Keith Morrow, Headmaster at The Elms Junior School and Nursery in Long Eaton, welcomed Mr Gibb’s letter to local authorities last month outlining concerns over the current admissions system of admitting summer-born children into Reception classes at the age of four.
The law does not require children to start school until the date of their fifth birthday. But many local authorities have moved from having a staggered admissions system, where children started in Reception in September, January or April, depending on when they were born, to having a single point of entry – September.
Mr Morrow, who began his career as a state school infant teacher and is a father of a summer-born boy, believes pressures on parents getting their children into the school of their choice plus school budget deadlines has led to a situation where some summer born babies not ready for school in September are having to go.
He is urging schools and parents of summer born children to consider whether being admitted into the school year below is right for their child.
Mr Morrow said: “There is a wealth of research that suggests summer born children, i.e. those born between 1st April and 31st August are often labeled as ‘special needs’, when in fact they are just young for their year.
“My own experiences led me to read around the subject. ‘Early to School’ by Cleave and Brown (1991) highlighted the issues and approaches schools could take. The reality was a child entering school born on 31 August as the youngest child in a Reception class would have 20% less life experience and maturity than a child entering the same class born on 1 September. It’s a staggering difference!
“Parents have always had the right to withhold their child’s admission to compulsory full-time schooling until their child’s fifth birthday. To this extent, Nick Gibbs’ intervention is very helpful in reminding state schools to keep a place for a child born in the summer until a later date if parents feel this is in that child’s interests.”
As an independent school, The Elms is not bound by the rigidity of the state school academic year. Those parents who wish their late summer born child to enter Reception class later than the state sector would allow have the freedom to do so.
But Mr Morrow says it is his sense of natural justice in all school age children being given the best opportunity to achieve their full academic potential which has led to him applauding Mr Gibbs’ intervention.
He added: “My early experiences have stayed with me. In the current system it would be possible for a bright able but summer born child to be in the ‘bottom’ group all the way through their primary school career, have their teachers expect less of them, give them less challenging work, and a self-fulfilling prophecy would emerge.
“There are several children at The Elms, who are educated ‘out of year group’. Often, these are children who are failing in the state system and just need the opportunity to repeat a year, gain confidence in their abilities and simply mature.”