Education: August versus September Birthdays

    Untitled-2As the new school year rolls around, Emma Oliver explores the gap between August and September birthdays

    This September, my youngest daughter Sofia will return to nursery after just turning four. Her friends will begin school. Sofia was born on 1 September, taking her over the school-year entry cut-off day (31 August). Her friends, only a few days older, land in the academic year above. The difference is a matter of hours.

    Their parents mostly envy Sofia and I, concerned for their children beginning school as the youngest in the year. And I completely understand. You see, I have a vested interest in writing this feature. My eldest Esme, now six, entered the world on 29 August. I remember her, only just four years old, beginning Reception and suddenly having to conform to an entire school day, five days a week. For Esme, who had come from three mornings at pre-school and had trouble sitting still, this proved challenging.

    I almost kept her at nursery for another term, but was concerned that holding her back could affect her socially. According to the website, under the ‘month of birth and education’ section, statistically speaking my worries were futile: “September entrants to Reception perform better across the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile than those who enter in January… this is the case regardless of month of birth.” Fortunately, Esme was confident and coped day to day in the school environment. Unfortunately, exhausted, she fell apart at home afterwards.

    The summer versus autumn-birthday scenario has, unsurprisingly, led to a rise in pregnancies planned for the autumn. I spoke to Katie Lyall, a teacher from Surrey and mum to Millie, Rosie and Xanthe. She says, “I succeeded twice in consciously having September babies. Millie was born on 3 September and Rosie on 6 September.

    Emma has experienced the August-September dilemma with her own daughters: Esme’s birthday falls in August and Sofia’s in September

    “As a teacher, I didn’t plan it simply because I knew they’d be the oldest in the year – although I’m aware of its advantage. I did it so as not to disrupt the school year I was teaching. Plus, I knew I’d receive full pay through the summer holidays, before starting maternity leave in the new term.

    “However, I had also seen first hand how difficult it could be for summer-born children; dealing with the transition to five full school days and a stricter routine. Some children are not ready from an emotional or social point of view. They struggle with the independence and maturity expected of them. They often don’t have the language, fine motor or social skills to tackle the challenges facing them in a classroom. Having said this, in my experience, by Key Stage 2 (ages seven to 11), the summer-born babies have caught up hugely.”

    Did you know that Summer born children are not required to start school until a full year after the point at which they could have begun?

    Yes, you probably knew that. But, did you know that they don’t actually have to go straight into Year One? You can get them into reception a year later… it is not widely shouted about, but campaigning for just this is:

    The statistics actually surmise that from Key Stage 4 (when pupils take their GCSEs, aged between 14 and 16) educational progression and life chances for summer-born children could improve. Yes, that’s right, it states that a summer baby’s chances, educationally, only improve after 14. No wonder autumn babies are planned.

    Katie knows she was fortunate conceiving like she did and adds, “Having seen close friends and family struggle to start their families, my advice would be that getting pregnant is far more important than waiting for the right time.” I concur. My babies were not planned and I endured miscarriages between them. It was coincidental that they had the same due date three years apart; and one fell after the school-year entry cut-off day. So we are doing an educational experiment of sorts. But did we need to worry about Esme starting so young?

    Katie thinks that parents of summer-born babies shouldn’t be concerned about the future, but thinks schools should support the children as much as possible at the start. She says, “At Millie’s school, summer-born babies have the flexibility to do half days throughout Reception. Although in another local school, it is frowned upon.”

    Untitled-3So what are your parental rights? If you have a summer-born baby, you can hold them back one term, or one whole school year – which is surely a wonderful opportunity for them to continue playing, exploring and learning for themselves? The catch – they’ll skip Reception.

    But is that so bad? At Esme’s school, Reception is not so much about playing, but about working. I remember when she asked a few weeks in, “Can I go back to nursery now Mummy, it’s more fun?”

    Of course, schools up and down the country vary. Many Reception years have more play-based learning than others. But at such a young age, what is more important?

    Dr Lisa Miller, a child psychologist and author of The Spiritual Child, comments, “Children’s development weakens under pressure from a culture that constantly has them feeling judged and pressured to perform.” She continues, “In the States, where our children begin school at six, we can hold them back for up to six months. The advantage of extra play at this early stage is clear and, in an educational climate like ours, is to be considered a bonus.”

    That said, ironically, how I felt about Esme beginning school at just four, is completely the opposite to how I would be feeling if Sofia was to commence school at just four. I am certain Sofia’s position in the family plays a factor, and that being a second child makes a difference to her developmentally, as well as, to me, emotionally.

    Unfortunately, according to paperwork, statistics and finance, a return to a twice-yearly Reception intake is unlikely. So is changing to a Scandinavian-style system, where more children begin school at age seven, and interestingly end up with equal, if not better, results overall.

    Our system is probably too ingrained and too complicated to ever change. Yet, clearly there is an argument for each child’s case to be looked at individually, and ultimately for the decision to be made by parents, those who know the child best, giving them the final say in whether their little one starts school in the Reception year, at just four, or already five?


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