School Admissions Code

Part of Committee of Public Accounts – in the House of Commons at 9:49 pm on 10th October 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon 9:49 pm, 10th October 2016

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for selecting me to speak on this matter this evening, some 13 months after I first raised it. Although the issues I intend to raise affect only a relatively small number of children, if they were resolved positively or we heard a positive response from the Minister tonight, it would undoubtedly improve the life chances of thousands of children in this country every year.

The definition of a summer-born child is one who is born between 1 April and 31 August. The key point at issue is that children must enter education on the September after their fifth birthday. Although many children are ready to do so, some are not. While no two summer-born or premature children have exactly the same needs, they face many common challenges: shortened attention span, delayed motor development, underdeveloped emotional maturity, smaller physical stature and ongoing medical issues. A wealth of academic research shows that summer-born children as a group lag significantly behind their older peers. Empirically and instinctively, it is easy to see why that is the case. With a gap of almost a year between the youngest and the oldest in a school year, it is unsurprising that the development of the youngest can be held back significantly.

The Minister will know that in 2014, his Department produced a study that showed that at the end of the first year in school, two thirds of summer-born children failed to meet the minimum standards in reading, writing, speaking, maths and other developmental skills. That compares with less than a third of those born between September and December.

Children who are the youngest in the year are disproportionately likely to report bullying and lower levels of self-confidence, and their overall satisfaction at school is significantly reduced. There has also been a higher incidence of diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism among summer-born children. Most of the experts I have met believe that most of those diagnoses are the result of the child struggling from being placed in school too soon, being comparatively immature and struggling developmentally, rather than their suffering from the condition.

Almost exactly a year ago, but somewhat later at night, I was lucky enough to hold a debate on exactly the same subject, which I know the Minister will remember. I made three requests of him with regard to the admissions code. First, although I accept that there is no statutory barrier to a child being admitted outside their normal cohort, there is, as he knows, no right for the parents to insist or appeal. Secondly, several local authorities were insisting that although a child’s entry could be delayed, they would have to join year 1 and miss reception. Equally, some authorities said that although a child could delay entry by a year throughout their primary education, at secondary school level they would force the child to join their non-delayed cohort. The child would therefore start secondary education having missed a year of education. Finally, he will remember that I brought up the issue of prematurity in the context of summer-born children.

Most local authorities now allow summer-born children to start school a year later. However, many still demand a very high level of expert evidence for doing so. That is a barrier that many parents simply cannot pass. Most summer-born children are three and a half when their parents have to start applying for schools and decide when they should enter. That does not give much time for the experts, however skilled, to gauge a child’s strengths and needs. At that stage, the parents, who have assessed the child from birth, are probably in a better position to assess and make a decision about what is best for their child. At that early stage of a child’s life, parents have a real understanding of the abilities of their child and can judge whether they need extra time to develop.