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Should We Let Summer Born Babies Start School Later?

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There has been a lot of playground talk from mums in the past few weeks about a change in the law in the UK, which would allow summer born babies starting school the right to delay for a year, with the reassurance that they will not then be forced to skip a year to catch up with their peers. Until now, while children legally don’t have to begin education until they have turned five, most children begin the September of the school year in which they will celebrate their fifth birthday. This means that the summer born babies, who don’t turn five until August, usually end up starting the previous September—almost as soon as they have turned four. Children whose parents do choose to delay them starting school usually enter in year one—missing Reception and a whole year of education, which puts them at a disadvantage as soon as they begin.

A lot of parents feel that allowing summer born children to begin school a year later, in Reception, would be beneficial for their education. It has been shown by many experts that summer born children can suffer academically as well as risk being left behind by their peers. They can be almost a whole year younger than some of their classmates, and in children of four and five, a year can make a huge difference in maturity as well as their readiness to begin education.

Starting school is a huge step for parents and children, and if your child is going to be one of the youngest and most likely to struggle, then it can bring more anxiety than normal. A child who has just turned four may not have the concentration skills or verbal abilities needed to navigate all that is required of them in school.

It seems like no matter which route you take, someone will ultimately tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

On the whole I feel that a change in the law would only be a good thing. The UK has one of the earliest school-starting ages in the world, and there are so many studies that show that beginning education early doesn’t automatically mean better results come exam time.  My second daughter is an August baby. For her, this would have meant starting school approximately one week after she turned four years old. This was a huge contributing factor in us deciding to keep her at home and educate her ourselves. While she was bright and talkative and confident, we felt that she was too young to have to cope with all that school would demand of her at such a young age.

Would we have chosen a different route if this option was available to us five years ago? Possibly—I can’t say for certain, but I do think there is a lot to be said for a later school starting age, especially for children who would be the youngest in their year groups.

There would be a whole myriad of benefits to summer born children being allowed to start school a year later. That extra year would allow them more time to develop vital speech and language skills, for a four year old would naturally not be as advanced as a five year old, which would put them at an immediate disadvantage in the classroom.

Such an early start in school is asking more of such a young child than is necessary—I don’t really see any advantage to starting earlier in terms of education, and also in terms of a child’s development. There are other things than going to school that are far more important at this age—things that have nothing to do with intellectual learning or doing homework. 

Although children are “able” to go to school and may even seem to be coping well with it, it takes up energy and concentration that they need in other areas of life. I also think that there are  more important social and physical developments that get cut short when they have to start school so early. 

I can see that there could be disadvantages to a delayed start, though. If your child is already in preschool, delaying a school start could mean being separated from friendship groups. It could possibly make a child feel “left behind” if they don’t move up with all of their friends, which could have an impact on their self-esteem.

image: Getty/Betsie Van Der Meer

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