By Sarah Segrave, Headmistress of Eaton House The Manor Prep School
The vexed educational question of whether children with summer birthdays are disadvantaged by having them is an issue that concerns parents every year, and Headteachers are very often asked this question.
The law states that children who are beginning school must be in education on the prescribed day following their fifth birthday, but it also allows them to start earlier. This means that the majority of children begin Reception at age four.
A September start works well for those nearer to age five, but some might feel that it is too soon for those children born in the summer months, with potential early erosion of confidence at the earliest stage if their progress is compared to the older children.
Children who have summer birthdays have had the least developmental time before they start school. Older children are likely to be more physically adept, with better language skills and a greater capacity to concentrate. Numerous studies demonstrate how this significant time difference leads to a variation in physical and academic performance.
So how can we help, and what do the statistics tell us?
Table of contents:
- Educational planning for children with summer birthdays can be complex
- Statistics on children with summer birthdays
- Choose schools carefully - the best will care
- Helping with developmental skills for children with summer birthdays
- What parents can do to help children who have summer birthdays
- Remember your child is an individual with an individual educational outcome
- Further information
Educational planning for children with summer birthdays can be complex
It is a complex issue how to cater for children with summer birthdays. A government announcement of an intention to give children with summer birthdays the right to start school in Reception at the age of five has been delayed, but an extended childcare provision of up to 30 hours a week free care for three and five-year-olds was implemented. It has not been an entirely smooth ride for eligible parents who may receive the help ‘from the term after your child’s third birthday,’ but it was welcome.
The problem for those with summer birthdays is that it means a great deal more government-funded care for those born in September. This is another inequity.
Statistics on children with summer birthdays
Some of the statistics on children who have summer birthdays can make concerning reading for parents, if they are read as raw data, without the mitigating steps that they can take together with supportive headteachers.
The British Medical Journal
Most concerningly, as far back as August 2003, the British Medical Journal published evidence (based on a study of 10,000 children with summer birthdays) that those born late in the academic year were more likely to develop mental health problems. The outcome of this study was that the BMJ experts asked for a more flexible system. They recommended streaming by age, thereby reducing the likelihood of unrealistic expectations being placed on children.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies
Beyond mental health problems, the outcomes for children with summer birthdays make unhappy reading. In November 2011, the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that August-born children are three times as likely to be ‘below average’ as September-born children.
In addition, a DfE study shows that August-born children are 90 per cent more likely to have been identified with SEN as September-born pupils at the end of KS1, although it is important to note that this gap closes to 25 per cent by the end of KS4.
If these statistics are not enough, children with summer birthdays are also two and a half times more likely to be unhappy and at an increased risk of being bullied.
Russell Group Study
In addition, the statistics seem to reinforce the view that long term educational outcomes are likely to be poorer for these groups, with 20 per cent less likely to be enrolled at a Russell Group university.
Premiership Football Study
A 2005 study of premiership footballers seemed to reinforce this picture. Of 2000 top playing English footballers, 40 per cent were born in September, October or November.
Choose schools carefully - the best will care
For children with summer birthdays, school choice is key. Parents should ask future schools how they cater for summer-born children and be wary of schools that minimise the issue. It is vital that the teachers make allowances for the age of their pupils. There’s a risk that if they don’t, the children will more likely be seen as failing.
Schools should recognise the impact of summer birthdays on confidence and self-esteem – which can have a long-term impact on success at school and beyond. Parents should look for a school with strong pastoral care, where the children are known and noticed. This will help protect against bullying and mental health issues.
The ideal approach is for children with summer birthdays to have separate classes until the end of Pre-Prep or KS1. Eaton House Schools group their youngest children by age, with separate classes for autumn, spring and summer-born children.
This means that the youngest in the year are not being compared unfavourably with older children. Most importantly, it also ensures that the children themselves don’t make those comparisons themselves, which can negatively impact their confidence and their view of themselves as a learner.
Early intervention for children with summer birthdays is important and good schools will be only too happy to help with this. Many of the skills looked for in Reception classes are very developmentally orientated, including listening skills, language skills and fine motor skills.
The early judgements made by the school should and must take age into account. The school should encourage close links with parents about target areas because many of these areas are easily helped by quality play and interactions at home.
What parents can do to help children who have summer birthdays
If you have a summer-born child, there are things that you can do to minimise the educational impact. The first thing to be aware of is that children may need extra support to settle into school. Making an appointment to talk to your nursery about getting school-ready and what you can do to help is a good first step.
Ensure that your child is involved in pre-school activities alongside their true peers so that they learn to socialise on an even playing field. This helps them to build confidence.
We would advise you not to compare your child’s progress or achievements in school with those born much earlier. The difference of, say, 10 months is huge. You wouldn’t expect a child to be able to sit, crawl, walk as well as a baby 10 months older, so it’s unfair to expect the same inf other developmental areas.
Remember that you know your child best. If you don’t think they are ready for school at age just 4, look into alternative arrangements, or plan a delayed start.
Remember your child is an individual with an individual educational outcome
Remember, research shows trends, not individual outcomes. Eaton House Schools is committed to levelling the educational playing field for all summer babies, ensuring that they achieve their maximum potential.
If you are a parent of a newborn infant and would like to come and chat with us for advice and steering on entering the independent school system, do not hesitate to get in touch (details below). We have educated boys for 125 years and girls for over 12 years (with 17 scholarships and an exhibition this year in the Girls’ School), and we are feeders to Westminster, St Paul’s, Eton and a range of top senior schools. By teaching single-sex education with passion and dedication, we, as a group based in Belgravia and Clapham, ensure that every child’s potential is maximised, whether he or she has a summer birthday or not.
We also have a non-selective entry at 4 because we know that certain forms of higher intelligence do not develop until the age of 5. it is therefore not possible to ‘test’ 4-year-olds meaningfully for future potential. We prefer registration from birth, working closely with parents to discover a full range of potential that every child holds within them.
This attention to the individual child’s blossoming and the differentiation of teaching method to get him or her excited to learn, firing on all cylinders, is the mark of what we do at Eaton House. Education is a journey, not a conveyor belt, and summer babies need a little more help from us and a little extra understanding at the point at which they start that journey.
Eaton House Schools - if you are interested in finding out more about our schools for your child, please contact Miss Sam Feilding, Head of Admissions, on 0203 917 5050 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a general enquiry, please contact us at email@example.com.