My opinion on changes to English and Welsh school admissions policy
- Parents of summer born children given right to start school a year later than autumnal peers;
- Policy seen as boost for children born between April and August.
It has often been said that children born on the 31 August one year is at a disadvantage with peers born at the end of the previous year. Or one on the 01 September the previous year.
Proposed changes to school admissions policy, announced by Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP, have formed part of an open letter sent to LEAs, Academies and Free Schools. Throughout England and Wales, a consultation period has been mooted.
At present, parents can defer their child’s start date at school, though lose a year’s education in doing so. New proposals could allow children to start at the age of six and join reception classes at five years of age.
I joined reception classes three months after turning four years old. Attendance was either on a morning or afternoon basis to begin with, offering a transition to compulsory schooling. Before then I attended a local playgroup, where attendance was either morning or afternoon.
On starting compulsory school in September 1984, I was in a bottom infants class before joining the SEN unit in January 1985. The transition was a bit of a shock, but I didn’t get to run around the school corridors. The SEN unit was in a semi autonomous building; the rest of the classrooms, in open-plan bays which could be shut off with curtains.
At junior level and comprehensive school, September starts; at Bay 8 (Yew Tree Community School’s SEN unit for infant pupils) and Ewing School, January starts.
For me, a January start seemed better. To my autie logic, it seemed right being as New Year’s Day falls on the 01 January rather than the 01 September. The summer holidays, to me, more like the half way point of a school year than a gap between the old and new academic years.
The Perils of Being a Post-Fall Scholar
(Please excuse the Americanism, it scans better than ‘autumn’. Really, it does.)
Looking back now, I have noticed some differences with ‘Autumn Children’ and ‘Summer Children’ in terms of attainment and exam results. One thing I could recall from my form was some differences in GCSE results. Most of the people in my form with A* to C grades were born before the 01 April 1979. The difference most marked with male classmates.
Before I left school in 1995, my form was evenly split between ‘Summer Children’ and ‘Autumn Children’. At one end, a fellow pupil who sat with me in my first year was born on the 01 September. At the other, the youngest pupil was born in late August. Which in my class meant 1978 and 1979. Almost a year apart, though both the youngest and eldest classmates in my form started in September 1990.
At the school I attended before then (the late great and most legendary Ewing School in West Didsbury), the fellow classmates with greater speech and language difficulties, seemed to have been born after… April of any given year. In the First Group, some were a year older or younger than I was, again depending on the severity of their impairments.
In my class of 15 with four teachers, the eldest was born in March 1979; the youngest, January 1981 with a short stay. I was one of the eldest in June 1989 with most of the class at the time born between 1980 and 1981.
During my three years and seven months at the Ewing School, I thrived. Throughout my classes in the First Group and the Middle Group, the gap wasn’t as perverse than at comprehensive school. That I put down to starting in January instead of September.
In Australia, the school year begins in January rather than September. Which, temperature wise, is akin to September in the United Kingdom. Again, Autumn Children and Winter Children are at an advantage.
Why haven’t we considered a two-stage approach to start dates, giving schoolchildren an equal chance? From my past experience, I benefited from January start days compared with September ones? Therefore, in England and Wales, a school with four form entry could:
- Have two forms starting in September (children born from 01 September to 31 March the following year);
- Another two forms starting in January (children born from 01 April to the 31 August within the same year).
After being in primary school with two forms a year starting, the jump from two to four new forms can be daunting for new starters.
The one flaw with having two forms starting in September and another two the following January, could be the timing of exam results and public examinations. Traditionally, GCSE exams have been held in May and June, which is near the close of the academic year. GCSE Exam results, always the third Thursday in August.
If we were to stagger GCSE examinations, this could mean September and October for our summer children. The six week holidays could be their Study Leave. Exam results could arrive in December or on August the following year.
Staggering start dates could also:
- Ease pressure on the labour market, which sees a rush of activity in the late summer months. This could reduce competition for apprenticeships and entry level employment;
- Reduce the impact of the school run: staggering start dates could see a more gradual transition from school holiday traffic flows to schoolday traffic flows, peaking between January and April;
- Allow school leavers to start vocational courses in the winter months: it is the norm for English and Welsh Further Education colleges to have winter start dates as well as September start dates for vocational courses;
- Mean two lots of Back To School sales periods: though many households may be content to purchase uniforms in August as a ‘Back to School’ season in the run-up to Christmas would be too pocket pummelling.
In addition to the above, I suggest that Gifted and Talented Summer Children could be given a chance to finish at the same dates of their autumnal born peers.
Though FE courses also have January starts as well as September starts, universities could fall in line allowing undergraduates to commence studies in January as well as late September or early October. Doing so would mean a need for expanded FE and HE provision. In other words, more jobs for the construction industry, lecturers and service industries.
A welcome change?
The original proposal suggested by Mr. Gibb favours the deferration of the start date by a year. Which, if effected under Thatcher or Major, would have meant yours truly starting All Saints in September 1991 and another year at the Ewing School.
I think one year is too great a duration to defer one child’s attendance. Three months I think should be the longest, and that choice should be down to parents. A year’s deferrence could be counterproductive to peer relationships and pretty confusing for school sports days.
Most importantly, Gifted and Talented Summer Children should also have the option to continue their studies at the same rate as their autumn peers.
We await feedback and further developments from Mr Gibb’s consultation. One thing we must be mindful of, is that any changes suggested by him (and my own ideas) ought to be consulted with the teaching unions, teaching staff and ancillary staff as well as parents. A January start for some may raise alarm bells over changes to school holidays. When I attended school, September and January starters still had their holidays at the same times.
If I had a Summer Child, I would be happy with starting him and her in January. This more to do with my experiences at Bay 8 and Ewing School. Even in my later years, it still seemed the done thing for me to start a new job in January rather than September.
S.V., 09 September 2015.