The UK government has declined to make a decision on proposals which would allow summer-born five year olds to start in Reception instead of Year 1, citing a lack of data and information on the policy.
Nick Gibb, the Minister for Education, also raised concerns about the financial cost of the policy further up the education system, for early years and post- 16 education providers. Gibb said:
“In particular, we have carried out work on the likely cost of full implementation. First indications show that the costs are high. These are, however, based on a limited amount of information on why parents might choose to defer their summer-born child’s admission to school.”
As reported by Schools Week, Gibb told a session of MPs on Monday that whilst he understood the frustrations of parents, who had pushed for the policy to be implemented, it was “important” to consider how the policy would be implemented.
During the session, a conflict of considerations emerged, emphasised by the MP for Wimbledon, Stephen Hammond. Hammond highlighted that summer-born five year olds are disproportionately disadvantaged in their development, compared to their older peers in Year 1. Citing the government’s own research and his discussions with experts, Hammond noted that:
“Children who are 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.”
Elsewhere, The Telegraph reported frustration by Conservative MPs at the delay. Tim Loughton, the former education minister said:
“Isn’t this just taking too long and another year has been missed for those children starting school in September of this year.”
As reasoning for the government taking its time on the decision, Gibb also spoke of the possibility of such a policy allowing some parents “an unfair advantage” in the school admissions process, giving parents who defer Year 1 places, two opportunities to apply to their preferred school. The current system only allows for one such application.
Parents are already entitled to apply to councils for a deferral of Year 1, following government changes to the admissions code in 2014, which allow for a decision that is in the best interest of individual children. However, Gibb acknowledged that these changes were not always heeded by local councils. He did not give any further details as to when a decision might be reached.