Professor Barry Carpenter, co-founder for the National Forum for Neuroscience in Special Education, said children who are younger than the average school admissions age should be allowed to break their education at any stage – not necessarily when they enter reception class.
His comments follow the Department for Education’s publication of advice for local authorities, schools and parents on the admission of summer born children, which states that schools can decide when to admit children.
The document states: “School admission authorities are required to provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday, but flexibilities exist for children whose parents do not feel they are ready to begin school at this point.
“There is no statutory barrier to children being admitted outside their normal year group.”
Carpenter welcomed the advice but urged schools to allow parents to hold children back at later stages in their education if they felt their child needed more time to mature.
“It’s not just about the cognitive and the academic development, it’s also about the social and emotional development,” said Carpenter.
“The DfE’s advice is best applied at some stage during Key Stage 1. However, some children may go into reception and seem to be ok, but when they move up to year 1 the academic pressures become greater.
“Knowing that some sort of formal testing is on its way in year 2, parents may wish to keep the child back so they can mature.
“I wouldn’t want a blanket rule – it’s about consolidating the correct academic skills in Key Stage 1,” he added.
The DfE advice states that school admissions authorities are responsible for taking decisions related to delaying education.
While it does not include guidance on breaking education once a child has started school, it does confirm it is unlawful for an admissions code to include a blanket policy that says summer-born children who delay starting school to the September after their fifth birthday will automatically be admitted to year 1.
Charity Bliss backed the advice after working with families who had been denied the option of delaying their child’s education.
In one example, a local education authority told the parent of a prematurely born child that if he did not enter school when they wanted him to, he would lose his pre-school place and have to enter directly into year 1 when he did start.
Bliss’s campaigns and policy manager Rebecca Rennison said: “We are very pleased this advice has been published to clarify the current position. It will give both parents and admission authorities much-needed guidance around this important choice for a child.“
In March, a study from the Institute of Education found the youngest children in a school year were far more likely to be considered to have low ability compared to autumn-born pupils.