Summer-born children are being forced to start school too early due to unclear admission rules, it has been claimed.
Campaigners have warned that a lack of clarity in the school admissions code has effectively reduced the compulsory school age for babies born in the summer months to four rather than five.
In a new report, the Flexible School Admissions for Summer Born Children campaign group claims that summer babies, who are usually the youngest in their year group, are more likely to face social, emotional and academic challenges.
Current law demands that children in England must be in education from the term after their fifth birthday. But it also allows for pupils to start school earlier, and increasingly pupils begin education at the start of reception year.
As a result of a lack of clarity in the admissions code, schools and local authorities have developed their own policies which make it difficult for a child to start school unless they join reception at age four or Year 1 in the September after their fifth birthday, the report says.
"Essentially, in the process of affording parents the choice of enrolling their four-year-old children in school prior to compulsory school age, the primary education legislation that still says parents can wait until the term after their child turns five has effectively been forsaken," it says.
The group has called on the government to make it easier for parents to choose when their children start school.
Parents who wait until their child is five are usually forced to enrol their child in Year 1, effectively meaning they miss out on the reception year, the report claims.
Report author Pauline Hull said: "We want flexibility for all summer-borns. The ones that are ready for school can start early and those that are not then start at age five."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers union, said that the report doesn’t present the whole picture of parental concerns: "I know that there is a rise in the number of queries from parents who want their reception children to do something different – mainly, though, from parents wanting children to start earlier rather than later.
“Heads and parents are aware of the summer-born issue and there is a lot of data that backs up the problems of possible disadvantage that summer-born children face. But what is interesting is that there seems to be no real consensus overall on reception entry and that is the key point – that different children have different needs, some need to start early, some need to start later."
But a Department for Education spokesperson insisted: “We have changed the School Admissions Code so that it is more flexible for parents of summer-born children, making it easier for them to defer their child’s entry. Parents should also have the flexibility for their children to attend part time until they reach their fifth birthday or request their child enters reception class, rather than Year 1, following their fifth birthday.
“Schools and councils must make this clear in their own admissions arrangements – and we have recently published guidance to reiterate these responsibilities. We are working closely with school admission authorities to make sure that they are acting within the rules and we will not hesitate to intervene where this is not the case.”