Summerborns and winterborns

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Astonishingly, on 8th September, the English Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced in Parliament that ‘Children should not start school till they are ready!’

The bad news is: this wasn’t because of a sudden Damascene conversion to the Upstart cause. The good news is: Mr Gibbs insisted English local authorities change their policy on deferment because of Parent Power.

In early-start countries, the youngest children in a class suffer particularly badly and the schoolification of early education in England has now become so intense that, over the last few months, parents of ‘summerborns’ have risen in protest. The Summerborn Children website provided a rallying point for families, who pooled their knowledge and launched a concerted campaign.

Confronted with the evidence that ‘summerborns’ suffer throughout their lifetimes – and a rising tide of popular protest — the government had no choice but to allow parents to defer their children’s school entry if they wish.    

There have since been several articles in the press – including two by Alison Pearson and Suzanne Moore – illustrating typical problems faced by parents of summerborn children.  

hands-403536_1280Let’s hope the triumph of Parent Power in England has knock-on effects in Scotland where, due to a different admission policy it’s the parents of ‘winterborns’ who often find themselves fighting local authority decisions on deferment (see the website Taking Parents Seriously). Watch this space for a blog by a mother who’s finally managed to defer her son’s school starting date, after several months of struggle and anxiety.

Unfortunately, it’s only a small proportion of parents who are informed and committed enough to go through the deferment process. Many children who’ve just turned four – often those most in need developmental support – are still obliged to start school long before they’re ready for formal learning.  

The irony is that, if Victorian politicians hadn’t insisted on children starting school so early, there’d be no need for children and parents to go through these ordeals. In countries where school starts later, the relative age of children in a class isn’t a problem, because an extra year or two in kindergarten makes so much difference in terms of maturity and development.  

The ‘winterborn question’ is yet another reason why Scotland needs a kindergarten stage for three- to seven-year-olds.

Sue Palmer    

   

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