This House of Commons Library briefing paper provides an overview of the flexibility for parents of summer-born children in England to request for their children to be admitted to school outside of their normal age group, and potential future changes.

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Schools policy is devolved.  This paper focuses on England, but information is provided on the position in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  In Scotland, similar deferral processes are in place, although the differing operation of the school year means those provisions apply to children born during the winter.

Background and existing position in England

There have been longstanding concerns that children born towards the end of the school year – in England, summer-born children – suffer adverse educational impacts by virtue of starting school at a younger age than their peers.

To accommodate these concerns, a degree of flexibility is provided in England whereby a parent may request that a summer-born child is admitted to school outside of their normal age group.  (This is in addition to other reasons a child might be educated outside their normal age group, such as following a period of ill health.)

In England, the term ‘summer born’ is used to describe children born between 1 April and 31 August.

The school admission authority is responsible for making the decision on which year group a child should be admitted to.  There is no statutory barrier to children being admitted outside their normal age group, but parents do not have the right to insist that their child is admitted to a particular age group. 

Government advice states that decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis according to what is considered to be in the child’s best interest, with particular factors such as whether the child was born prematurely to be taken into account.

Concerns

Several concerns have been raised about the manner in which this process operates, in particular that many parents whose request is accepted find that their child’s deferred entry into school may not be into the reception class but rather into year 1, meaning the child misses reception year.  There can also be consequences later in education, when a child advances to secondary school or into a new area.

The Education Committee has recommended that the Government give further consideration to how this system is operating in practice; including whether the processes involved are sufficiently clear to parents and local authorities, and potential reforms such as granting parents the right to appeal a decision in this area, and the use of a child’s due date rather than birthdate in the definition or interpretation of compulsory school age.

Government proposals for change

In September 2015, the Schools Minister told the House that the Government would consult on changes to the School Admissions Code to amend the code to strengthen the rights of parents to choose when their child enters reception class, and to ensure children remain in the same school year throughout their education if they prefer. Plans for a school admissions review were also included in the Conservative manifesto for the 2017 General Election. 

In June 2020 the Department for Education published a consultation on changes to the School Admissions Code. However, changes to the position for summer-born children were not included. The Department published a statement that it still intended to legislate to give summer-born children the right to stay in the same cohort throughout their schooling, and would be providing further advice to local authorities and parents in the meantime. No date was given for when this legislation might be put before Parliament.

  • Commons Research Briefing CBP-7272
  • Author: Robert Long
  • Topics: Schools

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