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Fit the system to suit the children

IT WAS so gratifying to read Cathy Byrne's Talkback challenge to primary headteachers to raise achievement by manipulating admissions policies (TES, December 24). "I wish!" I hear echoing around the land.

The lottery of autumn-born versus summer-born initiation into education has long been an issue for headteachers. As a teacher concerned with special needs, I have stood on Cathy's soapbox many times and can anticipate all the counter arguments.

There is another dimension I would like to add. Advances in medical science have led to huge improvements in birth survival and premature infants with exceptionally low birthweights now routinely survive. Some of these children are born three months before their "due" date - a "term" in educational parlance.

When a child is born a whole term before its peers and that happens to be the summer term, he or she willenter school an entire year too soon. Fixing the arbitrary time of five years would seem even less appropriate for these children. So far, however, no one has suggested that schools should take this factor into account.

I would like to see this researched fully. Is there a growing number of such children joining those with special needs? Is their early experience of school less successful than other children's? Do they have a higher incidence of diminished self-esteem, failure to adjust to the school? Common sense would suggest a correlation is likely.

The question that needs to be asked is essentially a moral one: "Is our school system there to meet the needs of our children, or are our children required to fit into the prepared educational structures which serve society?"

Gwilym Scourfield

Learning support teacher


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