In the news this week has been a story highlighting the dilemma faced by parents of “summer babies” and school start dates.

A child is not legally required to go to school until they are five, but some parents who have delayed their summer-born child starting school have then been told they will have to skip a year and lose a whole year’s education.

Young children

Parents of summer-born children are to be given the right to delay their child’s education for a year, with the reassurance that they will not then be forced to skip a year to catch up with their peers.

The schools minister Nick Gibb said admissions rules would be changed so children born between 1 April and 31 August would be allowed to go into reception a year later if their parents felt they were not ready for school.

I have two children, a summer baby, born mid July and one born in the first week of September. Both started school in their natural school year, my daughter just 4 years and 1 month, my son 5 years old.

Research shows that children born in the summer tend to perform worse academically than those born in the autumn. An Institute for Fiscal Studies report found that the differences were largest soon after children start school, but the gap remained up to GCSEs.

Relative to children born in September, children born in August are 6.4 percentage points less likely to achieve five GCSEs or equivalent at grades A*–C and are around two percentage points less likely to go to university at age 18 or 19.

My experiences were very different. We had a wonderful reception teacher, wise, experienced, knowledgeable and excellent. However we noticed our daughter’s age was always mentioned, “she’s doing well despite being a young one” “we’re starting the older one’s on the initial reading stages, we’ll then move onto the younger ones” We nipped this in the bud, arranged a meeting and tried to find out what the teacher needed to see before moving our daughter on to the reading, When told, we then though she met the criteria and asked the teacher to decide if she was ready. Lo and behold she was, was then moved forward. We were lucky, a great experienced professional who wasn’t too naive not to listen to a parent’s concerns. Our daughter flourished and by the end of the year was one of the more academic students (despite her age!) However,as she moved through the school, her age was always mentioned, as if they were making our daughter fit their expectations of age. One parent’s evening in year 3 was typical. We queried her writing grade, no movement in the year. Her teacher read out the assessed piece, then said something like “Ooh, if that was written by a year 5 I would give it a 4a, but as she’s a Year 3 and a young one, I’ll keep her as a 2b” We were amazed! But it allowed the school to reinforce the perception they had of younger pupils!

With our son we waited patiently to be told that he was doing well but only because he was the oldest! His experience was totally different. The first to be allowed to read, the register monitor, Joseph in the school play, all because of his age! But his confidence and self esteem flourished, whereas our daughter…. well you can imagine what would have happened if her Year 3 teacher had told her she was producing work the standard of a great Year 5 student.

I did agree that age affected their emotional maturity, but I could never get a teacher to explain why my daughter’s age was an issue despite having the same number of years experience as all her classmates, they had all been taught the same things.

Despite this grade gap, 6% at age 16 can be important, not all experts agree that changing the rules of start dates will truly help.

Our son was born almost 3 weeks late, he was supposed to be a summer baby. Him being late by a few days meant he started a whole year later. We were lucky, we could afford nursery fees, ran our own business to be flexible about when we worked when we didn’t. Many people don’t have this advantage, need a second wage, or allow one parent to work more hours, or to save on child minding costs.