The schools admissions guidance has been updated to end confusion over when children have to legally start school, and clarifies the difference between when a council has to provide a school place and the right of parents to choose their child's start date.
According to the School Admissions Code a council must make available a place in September following their fourth birthday.
But the guidance stresses that a child does not have to attend school until the first of three "prescribed" days, December 31, March 31 or August 31, that follow their fifth birthday.
The government moved to clarify the position in an attempt to end disagreements between local authorities and parents over the right to defer a child's entry to reception until after their fifth birthday. It followed research by academics showing that summer-born children are more likely to struggle with the demands of school than older peers.
The latest guidance is designed for both parents and councils and encourages councils to support parents who want to enrol their child in reception class more than a year after their fourth birthday – some councils had only allowed children to enter school in year 1 if they deferred their child’s start date by a year.
It calls on councils to be more flexible in decisions on which school year to admit a child and stresses that “it would be unlawful for an admission authority to have a blanket policy which says summer-born children who start school in the September after their fifth birthday will be admitted to year 1” rather than reception.
The guidance adds “there are no statutory barriers to admitting a child of five years to a reception class”.
Factors councils should consider when deciding which year to admit a summer born five-year-old are the impact on the child of entering year one and any delay in their social, emotional or physical development.
Parents are urged to discuss any decision around deferring admission to reception class as soon as possible with schools and their local council. They also have the right to request part-time schooling while their child is four years old.
This latest move by the government follows a spate of complaints by parents of summer-born children against councils for not allowing them to defer their child’s reception class place by a year.
Childcare minister Elizabeth Truss told MPs in a parliamentary debate on school starting age in September last year that council school admissions policies that were subject to complaints would be closely monitored by the Department for Education.
A Local Government Association spokesman said: “This is a welcome clarification of guidance, which will reassure parents that councils will look at each application to defer a child’s entry into reception by a year on a case-by-case basis.”