The Department for Education in England has confirmed that it no longer intends to bring forward legislation to secure the rights of summer born children to enter reception rather than year 1 if they choose to delay starting school until compulsory school age (the term after a child's 5th birthday).

A statement from Baroness Barran, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, explains that the legislation, originally proposed by Nick Gibb in 2015, is no longer needed because DfE research suggests that the current system is working better now than it was when the legislation was originally proposed.

Although schools in England are required to offer a place in reception to all children from the September following their 4th birthday, compulsory school starting age in England is not until the term after a child's 5th birthday. Currently, children born between April and August can legally start primary school in the September after their 5th birthday, but admissions authorities do not have to offer a place in reception. In practice this can mean that summer born children who start school at compulsory school age must go straight into year 1, missing a whole year of education. Even if admissions authorities approve a deferred entry to reception, parents must re-apply on transfer to the next phase of their child's education and run the risk of their child being forced to miss year 7 and enter straight into year 8.

While the statement from Baroness Barran encourages admissions authorities to ensure that children do not miss a year of their education, the decision not to bring forward legislation means that there will continue to be no guarantee that summer born children starting school at compulsory school age will be able to enter reception rather than year 1, or remain with their year group on the transition to the next phase, whether that be middle school or secondary school.

This will be extremely disappointing news for thousands of parents of summer born children. Although Baroness Barran states that almost nine in ten requests for deferral are currently approved, Adoption UK believes that this statistic obscures the realities of a process that is often lengthy, bureaucratic and adversarial.

Adoption UK has heard from families who have secured a reception place for their summer born child only after an initial refusal followed by a time-consuming complaints and appeals process. In some cases, deferred entry to reception has been approved, but not to the school of the parents’ choice and sometimes to schools in another local authority area where admissions authorities appear more open to considering applications.

It is not uncommon for families to be warned that applications to continue their child's education 'out of year' at middle or secondary school may be refused and their child may be forced to miss a whole year of their education on transfer to the next phase. We do not know how many eligible families are put off applying for deferred entry to reception as a result of these warnings. None of these families would be recorded in statistics about the number of requests approved or rejected.

It is likely that inconsistency around the application of the School Admissions Code for summer born children has a disproportionate effect on previously looked after and adopted children. The average age for a child to be adopted is around three years old. These young children have already experienced significant loss and time in the care system before moving to their adoptive or guardianship family, and the majority have experienced abuse and neglect which can result in developmental delays.

Delayed decisions about deferred entry to reception and 'out of year' places at middle and secondary school can leave families in limbo, unable to adequately prepare their children for the next phase of their education. Well-managed transitions are particularly important for care-experienced children who may need extra support due to experiences of traumatic transitions earlier in life.

It is essential that all children, and especially care-experienced children, are given the best opportunity to thrive in their families and to thrive in education. For some, this will mean delaying entering reception until compulsory school age and remaining with a stable cohort of their peers throughout their education journey. Parliament in England is currently in recess, but once the new parliamentary term begins, Adoption UK will be urging the Department for Education to reconsider this decision.

In the meantime, if you are an adoptive parent or special guardian who has considered applying or has applied for deferred entry for a summer born child, or who has been through the process of re-applying on transition to the next phase in the past three years and you would like to share your experiences, please contact Adoption UK’s Education Policy Advisor, Rebecca Brooks.


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