Admissions review won't look at long-promised changes for summer-borns, says DfE

A consultation on changes to school admissions will not propose changes for summer-born children, the Department for Education has said.

Launching a review of how in-year admissions cater for vulnerable pupils today, the DfE said it had not included changes for summer-borns, but remains “committed to making these changes in due course”.

We remain committed to making these changes in due course

The DfE has also said it does not anticipate that children would need to delay their admission “purely as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak”.

The government has been promising since 2015 to change the admissions code to make it easier for summer-born children, those born between April and August, to delay their start at primary school.

Research suggests summer-born children, some of whom are almost a whole year younger than some of their peers when they start in reception, struggle to keep up. Analysis by School Dash in 2018 showed that although although the gap between summer-born children and their peers narrows throughout primary school, it still exists in year six.

Under current rules, parents can request permission from their local authority to have their child start in reception a year later than usual, but it is up to the council to determine the circumstances in which requests are granted.

The government said it remains committed to changing the admissions code “so that summer born children can automatically be admitted to a reception class at the age of five where that is what their parents want, and can remain with the cohort with which they are admitted throughout their education”.

However, the change isn’t included in the latest consultation “because a provision to enable children to remain in a particular cohort goes beyond the remit of the code and therefore requires primary legislation”.

Research published last year found that councils are increasingly open to allowing summer-born pupils to start school later, but parents still face a postcode lottery.

In an update today, the DfE said it was “reassuring that the system is now responding well to this issue”.

“Before 2015, there were a number of concerning cases involving children who had been extremely unwell or were born very prematurely. It seemed clear that their interests would be best served by allowing them to start the reception year at age five, but too often their parents’ requests were dismissed out of hand by admission authorities.

“Such troubling cases now seem to be few and far between, and our research indicates that admission authorities are increasingly flexible when responding to parents’ requests, with almost 9 in 10 being agreed in 2018-19.”

However, despite this “positive trend”, there are “still some cases which seem to give rise to prolonged disputes between parents and the admission authority and some children are still being forced to miss their reception year”.

There is also some evidence that a minority of admission authorities do not fully understand the requirements of the code, the DfE said, adding that it would update guidance for councils this summer.

“We do not intend it to become the norm for summer born children to start school at age 5,” the statement continued.

“Whatever the school starting age, there will always be children who are the youngest in their age group, and most children thrive when admitted to school at age 4. Evidence shows that the youngest children make the fastest progress and that the majority meet the required standard.”

The DfE also said it did not anticipate that children would need to delay their admission “purely as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak”, because schools will be “planning carefully to take the impact of the outbreak into account in their teaching and their support for children”.

But where parents “genuinely believe” that delaying admission is right for their child, the DfE expects admission authorities “to give careful consideration to the age group in which the child’s needs can best be met, and to make sure they get the process right”.