School admissions authorities have been warned that they should listen to parents’ wishes when deciding upon school admissions for summer-born children.
The comments were made by Liz Truss, minister for education and childcare, during a Parliamentary debate on the issue last week.
A study earlier this year found that a child born in August is 6.4 per cent less likely to get five GCSEs at A* to C than one born in September.
The report, from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), said the problem was purely down to the organisation of the education system, meaning that children born in the summer start school aged up to a year younger than their peers and as a result are tested at a younger age.
It also found that August-born children are 5.4 per cent more likely to have SEN and two per cent less likely to go to university.
They are also more likely to exhibit “significantly poorer” socio-emotional development, have “significantly lower” confidence in their own ability, and engage in risky behaviours such as underage smoking.
Annette Brook MP, who tabled the House of Commons debate last week, said the problem was about “trying to shoehorn individuals into a one-size-fits-all system”.
In July, the Department for Education issued new non-statutory advice stressing that while school admission authorities are “required to provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday, flexibilities exist for children whose parents do not feel they are ready to begin school at this point”.
During the debate, Ms Truss told MPs: “The point about flexibility is important, because all children are different. Some children may benefit from entering year 1 as soon as they reach the compulsory school age, while others would benefit from entering reception.
“It should be the parents who are the primary decision-makers when it comes to deciding which route is most appropriate for their child.”
However, while welcoming the new guidance, Ms Brook said that work still needed to be done to ensure it “makes a difference” with admissions authorities.
She added: “We must have more flexibility in school starting time, and parents need to be empowered and enabled to make the best choices for their child.
“Currently, what is in the best interests of the child can be ignored in favour of slotting everybody into an arbitrary 12-month period.”
Ms Brook also stressed that while parents have the right of appeal over admissions, they lose this if they have been offered any place at the school, even if it is not in the year group they want.
Ms Truss said the guidance needed time to filter through. She added: “We make it absolutely clear that there is no statutory barrier to children being educated outside of their normal year group and that it is unlawful for an admissions authority to have a blanket policy that children are never admitted outside of their normal age group.
“We want to see (admission authorities) being flexible and giving the parents the choice for their five-year-old child of joining reception or year 1.”