When to Start School?
The photo on the left (see FB page as website won’t upload!) shows Rosie on her first day in Year 1 aged 5 and Toby going back to nursery aged 4 for a second year. The photo on the right shows Rosie on her first day in Year 2 and Toby’s first day in school in Reception age 5.
However Toby was supposed to start school when he was 4 - but because he was summer born child he started in Reception a year later when he turned 5.
However the photo of Toby standing is deceiving. Toby had literally just started to walk just a few months earlier and at this point he was still largely crawling around the nursery. He was very much still a baby - not even a toddler.
I had worked with in schools for many years and my job was usually to sit on the table of children who needed extra help. Almost all these children were summer borns. This was partly due to the three term admissions system that was in place back in the 90’s where summer children only got a term of Reception unlike their Autumn born peers who got a whole year.
Then free nursery funding came along and most primary schools realised they could take advantage and across several years most schools started to take in all the 4 year olds who used to be in nursery. This sadly led to the closure of our local fantastic LA nursery. I distinctly remember being in the school classroom as the teachers were preparing the new classroom ready for their first intake of 4 year olds. They were one of the last schools but this was only in 2011 when Toby was a baby. So having 4 year olds in Reception is a fairly recent construct.
I knew 100% that I wanted to delay Toby’s entry to school even without his additional needs. Thankfully we found a very supportive teacher who said she wished more parents of summer borns would delay entry ‘as the outcomes for many would be quite different’.
In 2012 Stefan Richter went to court and successfully argued that his summer born daughter had the right to start school when she turned Compulsory School Age - age 5, not age 4 - and he wanted it to be in Reception, not Year 1.
This was perfect timing for us. In 2013 the government produced the first ‘Guidance on the Admission for Summer Born Children’.
However we had a complicating factor. Toby had a statement of Specisl Educational Needs. This meant we bypassed the usual admissions system and it was for the SEN department to decide. It was a bloody battle of shouting, blackmail, and eventually a chink in the LAs armour caused by a misdirected e-mail, allowed us to finally get Toby a second year in nursery and a start in Reception age 5.
Just to add it shouldn’t have been like this and is much easier now nearly 10 years hence.
That extra year was the difference between Toby staying in mainstream school or moving to special school early. The extra year in nursery consolidated Toby’s walking skills, his other gross motor skills and he really turned from a baby into a toddler who could hold his own in class. Toby kept up with his peers until Year 2 (partly thanks to split year groups) and then as expected the gap started to widen. I’m Year 4 the pandemic hit and everything changed but Toby stayed with mainstream primary for 9 academic years from nursery to Year 6. This year he moves to secondary school age 12 (instead of 11).
All parents have the right to choose whether to send their child to school or whether to educate at home. They also can choose when their child starts school within certain parameters.
Children usually start school at (or have to be educated from) Compulsory School Age (CSA) which has prescribed dates:
For September-December borns this is January 1st.
For January to March borns this is April 1st.
For April to August borns this is September 1st.
For most children this means they start school on the first day of the term after they turn 5.
If you choose to start your child within their normal year of entry to school this is a deferred entry.
Parents can also choose to accept a school place but send their child part time until they become CSA. Parents can choose what part time looks like but it’s best to agree this with school. Most core learning takes place on a morning. Don’t be bullied by schools saying they will decide, especially if you have a particular reason e.g. forest school for wanting a day off school. I think this part time option could be very useful to ease some children into school life.
For summer borns there is a further option. Their CSA start isn’t until the September after they turn 5 - rather than the expected start in the September that they turn 4.
Stefan clarified that a parent can request a Reception start at this point, rather than Year 1. This is a delayed entry to Reception or a CSA start in Reception.
There’s a fabulous Facebook group to assist parents with this process, because you have to be quite specific in your request, and ensure your terminology is correct for your LA. The group is called ‘Flexible Admissions for Summer Borns’. There is a SEND advice group too for children with disabilities.
There are so many rumours still flying around, nearly 10 years hence. Let me quash some of those:
Myth - Your child will have to start in Year 1
Truth - Not if you get a Reception start agreed. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any summer born child start in Year 1.
Myth - Your child will have to miss or move up a year later.
Truth - Toby is proof that this shouldn’t happen. It’s clear in the guidance plus associated statements by Gavin Williamson and Baroness Baron that this should not happen. There is however a process that must be followed.
Myth - We will have to pay for nursery for the second year.
Truth - No - nursery funding is available until the end of the term your child will turn 5 (July for August born).
Myth - Nursery can’t teach my child for an extra year.
Truth - The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Curriculum goes on a continuum from birth to 60 months.
Although there is a cut off on August 31st for year groups a nursery could well have a summer born child born on August 31st and an autumn born child born on September 1st. That is a difference of just one day!!!
Yet the September born will fit the nursery ‘criteria’ and the nursery will be able to meet their needs. The September borns will almost reach 60 months in Nursery. Any good nursery with skilled staff will be able to use the EYFS to extend and stretch an older child. Rosie was a fluent reader by the age of 3 and they simply got her books from school to read.
Myth - My child is doing well academically but struggles emotionally. Nursery say they need to move up or they will be bored.
Truth - See above. Consider moving nursery if they don’t have confidence in their skills but all qualified early years educators to meet the needs of children until 5 or even up to 8. Remember your child’s emotional, social and and mental well being is just as important as academic success. I am a July born and I attribute my lack of self confidence to being very young starting school even though I was top of the class. Rosie is an autumn born and she has so much self confidence even though academically she followed a similar path to me. Emotional needs e.g. tiring easily, needing a nap, being shy or clingy are perfect reasons for a CSA start. They can’t be argued back by school.
Myth - My child will get bullied for being in the wrong year.
Truth - In reality we haven’t seen this across the first ten years. Your child is the eldest which usually brings kudos! Children don’t tend to notice / know. It’s all positives for the child - for self esteem, confidence, ability, cognitive skills, social skills and more.
Myth - My child will go through puberty before everyone else / will be the tallest.
Truth - Be realistic! Puberty happens across years. There are children who start puberty in Years 5/6 but some don’t start until well into secondary school. There’s nothing that says that puberty happens in age order either!
Sat in Toby’s final assembly I marvelled at the range of heights (only because of this question). Toby was nicely in the middle. One child was taller than the teachers at 11 but another was as small as the infants. But honestly…it did not matter!! They were all just Year 6’s!!
Myth - My child will sit SATs / GCSEs early.
Truth - the summer born guidance is clear this shouldn’t happen. Otis your job to educate the school.
Myth - We have to pay for school dinners in Year 2.
Truth - no school dinners go by age group so they remain free. Check the year group your child is registered in and get it changed if necessary.
However milk is not free in Reception for a 5 year old and your child doesn’t have the right to free fruit (but most schools give it).
Myth - Only children with additional needs can have a CSA start in Reception.
Truth - No the provision is there for any child born between April 1st and August 31st. A supporting parental statement should be enough.
Myth - My summer child has started school in Reception. Can we start again next year?
Truth - Yes you can however take advice as you need to request the school restart but because your child is registered in school it takes careful handling. We do hear of children who get to the end Reception and restart at CSA the following year (rather than repeating the year - there’s a technical difference). However the sooner in the year you decide to restart your child the better - it’s easier before school admissions closes. Nursery funding can only be restored (usually) before the school census date in early October.
Myth - My child will only be eligible for 2 years post 16 funding.
Truth - This one is incorrect in the Summer Born Guidance but the DfE have assured us it will not be so. It actually is unlikely to affect most children but is a potential issue for children in Specisl schools who have 3 years of sixth form. However an EHCP runs until 25 and I’ve been assured it is no problem.
The only negative (assuming you address all the above) we can see is that you will have to pay for school transport from the age of 16 ie. Year 11. This is more of an issue for children in special schools or who travel long distances.
For a child with an EHCP things are slightly different. We urge parents to get the summer born start agreed ideally before the EHCP gets to draft format but the specialist SEND group can advise.
The two summer born guidances are here - the LA one is the one we recommend most.
The statement from Baroness Baron is on this page too.
Gavin Williamson’s statement is here:
If you have any more questions please ask!