I have heard examples of councils refusing to change their policy, or of children being allowed to start a year later but then being forced to skip year 7 in secondary school. I have seen local authorities still continue to place a huge burden of proof on parents in order to authorise their child starting a year later. As the Minister will know, academies operate their own admissions policy; although many have bought into the spirit of his letter, many also operate a policy that contributes to that postcode lottery.
Inevitably, the choice of school and of whether to delay entry are stressful for parents, especially those who see the problem of developmental delay for their children and wish to do the best for them. I urge the Minister to act as quickly as possible to provide some certainty to parents of summer-born children, particularly as many people will be about to make applications for next year. Those parents are weighing up whether to enter their children for reception now or to wait. That is a very difficult decision for parents, so I ask the Government to look at bringing forward the consultation rather more quickly.
The Minister will know that many local authorities will not give certainty to a child’s education even if they agree to a delay. It is absolutely key that he provides that certainty, particularly as some local authorities grant a delay but then force a child to enter year 1 rather than reception, or to go to year 8 at the end of year 6, rather than year 7. Again, if he could indicate that he intends to bring forward consultation on the code, that would be very helpful.
Finally, it is clear to me—I have made this case before—that a premature child’s due date should be used for admissions, rather than their birth date. Since my last Adjournment debate on this topic, a team at the University of Bristol has published research that looked at school exam and test results for children born prematurely, from key stage 1 all the way through to GCSEs. The team found that prematurity impacts on educational performance, and the effect is most dramatic in the early years. For those who are born extremely prematurely and fall into the wrong year group the gaps in attainment are even more pronounced.
Many premature children and their parents face challenges and difficulties throughout their lives. The simple change I am asking for could make a massive difference to those children’s educational attainment. The Minister will know that that change is fully supported by Bliss, a fantastic charity that has been working on this issue for a while. I thank Bliss for its campaign, and I hope the Minister will listen to Bliss tonight.
This is the second time that I have been grateful for the opportunity to raise these matters in the House. I think the problems are similar to those I raised last year. I am grateful for the letter the Minister wrote, but am hopeful that he will be able now to confirm the timetable, and say that the consultation will start soon and that he is prepared to accept these changes to the admissions code. I urge him to spell out how, in the interim, he intends to make sure that the postcode lottery resulting from his first letter can be done away with, so that parents making decisions now will have some certainty.
If we are successful tonight and these changes go ahead, we will improve the lives of thousands of children. They will be happier, more confident, more academically successful and more likely to reach their full potential.