In a parliamentary debate on school starting age on Wednesday, Truss told MPs the DfE is concerned about the large number of cases it is being contacted about of councils not allowing parents of summer-born children to defer their child’s start in reception until they turn five.
She said: “We are concerned about the level of correspondence that we are having on this issue and the level of complaints about it.”
Truss said new government guidance for local authorities and schools on the issue, published in July, makes clear that they have a responsibility to parents to ensure a child aged five can start school at the level that best meets their needs.
She added: “We have a working group on admissions which is monitoring this issue. As a department we will be monitoring any complaints made by parents and following up to ensure our guidance is being adhered to.
“We are absolutely clear that parents should be able to say to a school, ‘We want our child, who is aged five, to enter reception’ if they feel it is in the best interests of their child. That is what we will be following up on with local authorities and schools.”
The minister said the DfE would collect evidence to assess the impact of the new guidance before deciding whether it was necessary to issue councils and schools with further advice.
The debate was called by Liberal Democrat MP Annette Brooke in light of research published earlier this year from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which showed August-born and preterm children performed significantly worse at GCSEs than children born earlier in the school year.
Brooke welcomed the recent government guidance but warned that it did not allow parents to appeal to an independent admissions panel if their five-year-old child had been offered a place in year 1 when they applied for a reception class place.
She added: “Parents may make a complaint, but the advice states that they cannot appeal. Surely, there should be a right of appeal. It seems to me that although there may be no statutory barrier to a child being admitted to a particular year group, there is no statutory right. That means that although some authorities work to help and support parents, others can continue to make it extremely difficult for parents to exercise a justified choice.”
Brooke said that she had also been made aware that “several” London local education authorities' admissions policies were not conforming to the new guidance.