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Summer babies should not be at school until they are ready

PUBLISHED: 11:21 26 June 2015 | UPDATED: 13:13 26 June 2015

David and Samantha Cameron with their daughter Florence, who was born in August 2010 and stsrts school this year. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

David and Samantha Cameron with their daughter Florence, who was born in August 2010 and stsrts school this year. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Archant

So David Cameron and Samantha are bracing themselves for imminent admission to the especially-stressed parents’ society; the high-octane state reserved exclusively for parents of summer-born children.

The PM and his wife are finding preparing their August-born Florence to start school in September aged just four “challenging”.

Welcome to the club – and welcome to the next angst – guilt-filled months fretting if she is ready for school.

No child who turns four just before the start of the school year is ready for formal education. They still need lots of play, down time and naps.

Plonking little more than toddlers into full-time school with full-on learning from day one, where he or she is expected to sit still, concentrate, focus on formal learning and cope with long assemblies verges on cruel.

They are too young, especially the boys, who just can’t understand what is expected of them and should be tearing around, having fun and learning through play.

And, to make it even more cruel, they sit next to children almost a whole year older, who have had almost a whole year more life, development and learning – which counts for a lot at five – and will probably go on to out-perform them throughout their school career.

Summer-born children get used to being last and not good enough. They are behind in every way – physically, developmentally, academically – and wait all year for their birthdays to catch up with their friends in age, then, as soon as they do, their friends turn a whole year older again.

They miss out on so much.

With hindsight, all of us who had summer babies end up wishing we had done it differently, especially with an older first-term born child.

Evidence is that summer-born children struggle in class with children almost a year older – a year is a lot of development and learning at five.

Autumn-born babies are proven to go on to be the high achieving academically and the best at sport. I wish I had had the gumption to fight the school system and delayed entry for a year.

But I was deterred by the rules that my son would then have to start in Year One where he would not only still be a full year younger, but would have missed a whole year of school and have to compete with the same peers throughout his school career.

Starting in reception class a year later with children just a few weeks younger than them wasn’t an option. It would muddle the neat school age year about, and we can’t have systems mucked up. Considering children as individuals is apparently not in the schools’ remits.

But gutsy other mothers have challenged the system and won the right to keep their children at home for another year and let them start with the following year group.

I feel for parents whose children are still three, with their fourth birthday in the next couple of months, looking to September with dread, knowing their child should really still be at home, playgroup and nursery but have decided to play by the rules.

Schools minister Nick Gibb is to launch a review into start time rules. About time.

I wept buckets in the summer before my younger son started school aged four and two months. The differences between my older December-born son at the same landmark age were immense and it just felt wrong.

Still today he’s sat 23 GCSE exams before he turns 16 as his friends are looking forward to starting driving lessons in less than three months.

Looking back at photographs, he looked like a baby in his school sweatshirt and grey trousers, but, after a few hiccoughs and stand-offs with his fabulous teacher, who made the transition as painless as possible, he survived. But he was nowhere near ready.

If I had the chance today, I would have kept him at home for another year. Parents should have the choice to act in the best interests of their child.

Defenders of the age-old system say going back a year causes all sorts of problems, not least school sports teams where there are strict age groups. If this is the only defence, it is a weak one.

Four and a few weeks is simply too young to be at school and risks a child’s confidence, security and attitude to learning and discipline for the rest of its life. If parents feel it, they must fight for it.

• This is the opinion of Rachel Moore and does not necessarily reflect the views of the EDP.

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