaying his entry to Reception by a year. At every turn I was told that ‘it doesn’t happen in this LEA’. I kept on asking professionals, doctors, psychologists, parents of other children with SEN, teachers etc. but I was getting nowhere. Then last summer, like a ray of sunshine through the clouds, I became aware of The Summer Born campaign and the Advice on the admission of summer born children. This gave me hope. I discovered fairly quickly that there was no legal barrier to having Master BB accepted into Reception in the term in which he turned statutory school age i.e. September. This was confirmed by our Admissions Officer. I later discovered that any LEA who tells you that your child – any child (with or without SEN) must go straight into Year one if they are delayed, is guilty of having an illegal blanket policy.

A parent has the right to request entry into school for their summer born child, into Reception.

The Advice on the admission of summer born children says:
“There is no statutory barrier to children being admitted to school outside their normal age group.”

It also clearly states there:
“are no statutory barriers to admitting a child of 5 years to a reception class.”

The term ‘Reception Class’ has the meaning given by section 142 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 as follows:
reception class means a class in which education is provided which is suitable to the requirements of pupils aged five and any pupils under or over that age whom it is expedient to educate with pupils of that age”.
Reception class is the entry class to primary and infant schools.
Therefore a just turned 5 year old absolutely fits this description for admission to a Reception class.

There are also more specific mentions to a child who is a summer born being delayed entry in various publications relating to children with Down’s Syndrome – such as the Down’s Syndrome: good practice guidelines for education point 76.

A piece of paper sent to us by our LEA, written by the SENDIST panel, confirmed for us that there was a known route of action for a child with SEN who was delayed entry, and that gave us a chink in their armour to show that it was possible to delay entry, even though the LEA said it was not. This piece of paper recommended that the child was only delayed by one year, and then they stay with their new cohort throughout their school life (including the transition to secondary school). That was exactly what we wanted to happen.

There is a wealth of reports and evidence to show there is an impact on being summer born to children through most of their academic life. More children who are summer born are (mis)diagnosed as having SEN. How a child performs academically is only one facet of the child. There may be an impact on confidence, self esteem, friendships etc. as a side effect of being the youngest in a peer group.

Our route through the system

Thus, we started along the pathway to delay entry for Master BB using the summer born guidance.
The route really should have been simple – a summer born child with severe SEN, but who could be educated in mainstream school, should have absolutely met the criteria for delaying entry to school by one year. However, it has not been so in practice. We have had a year which has contained unpleasant heated meetings and discussions, threats, a lot of paperwork, meetings, phone calls and e-mails. Unfortunately, although various people told us off the record that they supported us, they could not be seen as going against the LEA’s policy of not delaying children by a year. Unfortunately the SEN department have made things more complicated than they could have. Our school did not support originally the request at the time which made things even harder. The stress has been unbelievable at times, and the impact on our family, as I prepared for each next meeting has been massive.
However, the end is now in sight: I have one more meeting to prepare for, and things are looking hopeful that Master BB will be spending another year in nursery, and will then move into Reception with his new peer group, who have just joined him in nursery. The final decision, fingers crossed, gets made next week.It would appear that the difficulties parents are facing are due to an ambiguous Statutory Instrument – The Schools Admissions Code, which does not clearly present primary legislation. The Admissions Code requires admission authorities to provide for the admission of children in the September after the child’s fourth birthday. However local authorities and admission authorities tend to only look at the Code, they are inferring from that document, that age four is thus the school starting age. This is not what the law says!

So why post today?

We know a child who was born within days of Master BB, who also has Down’s Syndrome. Today his parents have been told by their LEA that he can not be delayed entry by a year, and he has to join the Reception class this September with his peer group. This is a child, who like Master BB, still crawls, who has no speech, who has a limited repertoire of signs, and needs constant adult support to ensure his safety.

It is absolutely ludicrous and nonsensical that given all the evidence to support a typical summer born child being delayed entry, if it is in their best interests, that a child with severe learning difficulties ON TOP, would not have been a perfect candidate to have their entry to Reception delayed. I am horrified that this child, is being forced into Reception by one unsympathetic LEA, who clearly are not considering the best interests of the child, or the parents wishes. Other LEA’s are agreeing to admit summer born children with no additional needs – simply on the basis of the month in which they were born.

Why on earth would this LEA the right to refuse this tiny 3 year old summer born child with severe SEN an extra year in nursery, and then to allow him to move to Reception in September 2015, when he does not need to? There is absolutely no doubt, based on the progress of children with similar special needs, that he will have improved in every area of his development, and thus be able to cope better with being in full time school?

ANY parent of a child who is summer born is allowed to request that their child delays entry to Reception until the term in which they turn statutory school age. There should be no need for any exceptional circumstances beyond the fact they were born in the summer term.
However, with any child who HAS got exceptional circumstances, or evidence to support a delayed entry, WHY are LEAs and SEN departments making life so difficult for these parents who already have enough battles to fight, forms to fill out, and time spent in meetings and appointments?

What needs to be done to give all summer born children the same options?

It would appear that the difficulties parents are facing are due to an ambiguous Statutory Instrument – The Schools Admissions Code, which does not clearly present primary legislation. The Admissions Code requires admission authorities to provide for the admission of children in the September after the child’s fourth birthday. However local authorities and admission authorities tend to only look at the Code, they are inferring from that document, that age four is thus the school starting age. This is not what the law says!

As a result parents are facing a ‘postcode lottery’ depending on where they live. Our route has not been easy, but it appears we have got further than the other child mentioned above has. And yet, there are children in other LEA’s who are summer born, with no other reason for a delay, being allowed to delay entry to Reception by a year, simply because their enlightened LEA’s are listening to parents wishes – parents who know their child better than any professional ever will.

The Admissions Code needs amending. A simple addition would help to fix this currently, unfair system. Wording needs adding such as:
Parents who wish their summer born (April 1st – August 31st inclusive) child to join a Reception class at compulsory school age must submit an application for the relevant academic year. The application must be treated equitably with children starting school prior to compulsory school age. The child can then remain with their adopted cohort throughout the remainder of their education.

Without this kind of clarification, and reassurance, parents of summer born children (with or without SEN) are likely to have to fight their way through the current system, with admission practices which are not clear, fair or objective.

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