The Government's stated policy is to make admission clear and fair. Unfortunately, its technical consultation paper on the organisation of schools does nothing to clear up the disparity of provision between and within local authorities, which results in an autumn-born child being offered nine, or at least eight, terms of primary education at key stage 1 of the national curriculum, while a summer-born child can be offered six, seven, eight or nine terms. This is because the amount of pre-statutory provision offered depends on the policy of the local education authority.
Nor will this necessarily be altered by the Early Years Development Plans, which are in the process of being worked out, since the Department for Education and Employment states in issue one of Early Years Update that "there is no statutory duty on LEAs to provide education for four-year-olds". The onus is placed on parents legally to challenge LEAs if they are unable to find a free place for their child, which could prove to be both costly and lengthy.
The present damage to both children and early years provision, which is being caused by the increasing number of local authorities who are adopting an early-entry policy, needs to be tackled in a way which will be better suited to the children's needs and will be fair and clear.
Why not abolish the policy of having three dates - September 1, January 1 and April 1 - by which children will need to be five years old to be of compulsory school age and replace it with the following concept: all children to have the right to seven years' primary, or pro rata first school, education. This to be preceded by at least one year, and preferably two years, nursery education or other good-quality pre-school provision.
This could be achieved by admitting in the autumn term all those whose fifth birthday occurs in that calendar year. This to be preceded by the offer of two years' of nursery education or other good quality pre-school provision.
As a precursor to this, we should, in 1999, stop the practice of admitting "just fours" into reception classes, while still ensuring that they have nine terms' education at key stage 1, by admitting in the autumn term the summer born who have had their fifth birthday together with the autumn and spring born whose fifth birthday occurs in that academic year. Thereafter, we should move as quickly as possible to the suggestion in the preceding paragraph.
In order to cater for children with special needs we suggest the following: for exceptionally gifted children who are assessed as intellectually, emotionally and socially mature enough, earlier entry should be allowed if the parents want it; for slower developers, entry could be delayed by up to a year if that were thought to be in the child's best interest.
We believe that having a more mature group on entry, who have had good-quality pre-school provision, would not only contribute to the raising of standards in literacy and numeracy, but also in the confidence, self-esteem and social development of our children.
PAT NICHOLAS Honorary secretary Campaign for Equal Access to Primary Education for All (CEAPEA) 1 The Maltings Walkern Stevenage, Hertfordshire