Unready at four, ready at seven


Guest blog by a parent who found out about deferral the hard way

My son has always been a great talker and confident so – although he was born in December and only four when due to start school –  we assumed he’d be ready for it. He wasn’t, and we faced huge resistance in doing what was best for him. So much so that we wrote a blog to make other parents aware of their rights in relation to deferral.

When we filled in our little boy’s school form in December 2012, he showed no signs of wanting to read or write, but we assumed it would come. The nursery assured us he would be ready by August. However, as summer arrived and he was actively resisting any efforts to put pen to paper, we became increasingly concerned.

He attended a sports activity club over the summer holidays and we were shocked to hear his behaviour was causing concern. He was running into other children, was overly physical and was touching, pushing and attempting to lick or bite. He was shouting out, unable or unwilling to stand still, rolling around, crawling around. He found it difficult to follow three step instructions.

Our son is a sweet, gentle boy, and we had never had feedback like this from anyone. On reflection, the school nursery was free-play and this was the first time he had had to follow activity instructions for four hours, and do many things he didn’t want to do. We now see he lacked the emotional maturity, the resilience and the motor skills.

Although it was July, we decided to defer him and arranged a meeting with school, in August. We assumed that, with all the evidence we had provided showing he wasn’t ready for school, that even a last-minute deferral would not be a problem. After all, how can every child’s school readiness be accurately predicted nine months in advance? But the school told us that the nursery was full, and purely on that basis, we decided to try him at school. We were reluctant to put him into another nursery, away from his friends, difficult to get to.

kids-1005842_1920He didn’t take well to school. He had frequent tantrums in the mornings and had to be carried into the building. He was very reluctant to do homework, squirmed and couldn’t sit still. He was “reading” the books from memory because when the words were written on paper, he couldn’t read them. He got frustrated and angry. He began hitting his friends, something he’d never done before. He refused to show off his Learner’s Journal to an aunt in October, saying: “I’m hiding it. It’s rubbish.” This sweet little boy, bright and talkative, was already so aware that he lagged behind others, that he felt badly about his work. He still wasn’t even five.  I felt we were losing him, that his personality was changing.

However, he was apparently behaving well in school. They didn’t recognise the issues and so refused to accept what was happening at home. We now believe that he was doing his best to behave in school but all the pent-up frustration and anger was coming out at home. A common phenomenon, but ignored by them. As a teacher myself, I know this well.

We decided in the November to remove him from school and return him to the nursery. We were again told the nursery was full – except we had managed to find out that it wasn’t -. It never had been. The school and council tried to reassure us over the next two months that they would meet his needs in school and that he would receive additional outside help if required. They told us our only option was to keep him in school or to home educate, that returning him to nursery was not an option. However we were still convinced that a return to the nursery setting, where his best friends still were, that he continued to attend for wraparound, with the emphasis on play and lack of formal learning, was in his best interests. We had a complete difference of opinion from the school and council, and each side was determined to get its own way.

We finally withdrew him from school in late January, against the wishes of the school and council. We were threatened with legal action, and were denied a nursery place or even the chance to pay for wraparound care within the nursery during school hours. After a five week stand-off, he was granted the nursery place, but the council began to insist we had never been told the nursery was full.

sapling-1038840_1920Within a couple of days of leaving school and going to a childminder, our son’s behaviour at home dramatically improved. The tantrums were now a couple a fortnight, not several per week. The hitting stopped. He was clearly relieved not to have to read or write. He fitted back into nursery very well, and within a few weeks, it was as if he had never been a school child. His personality returned. I said to my husband, “It feels like we’ve got him back.” We had been expecting longer-term benefits by removing him from school. Neither of us had looked for such an instant improvement, especially since in January, he had shown some signs of beginning to settle better at school, and in the end, our decision to remove him had been a marginal one.

When he re-started Primary 1 (at a different school) aged 5 years 8 months, he still wasn’t keen to do reading and writing, but there was a marked improvement on the year before. There wasn’t the same reluctance to do homework. His progress was much better, and in line with what we would expect. His PIPS scores were far higher. He was more confident, and not so small compared to the other pupils. He was a normal P1. But I would have started him later, if I could, because he would have been perfectly happy not to be in school. The lack of desire to read, the happiness and absorption when playing, the desire to be out climbing, all told me he could easily have waited longer. He still fairly often said he didn’t like school.

He is now in P2, and in early October we noticed a further change in him. He now voluntarily tries to read when he doesn’t have to. I caught him trying to read one night at 11pm and was just so delighted he was reading that I couldn’t give him a row. He enjoys the formal side of learning in a way he didn’t before. His teacher noticed this too, and said his writing has recently got smaller, showing better fine motor control. It’s not a coincidence that he is approaching his seventh birthday.

parent-929940_1920aI am so grateful, to ourselves I guess, that we took the action we did. However, I wonder if starting school aged five rather than seven means he is less likely to enjoy reading when he is 11, or have lower comprehension skills, as studies suggest. He’s a sensitive wee boy and I wonder if his long-term resilience and emotional stability would have been better served by a later start. I would rather he had been begging to learn to read. But we did everything we could, and his current school is fantastic.

My overall experience is of a system weighted in favour of schools and, more importantly, in favour of councils. Many councils appear to have a policy against deferral. Each deferral means the council has to fund an additional year of nursery A place comes in at approx. £1,700 per child.

Parents who want to defer, particularly for children older than January-births, are fighting against the system. In our case, we weren’t even fighting with accurate information – we were repeatedly told things that weren’t true. Policy appears to trump individual considerations, to the point where parents are sidelined and ignored. If parents disagree and insist on taking their own decision, they are labelled as “difficult.”

My guess is that many parents of August-December children don’t even know that deferral is a serious option and a legal right. It is only the additional year of nursery which is discretionary. Even if they do, it’s wrong that councils can deny them a nursery place and thereby force their child into school. It’s wrong that if a child is denied a nursery place, then they are denied continuity, with their friends, even where nurseries have space. It’s wrong that some people can afford to defer, but others can’t. It’s wrong that school nursery staff are not free to tell parents their professional opinion that deferral would be in the best interests of their child. It’s wrong that headteachers and school staff are told by council staff what they can tell parents and what they can’t.

lego-932781_1920When your child’s nursery teacher says your child is ready for school, how do you know that is their honest opinion? Are they free to say what they think? How do you know it’s not what they’ve been told to say, whether to save money or because there’s a shortage of nursery spaces or because “policy”? How do you know school is in your child’s best interests? How do you know they are likely to thrive and not just “cope”? Will the system treat your child like an individual?



  • I don’t understand why the local authorities and school are so against giving children some time to mature and get better prepared for more formal learning. The in 3/4 of the world children start to read and write at 6/7 and get better results by the end if primary and into secondary education. What is this obsession with “early intervention” is doing for majority of kids apart from increase in mental issues?

  • I wished I had read this article three years ago as my child had similar issues. Unfortunately I was not aware of procedures.

  • Ann-Marie Monaghan

    This story really resonates with me. All this pressure on young children when all they should be doing is playing and developing socially and emotionally. We are definitely not getting it right for every child in Scotland- I say this as a teacher and a mother.

  • Our daughter turned 5 on Boxing Day and even as a teacher and a mother, knowing I would 100% be doing the right thing by deferring her, I wobbled over what was best last summer. Thank the lord, I came to my senses and stuck with the original plan of deferring her, but I can totally see how hard it must be for parents with less knowledge of the system and pressures from the nursery/school. We had to fight for funding for her deferral year: having been turned down, we then appealed the decision and using a lot of educational research, and background of our daughter (she was 6 weeks pre, though fortunately doesn’t have any lasting effects), won our appeal. I hope this campaign will help others do the same.

    • Lydney, do you have links for any research. We have decided to defer our son who turned 4 In November and are having to make a case for funding at his school nursery next year. More research to back up what we are saying would be really helpful.

  • Thankfully my son has a January birthday and with the support of his Montessori nursery we were able to defer his start before Primary one. He started primary one at age five and seven months and is the oldest in his class. He will turn six before some of his classmates turn five. Some mothers have asked me in the school playground why did I delay his start to school? I hope this campaign can reach as many parents of young children as possible and reassure parents that it is a huge advantage starting school later and not a disadvantage.

    Although, I am very grateful that my son was able to start school a year later (as I feel it would have been traumatic for him to start earlier) he isn’t happy to go to school. He wants to stay at home and play. Getting ready for school is stressful and persuading him to do homework is tiresome and often feels cruel.

  • As an EYP (early years proffesional) and former Montessori teacher, whose children went to Danish pre-schools (prior to starting at international school aged 5) and who currently lives and works in Norway I fully concur with the idea that formal schooling should not start in Reception at the age of 4. Research is abundant and clear that children under the age of 7 cannot cope with an overly academic environment, but our teaching colleges, schools and ultimately the DoE (or Scottish equivalent) turn a blind eye, and insist on measuring outcomes at age 4-5 that are irrelevant to understanding the individual child and their development. What use is it if a child can read at the age of 4 but not participate in a game that requires turn-taking skills?

    A word of caution though, not all is rosy in the garden of scandinavian pre-school education! As with any system it is dependent upon well trained, motivated pedagogues and managers who have a decent budget to work with! Here, for example, they have difficulty filling posts as the job is neither well-paid not seen as a good career choice for many reasons. I wish the campaign all the best though – the current system fails far too many.

    • Having had children experience the Norwegian education system I am really starting to think that the drive here to get children into school early is about politics and very little to do with children. If our leaders in Holyrood or London believed in a good start for all children it wouldn’t take too much effort or imagination to change the system.
      Having recently retired as a teacher I made it my business to share with lrispective parents their right to defer.

  • I have 2 boys, my eldest is November birthday and youngest Dec birthday. I am fortunate enough to live within a council where the birth dates to apply to school were narrower. I.e. If he wasn’t 5 before the start of summer term mid August then we did not need to apply for school which meant we didn’t have to go through the deferral process. I have a sense that this was easier because he is in a private nursery. I do wonder if he was in state nursery if I would of come up against more resistance. People tell me now “oh he is more than ready for school” I am still not convinced and it is purely from a social and emotional perspective. Even though the nursery he is attending is outdoors based sometimes the feedback is that he is not interested in pencil holding etc my response is that is ok and leave him too his play, please do not force him! He doesn’t need to hold a pencil to learn!!!

  • It is great to see this dialogue going on. Whilst I realise everyone has different experiences it is disappointing to see such a negative feeling towards local authority Nursery. I have been a Nursery teacher for 25 years and in that time have been directly involved in preparing deferred entry requests for well over a hundred children. As professionals our first responsibility is to the children and I would never hesitate in advising parents of their options and of offering support to them at this time. In fact I find the bigger concern is the pressure that parents and their family and friends put on themselves (and their children) to get the children to school as soon as they possibly can. I would be a rich person if I had a pound for every time I am told ‘oh but he can write his name’ and ‘all his friends are going to school’. The reality is you are not ‘holding your child back’, you are giving your child the best possible start to the rest of their life.

    • Hi Fiona,
      I’m sure there are many parents who ignore the advice to defer. However, I also wish all council nursery staff were as honest as you, with integrity to share their honest opinions. I am hearing various stories that suggest not all staff have this freedom. My husband and I were without doubt deliberately misled by school staff to deny us our rights in relation to deferral and I’m currently pursuing a complaint on the matter. I don’t know if it’s because of a shortage of places, or because each deferral with a funded nursery place costs the council approx. £1,700. There is a clear conflict of interest between the councils’ interest in saving money and places, and the best interests of individual children in being deferred with continuity of care in nursery. See https://takingparentsseriously.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/more-four-years-olds-starting-school-and-huge-differences-across-scotland/ for a detailed article showing that deferral is decreasing, and councils are saving a significant sum of money.

  • Excellent post.Never knew this, appreciate it for letting me

  • There is so much wrong with our education system it is hard to find where to start. Why can’t we accept children are always ready to learn but formal education should not start until 7 . There is much to learn before sitting with pencil and paper! Why can’t we follow successful countries like Finland! As for nursery education when you work well council’s don’t make that easy either and working parents often end up self funding as they cannot get the hours required at times required and there seems to be no way of utilising National govt funds between Councils or is this something else which can be done but is resisted ?

    • Councils should have arrangements so that the council where the child’s lives will reimburse the one where they go to nursery. Some are more flexible than others. I heard anecdotally for example that West Lothian just don’t do it. Why not follow takingparentsseriously.wordpress.com on Facebook?

  • Although I considered delaying my son’s entry to school because I felt he was too young, he was ready. I wanted him to continue to learn through play, explore and experience the outside environment as well as the inside. He was excited and happy to start school with his friends. He was eager to learn. We did a part time intake and he is now full time. He reads beautifully and writes happily. We certainly don’t do homework. I totally support any parent who feels their child is not ready.

  • He was 4 on 23rd August! So started school having just turned 4.

  • My daughter is 4 in Jan and still isn’t in nursery. She attends a childminder who has an excellent approach to teaching children without them realising. My daughter can write her own name,recognises some letters,count to ten and her language skills are excellent,but I have no intention of putting her to school in August. The plan at the moment is to put her to nursery part time after the summer so she can get used to the building and get to know who she’ll be at school with. People often ask me if she goes to nursery now and I get funny looks when I say no,but she’s my daughter and I’ll do what I think is right for her. Our children are only young once and they are a long time in education,in my opinion going to school at five and a half will be soon enough.

  • I am glad to read it now before I have children. Surely bookmarked it.

  • I’meant facing a similar issues. My wee boy is December born. With the school and him not coping has been a roller coaster. I have started losing hair andi feeling very edgy having to attend appointments and comment on why my boy is not coping. He now attends a couple of hours at the nursery and school which might not necessarily help the situation. I feel totally broken and want to help my boy access the curriculum effectively.

    • Stacie, can you post an email or phone number? Or message me via the Taking Parents Seriously Facebook page? If you want me to try and help you.

  • This was really interesting reading. My little boy is a third of the way through his P1 year, and as i feared from the start is not coping with it, isn’t mature enough – emotionally and mentally, and has a general lack of interest in formal education. He is very aware he is behind in the class, and says it’s because he is ‘no good’, ‘gets things wrong’ or ‘stupid.’ It is very heart breaking to hear your 5 year giving up on education already. He is a September birthday so was told no chance of deferral – i wish i had fought harder. I fear things will only get worse. The school talking about referring him to the school doctor, basically saying we need to change your son so he can be educating in the correct way. I have friends who stay in the Netherlands, you can deffer your children over there by up to 2 years, why not here?

  • How awful! If it were any earlier in the year, I’d suggest removing him from school so that they have to let him into p1 next year. Being September, he didn’t have to start this year. What council area are you? And have you raised the issue of maturity with them? As for the Netherlands, we’re simply not as advanced or forward-thinking as them, sadly, and our children are suffering because of it. If you want to chat more, message me on Facebook on Taking Parents Seriously.

  • My daughter is due to start P1 in August , her birthday is the 2nd September so I could have held off for a year. I felt a lot of pressure not to and filled in the forms. I now regret my actions. Can I do anything about it now?

    • Hi Claire yes you can though you’re now unlikely to get funding and possibly a council nursery place at this stage. Contact Deferral Support Scotland on Facebook, or Upstart who can put you in touch with people who can offer you advice.

  • You’ve been misled by the LA and school and nursery. The law is what you shd pay attention to, not them. Nursery is voluntary. You are legally responsible for your child’s learning. The legal age by which you must decide is Aug after the 5th birthday. Then you delegate the education task to school or you home ed or otherwise. All legal. Do not be bullied. If you feel he is not ready, it is entirely up to you to decide if to home ed for the period till he is, or to home ed for all time (which is what we elected to do).

    • Thanks Lucy, we agree with you.
      Our son did go back to nursery and is now in mid-primary school. Every day I am thankful that we removed him from school so that he could restart the following year. He would categorically not have coped in the older year group – and I suspect his teachers’ lives would all have been much harder too!!
      We decided NOT to home educate for the remainder of his (first) primary 1 because we didn’t want him then forced into P2. We had a few previous months when he was under compulsory school age so, by removing him from formal education, we ensured that he would HAVE to go into p1 the following year.
      We were definitely misled but the council has never been held to account for this.
      The council argued that because he had started school we had to keep him in school (or home educate). Legally that’s utter rubbish, but because the council eventually backed down, the point was sadly never argued in court.
      Their intent was clearly to intimidate us into returning him to the nursery but we are both professionals and both have law degrees and we knew our rights and fought for them.
      Our blogs were written to help others who may not have the same knowledge or skills as we have. It shouldn’t be this hard to do the right thing for your child.
      Unfortunately I’m now hearing cases from all over Scotland where parents are being misled about their rights to defer children. There’s a new Facebook page Deferral Support Scotland that may be of interest.

  • an inspiring story from amazing parents, thanks for post

  • I wish I had seen this post before I enroled my son in school. He’s 4 (5 in January) he’s being in school now for nearly a month and is not happy at all. I was under the impression giving by both the school and the nursery that he was more than ready for school. The school brought in the educational psychologist to see him but the behaviours the school raised are not a massive concern he’s not violent or aggressive in any way just gets upset and crys. His primary 1 class is set up like the nursery so still loads of free play. My son is now telling me he is stupid, no good, silly etc it’s heartbreaking to see him like as he is very clever and has a great knowledge of things he’s particularly interested in, mainly dinosaurs. I’m debating with myself wondering if pulling him out of school now would be better for him

    • If it were me, I honestly would. He was entitled to automatic deferral and I’m sure snow and nurseries can’t guess correctly in every case.
      It’s very quick for him to be displaying such a negative attitude to school and I think if you don’t remove him, you may always wonder if you should have.
      My son, December, was pulled out in the January. We had a couple of weeks with a few comments about missing school, but even during that him his behaviour improved.
      5 years on, removing him was the best decision we ever made.
      Let us know how you get on? And see Deferral Support Scotland on Facebook and @givetimescot on Twitter for some moral support if that would help.

  • Interesting reading as I need to make a choice now for my Feb 2016 baby. I see a completely different side to the information given by nursery and school where they automatically say you should defer all Jan and Feb children. I want to know if my child is ready or not based on him not based on the fab he’s a Feb birthday. As. Jan birthday myself I went st 4 and don’t remember any issues, asked my mum and neither does she. If we believe all Jan and Feb birthdays should
    Defer then why not change the enrolment to show that?

  • My daughter will turn 5 on 2nd of September. I fee strongly that she is not ready for school mentally or emotionally. However, I have enrolled her for school as the nursery she attends has told me phycologists would have to get involved if I deferred her. I want the best possible start for my child as we all do. The nursery has told me under no circumstances will I get funding to continue with her nursery education. Who am I best speaking to to get help with this? I have read some of the blog and about my rights so I understand I am within my rights to defer her.

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