Is 4 Too Soon To Start School... Should We Have The Chance To Defer?

23 February 2015


If you're the parent of a summer baby, it might have crossed your mind that your little one could well be the youngest in their class, and might well be starting school within weeks of turning four years old. (That's if you live in England, as far as I understand it - it seems things are different in Scotland, and possibly thus also in other parts of the UK.)

But leaving aside the finer details for a moment, the whole question of when a child should start school has been brought into the headlines by a Staffordshire mum, who is taking on her local council over when her four-year-old daughter must start school, and in which class she should begin.


ITV News reports:

The parents of a four-year-old girl from Staffordshire who have delayed her starting school by a year are now at the centre of a row with council bosses.

Olivia Dutton was born in August and guidance, updated last year by the Department for Education, allows children with birthdays between April 1 and August 31 to start reception either part-time when they are four, or delay their start until the September after they have turned five.

However, although many schools and local authorities are allowing summer-born children to be admitted a year later, they are demanding that they go straight to Year 1 – skipping the reception class all together.

It seems that Olivia's parents would prefer her not to go straight to Year 1 when she does start school, arguing that this will effectively mean that she misses out on a year of her education.

We'd love to hear your views on this - it's something the Playpennies team has hotly debated this afternoon, and we're not all in agreement on the right age for a child to start school.

Some of us are of the view that our own little ones were more than ready for school at the age of four, while others on the team feel that six or even seven is a more appropriate age for a child to start school, based on neuroscience and various pieces of research suggesting that starting school too soon could have a deleterious effect on children. (Check out the Too Much Too Soon campaign for more information on that.)

As one of the team has also pointed out, determining the age at which a child starts school based on their birth date could also mean that babies who are born premature may be at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

Currently schools should consider any application for a child's place at school to be deferred on a case-by-case basis, taking into account whether key developmental factors may affect whether or not a child is ready to start school at four years old.

And while it's not clear what effect Olivia's parents' case might have more widely on when children are expected to start school, it's thought that the outcome could set a precedent, paving the way for other parents to demand that their child's school start be deferred, too, without that meaning that they'll miss a year.

So, what's your view? We'd love to hear it over on our Facebook page.


  • DrMummy
    It's time the system reflected the enormous range of maturity among kids this young by being much more flexible. It isn't fair on summer borns to be forced into formal education before they're ready and it isn't fair on their class mates if they end up taking up too much of their teachers time because they don't have the maturity to be in a classroom.
  • Parentsrights
    I think that parents should have the right to choose. No one knows if the child is ready to start school better than the parent!! Every child is different. They are not a statistic! My eldest daughter is a summer baby so is one of the youngest in her class but she was very ready to start school when she did. My youngest daughter was born in March and starting school when she did was too early for her. Even with the new rules allowing summer babies to start later, she would have just missed that by 1 day. She would have benefited hugely by starting school at a later date. Also, if a child starts later it is unfair to think that they should skip a year and go straight into year 1. It's such a shame the government and councils don't trust the parents to make the right decision for their own child - the most precious thing in their lives!!
  • lauren26
    I think it should be parents choice. I didn't realise you could stop your child starting and had to conform to what was stated. My daughter was a july baby and was advanced and ready to start sxhool and does well to this day where as my son has had speech delay due to only finding out he needed grommets in both ears when he was just over 2yrs old and i am working hard with my sons speech developments which has come on alot in the past year as he didn't say anything for a good 6months after operation. I am scared on how he is going to be judged when he gets to reception as he lacks in his writing development etc. There is also no one who supports my son in nursery with his speech so i feel let down wih no additional support they should offer if they want younger children to start school at 4. I feel my son will not be ready as he isn't very social interative with his peers as hes shy.
  • Surreymez
    Yes I do think that we should have a choice, I have a very young for his age child who has suffered with fluctuating hearing loss due to intermittent glue ear and has a speech & language delay because of it. I can see a obvious difference in his development stage by comparison to his peers at playgrounds. It is very hard to get any momentum for interaction with speech & language professions in my area run by virgin care, and so his progress can be set back easily with cold weather causing him any congestion then glue ear. I genuinely feel concern that he will have to be educated alongside much older & developed peers, when he was already at a disadvantage for being a summer baby.
  • mummatothree
    The legal age to be in school is the term after the term they turn 5. if they moved the cut off for intake to the end of spring term 31 March then the youngest children would be 4years 5months which is nearly half a year older and such a major development in maturity. All children would also be 5 during their reception year. Look at the countries where children do the best - they'd start school at 7!!
  • Brampton
    Regardless of whether this mum believes her child is ready or not the FACT is that the legal starting age for a child is 5, not 4. Therefore under primary law she should be able to start school in reception class which is defined as "an entry level class" at the age of 5. This should not be news this is her LEGAL right. Come on Government man up and honour the rights of our summer borns.
  • Mummycole
    I have a four year old son who is still at pre school, not by my choice. He will be 1 week away from his 5th birthday when he starts infants school, the problem I've had is that the last school year the children he played with were his age but weeks and months other so they started infants school leaving behind my son with the odd few who missed getting in that year, plus the new 3 year olds! Last July befor they broke up for the summer I saw a real change in my son he grew into this little man right infront of me a changed completely from a toddler to a little boy, but when he returned to school I slowly began to see him fall back behind again acting babyish and doing things he never done as a toddler it reAly frustrated me that if he had be born in his due date he would have started school with all his friends at his age level instead he had been brought back, he learnt to spell his name over a year ago but has not furthered that in because the new children of 3 years old and off few young 4 years olds are being taught to spell there I feel he would have progressed a lot more had he been given the choice to start infants two weeks later making him four but with his friends at his age group level! It's all depends if there ready but yes we should be given the choice
  • Enjoychildhood
    As parents we can't have it both ways. Either we are experts on their abilities and aptitudes or we are not. If we are, why are we considering sending them to school rather than supporting them in developing their own skills outside the formal education sector. If we are not, is it reasonable to state that we know best where to put them in the educational system we currently have in the country? You are right Dr Mummy, there is enormous variability in our children, and I suspect a system which has to fit with teaching 30 is likely to leave 15 children at least in the class with poorer education as a result of regression to the mean and seeking to improve those who have most need. It's hard to accept Patentsrights view, that councils don't trust parents to make the right decisions for our children, if at the same time, we believe schools are the experts. Consider keeping the child out a bit longer. Explore parks, trees, flowers with them. Get them to help you with your shopping and reading your shopping list to you. You will be amazed what they can, and do learn
  • amandajking
    My daughter was 4 and so was my son. He sailed through school, hence why I thought she would be ok, totally regret that now as she isn't as matured as the other kids. All parents should have the choice, but not made to feel bad if they hold back. I'm stuck with my regret, and so glad they stuck to their guns!!
  • sjking
    I completely agree with the mother requesting her child start reception a year later. My eldest was not ready to start school age 4 year 4 days old. I would never suggest that all 4 year olds are too young and I would hope that a parent who's child settled into school fine at 4 would not think that was sufficient evidence to suggest all 4 year olds should be ready. There are big differences between children caused by many factors such as genetics, sibling order and gender. Every child should be treated as an individual not a statistic. For us it went about as wrong as it could go. My son started school at compulsory school age of 5 year 4 days old. The LEA refused to acknowledge my sons right to begin reception like all his little friends that he was coming up from nursery with. He was forced straight into a mixed year 1 reception class as a year 1 child on the register. during the first year he was taught with the reception children but was then forced to jump straight into year 2 leaving all his little friends behind. He never settled or coped academically, he always longed to be back in the reception /yr1 class with all his friends. By the time he had been in school 3 years he was becoming depressed and withdrawn, he had not closed the academic gap between him and his class and still choose to play with his friends from the year below after school. When the school received a poor ofsted report they decided to focus a lot of their attention on the SEN children and my son had been lumped into this group. he was kept in many lunchtimes and break times just to try and finish work that he could not complete in the lesson. he was also prevented from doing non OFSTED subjects such as art, science, history etc. so he could spend more time on his maths and english catch up. When he started telling us that he hated himself and wished he wasn't alive anymore we fought the school, governors and LEA for months to allow him to return to the class below where he would have friends galore and be Mr average and happy. The system refused and we were left with no choice but to home educate. Finally our son is returning to the happy confident little boy that we sent to school age 5 but its been a long time coming. He is now doing just fine working on the curriculum that children born 72 hours after him are working on and is enjoying life again. there is a wealth of evidence documenting that forcing a child into school age 4 if they are not ready leads to much higher rates of referrals to mental health services and much hire rates of referral for diagnosis of SEN. Its not like parents are asking for something that has no basis in scientific fact. It is also a common practice in most other developed countries and many other counties of the UK to allow flexibility for children born either side of the term start dates. it has been proven to work just fine and yet a majority of backwards minded LEA's still choose to disregard all this information and guidance sent direct from the DFE and continue to refuse children who need it the time to mature. On another note, many councils still apply the same admissions criteria to children born prematurely. To my mind it should always be the case that admissions are based on due date not birth date. its just madness that some parents are having to fight to prevent their child beginning reception when they are developmentally still 3! It just all needs tidying up so that every LEA in the country used common sense when making decisions that so fundamentally effect a childs life.
  • leanne525
    My son is 4 at the end of october, so will be nearly 5 when he starts school, but i feel he needs to start school before then. He already goes to pre-school 3 mornings a week and loves learning.
  • Parent
    I have a summer born son and he also has SEN. He wasn't ready to start school just after his 4th birthday and I wish I could have deferred him till the following year. School and LA said I could defer him but he would have gone straight into Year 1. He started school at aged 4 and is now Year 4, the youngest in his class and struggling academacially, he is working at a Level 1a. Which means that he is 2 years and 4 months behind his peers and he hates the fact that he is behind and that he is different. He would be better placed in Year 3 or even been held back so that his academics can be reassessed. I hate the fact that the LA and schools are saying 'NO' to parents. We clearly had exceptional circumstances and they still refused

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.

Your comment