September's child must stay down a year

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
Sammy glittenberg is in the top set in maths. His reading and writing levels are above average for his year group. But his school is trying to keep him back a year.

Eight-year-old Sammy was born on September 2. Under the current policy for determining school year-groups, children born before August 31 go into one year, and those born on or after September 1 go into the year below.

Last week, a study published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies triggered a debate on the right age at which children should start school. The study revealed that summer-born children are more likely to do badly in school tests and drop out at age 16 than their autumn-born classmates.

As an autumn-born child, Sammy should be among the oldest children in Year 3. But his mother chose to start him in school a year early, so he is instead the youngest child in Year 4. So far, his scores in English, maths and science have been above the expected levels for his class.

This summer, his mother moved house and attempted to enrol him in Potten End First School, the local primary. But the headteacher insisted that, because Sammy was two days too young for his year group, he should join a younger class and repeat Year 3.

His mother, Lisa-Marie Taylor, said: "I'm really, really upset. How awful for a child to have succeeded at school, and still be kept back a year. Nobody, nobody, nobody has said how Sammy would benefit from this."

The national debate over school-starting ages continued this week, when it was reported that middle-class parents are deliberately timing the birth of their babies to boost their academic chances. They are aiming to conceive autumn babies, who would be among the oldest in their year at school.

But the Institute for Fiscal Studies researchers concluded that test scores should be adjusted to take into account children's age at the time of testing. Alternatively, parents should be given flexibility in deciding when their child starts school.

Potten End is unwilling to consider this. The school has refused to admit Sammy into Year 4, and he has returned to his old primary, 12 miles away.

Jane Senior, Potten End's head, said: "Children in this school are educated within their chronological age groups. It's only under exceptional circumstances, for example if a child has a statement of special needs, that this would not be the case. I don't regard Sammy's case as exceptional circumstances. It's not about test scores. It's just the way it's done."

But Ms Taylor agrees with the Institute for Fiscal Studies researchers. "If parents think their child would do better in the year below, that's also worth doing," she said. "It's a really difficult situation for kids born around this time of year."

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