Read All About It: When Should Children Born Prematurely Start School?

Just two nights ago David and I sat talking about how school admissions could be made more flexible for children born prematurely.

We have been told by our LEA that we can apply a year late for Esther and William but that our application will go directly to the bottom of the pile.

We have been told that they can start reception in 2015, according to the date they were due to be born, but that it makes life very difficult for the school and it would be best if we sent them in 2014!

We have been told by the LEA that there would be a problem once our children went to secondary school yet local senior schools have told us that they admit and educate children out of year all the time.

It is possible and it is right for premature children to delay their start in formal education but it is a bloody battle for parents to be able to access their rights and the rights of their child.

We seem to be making headway with the battle for our own children but not all parents are able to have that fight.

We wanted to come up with a rule that worked for everyone but it is so so hard.

I Tweeted and Facebooked a statement and asked for feedback from my friends online.

A child born prematurely should have the option of starting school in the year determined by their full term due date.

We were unsure about the term due date and so tried

A child born prematurely should have the option of starting school in the year determined by their adjusted age.

It was great to get people talking about this as it is something that I feel very passionately about.

Esther and William were born in July 2010 meaning that by their date of birth they should start school this September. They will be just 4 but will still have an adjusted age of 3.

I believe that this is far too young an age for any child to be starting school but particularly a child who was born 13 weeks too soon.

Esther and William were not due to be born until the end of October 2010 and by this date they are not due to start school until September 2015.

I cannot see why a child who spends their third trimester in an incubator rather than in their mother’s womb where they should be should be forced into school a year early.

The problem that we are encountering with the LEA and with schools is that Esther and William are bright children.

They do not have any specific cognitive needs.

But school is about so much more than academic learning and life is about so much more than school.

And something that I feel really strongly about is the fact that had Esther been born on their due date and been bright children, they would not have been told to go to school a year early.

I do not see why my children should lose a year of family time, a year of part time preschool education because they were born prematurely.

Esther and William probably could cope with school this year, if they had to.

They are intelligent and curious and creative.

They love to learn.

But there is much to learn outside of school before they enter the formal education system.

Esther and William go to preschool now but they do not do full days.

We have a flexible arrival time and today I did not take them in until nearly 10am because they were tired and overslept.

They will benefit from another year of part time preschool.

The LEA and schools we have talked to have suggested that Esther and William could start reception in 2014 but attend for just 3 mornings a week.

But why would I want them to do that?

They would immediately be marked out as different from their peers. And if what they need is three mornings of play and learning with a group of children, then surely that is what nursery and preschool are for?

The LEA and schools have suggested that Esther and William could have a care plan and be held back at the end of reception year when all their class mates move up to Year One.

But again, how is that possibly what is best for them?

Esther and William are tiny for their age. They have only been walking for just over a year. They fall over a lot when they try to run. They cannot reach toilets and sinks. William is still in nappies. They cannot dress themselves independently and they are emotionally very young.

They do not need to start school in the next academic year with a special care plan and part time hours different to all their peers.

They need to start school, when they are 5, in accordance with the date they were due, in line with their adjusted age and alongside the children that they currently have the most in common with.

In 2015 Esther and William will be ready for the big wide world of school.

They will have more strength, more stamina and more emotional stability.

They will be able to join in with everything alongside their friends.

It will be the right time.

It will be their time, according to when they were due to be born.

Parents do not want their children to manage at school, to get by, they want them to thrive, to love school, to make friends, be confident, to learn and have fun.

I have written a letter to Esther and William, to explain all of this to them.

Bliss have been talking about this for some time now. Their have been public debates and private battles.

And today it is in all of the papers.

Premature children should start school a year later: Study finds babies born early have 50% more chance of failing at reading and writing

Premature babies more likely to underperform at school, study finds

Premature babies ‘go on to struggle in the classroom’

I am so glad that it is being talked about.

I have had it suggested to me by a Headteacher that I might be trying to delay Esther and William’s school start because Matilda died. The Headteacher thought that my baby dying might have made me over protective of Esther and William.

I am fiercely protective of all my children, always have been, always will be, but I am also a qualified, experienced primary school teacher with a first class honours degree. I know that my children will be better with an extra year at home before starting formal education.

And I know that it is not right for any summer born premature child to lose a year because they were born too soon. To be forced to start school a year early because the third trimester of their development was in an incubator rather than a womb.

This needs to be talked about and I am so glad that today it is everywhere.

Read All About It!

When should children born prematurely start school?

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28 thoughts on “Read All About It: When Should Children Born Prematurely Start School?

  1. I have a huge problem in a sense.

    Joseph was 13 weeks early too. He was due on 7th August 2009. School entrance is determined at 1st September.

    Joseph hasn’t skipped a school year so I didn’t fight. All I’ve fought for is understanding that as a prematurely born child he will need additional consideration.

    In practice this means toiletting, sleepiness, additional support with self care and eating.

    Again he’s fallen asleep at school today. ALL prematurely born children regardless of their due date need additional consideration in an educational setting. Joseph doesn’t fulfill the requirement for a statement, he just needs some assistance and recognition of his prematurity.

    I feel totally let down. Fantastic that doctors saved my baby, but poor show that since discharge I’ve had to fight for every little thing.

    • Kylie, our school did quiet time till Christmas when my daughter started. It was the best thing ever! They had quite a few children falling asleep.

      Unfortunately, they stopped doing it.

      In Hungary, where I’m originally from, they only start school at 6/7 years old. Nursery is compulsory from 4. At nursery they all have an afternoon nap (the very few children who don’t sleep have quiet time.)

  2. I believe 4 is just too young for most children to start school, especially as schools are under-resourced and cannot/do not/will not assist the children with basic needs of feeding, toileting, dressing. They will not even apply suncream. Now I ask how can even a full-term, intelligent and able 4 year old be expected to do all these themselves?!
    4 is too young to be putting this pressure on our children! Full stop.

    My full-term 4 and a half year old daughter struggled and I see the difference even that half year makes. My son, who is an early October baby (actually born over 2 weeks post term) has breezed into school and is so much more ready. He still can’t apply suncream though, nor sometimes dress himself properly.

    Jennie, what you propose- for children to start school according to their adjusted age- is so right! Why don’t you start a petition to the Education Secretary?
    I’m happy to support such a petition.

    As for the Headteacher suggesting that your views may be tainted by loosing Tilda, I find utterly unprofessional of her even to suggest something like that! She has obviously not taken any time to get to know you for who you really are- an educator through and through, a true, passionate professional.

  3. Hi there

    I am a primary school teacher and a father of twins born on 28th August 2010 and so may be able to show some understanding and advice concerning your situation.

    Stats stack up, and have done for decades, to show that summer born, or US/Canadian equivalents, suffer comparatively.

    The best scenario is to have multiple intakes (year groups, sort of) per academic year. In other words, instead of Year 1, you would have 1A and 1B (or more) with each intake starting 6 months apart, and having two school year finishing dates. This would mitigate issues by 50%.

    It will never happen, of course, so what can we do?

    Of course, catering to the needs of August borns will mean that July becomes the new August. But that is no comfort to an August born parent. You do what you can for your child (in a selfish sort of way). If we are are going to have only one intake per year (we will) then the children at the back end of the year will suffer the most. In a single intake year, the range is 12 months of potential difference.

    Thus the new DFE guidelines are fantastic. About the only decent thing this government have done in education, so quite a surprise.

    This is the link:
    http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/a/advice_summer_born_children.pdf

    Read it with joy if you have not already done so.

    Now, i am lucky that my partner and mother of the twins is the school bursar who does admissions. But for most people in this situation, it is useful to know that most schools will not have read the above guidance or know about it, I imagine.

    They will also be wary of changing the status quo, thinking it will be more work than actually it is. It appears to be merely a case of changing the year group in the SIMS program at school. We think it is that simple. It will literally cause no problems at school.

    This is vital, and comes from the guidance:

    Q10. If a child is educated out of their normal age group, when would they take
    their national curriculum tests (SATs)?
    A10. Children are assessed when they reach the end of each key stage, not when they
    reach a particular age.

    So your child will not have to leave Year 5 to do their SATs and go to secondary. It should not be an issue for secondary, either. I think we worry about breaking protocol in that terribly British way. get over it, schools.

    So you will need to form a rapport with your admin staff in the office at the primary school, perhaps even apply for a place in the correct year whilst letting the school know you are going to defer them entry until the next academic Year R (NOT Y1). This will mean, in our case, our twins will be in the wrong year group by a matter of days. That is it (don’t make me get philosophical and talk about the SOrites Paradox and arbitrary cut offs wrt to timelines).

    Anyway, hope this helps.

    JP

    • Sorry, I didn’t really explain in my rush.

      The idea is to defer entry to school. What exists now is to defer entry until Year 1 but your children would be in the same year group that they would have been had they entered school the year before. This is what has been advised to date.

      The guidance has changed meaning there is now allowance for deferring a year and entering in Year 1 in the ‘incorrect’ chronological age.

      This then means that your child will be the oldest in the class, not the youngest, and will get all of the benefits which go with that. As a September born myself, and as a teacher, I can tell you that one can often confuse an intelligent child for one who is merely older, and vice versa.

      Sadly, I have accused children of being ‘dunces’ who were [probably just a year younger than many of their peers.

      I don’t want that to be my children. And I don’t want my boys to merely COPE (“I think my August born child is ready to COPE with school…”). I want them to excel.

  4. Can’t you continue to educate them as you are doing….they don’t have to go to school until (I think) the term after their fifth birthday (or the term before…I’m out of the loop these days with teens). And after that there os the option to home educate and save yourself all this angst :)

    We didn’t feel that our children were ready for school, and when they were ready they told us, and they chose which school they went to. We ended up homeschooling them eauch until they were 9 and then they went to (different) schools; :)

    • ps…I know where you’re coming from, please don’t get me wrong, it’s just that you would be a great home-edding family, and it removes all the hassle you are putting yourself through <3

          • “*shrugs* Each to their own….”

            Actually, that is precisely not the approach one should have to education. It should be, like any good policy, empirically and robustly founded. The problem with home-schooling, say, in the US (I am based in the UK) is that the HS networks, in the 80s, made specific moves which were ratified politically, such that data COULD not be collected on progress and results. They were afraid that regulation would be passed so they went out of their way to make data uncollectable. this should ring alarm bells. Much lobbying took place. This then safeguarded HS from being ruled against since there would always be insufficient empirical data to make informed decisions. HSers are not required to take SATs, so the only ones who do are self-selected groups. As such, any results from SATs for HSers suffer from selection biases.

            Isenberg in the Peabody Journal of Education deconstructs all attempts by HSers to defend their practice statistically.

            http://www.educate.vt.edu/PSLC/modules/fall10/edfdns/lesson3/Isenberg2007Homeschooling.pdf

            Also worth reading is “Does Homeschooling “Work”? A Critique of the Empirical Claims and Agenda of Advocacy Organizations” in the latest issue of the same Journal.

            Whose abstract states:

            “The phenomenal growth of homeschooling in recent years demonstrates not only the appeal of this educational approach but also the notable policy acumen of the homeschooling movement’s leading advocates. This analysis examines and critiques the empirical claims made by homeschooling proponents to justify further expansion and deregulation of the movement, and sheds light on the homeschool advocacy agenda explicit in those claims. Advocates often strongly suggest a causal connection between homeschooling and academic success, postsecondary attainment, and even enjoyment of life. Seemingly, these benefits are experienced all at a reduced cost per student. It is through such claims that homeschooling advocates have expanded the practice of homeschooling and have pressed for fewer state regulations and less oversight. This article outlines and challenges those claims, showing the tenuous basis for such conclusions. Instead, in an era when policymakers demand evidence of effective educational practices, we note the remarkable lack of empirical evidence on the effectiveness of this popular approach and suggest that continued efforts to claim such evidence exists indicates the desire of advocates to further advance what is largely an ideological agenda of deregulation as an end in itself.”

            Shrugging isn’t good enough reason for thinking it is a good idea, with all due respect.

            (And don’t get me started on the UK government and Gove’s ambitions for education in the UK…)

    • Agreed! Home education is an equally valid educational option, with a, perhaps surprisingly, large number of teachers choosing it for their own children here in the UK.

      • Although this is not my blog (obviously), and I fully respect the directives of the blogger, since the original lady gave her opinion (as have you) on homeschooling, it is hardly fair to say I am not allowed to give my opinion. The difference being that I backed my opinion up with something approaching good evidence.

        • Good evidence doesn’t always come neatly packaged as statistical data. Data is required to be collected by schools because they provide a service to the taxpayer (parent). Our home educated children do not need, and ought not to be forced, to indulge the desires of bureaucratic red tape in the form of data collection. UK home educators fought a long, hard, deeply unpleasant battle with the last government in order to protect the one truly free aspect of education left in this country; a freedom denied to many children across the world. Being a teacher doesn’t mean you have all the answers for every child, no one does. Each child’s education should be tailored specifically to them; home education offers that far better than any system that requires SATs and other such exercises designed by a ‘one size had better fit all or else’ system. Just because governments do not have the statistical evidence they might want, doesn’t mean home education is a bad choice (which is what you suggested in your opening parry to Maggie) the empirical evidence that exists in the form of my life long home educated 18 year olds (twins, incidentally) is just as valid (I would say more valid frankly) as numbers don’t, and can never, indicate the very personal triumphs that a child has achieved through their education. Let’s not forget that the modern schooling system is very much in its infancy, and the jury is out on its ability to prepare children for the world we now inhabit. Your comment regarding good evidence appears to me to be designed to provoke, and as such I was in two minds as to whether or not to respond, as I do not think that this is the right environment for what could descend into a rather unpleasant political argument. Having said that, there are a great many people who read this blog, and as a passionate, long term home educator, it would not be right of me to walk away without offering an alternative viewpoint to a rather arrogant dismissal of a form of education that benefits many thousands of children every year. Now that I have done that I won’t comment any further.

          • I hardly thinkiI have been arrogant. If that is the way it has come across, then so be it. As a philosopher, I spend my days arguing, so perhaps that is it.

            However, I must call you on some of your claims:

            . Being a teacher doesn’t mean you have all the answers for every child, no one does.

            I’m not sure I said I did, anywhere.

            Just because governments do not have the statistical evidence they might want, doesn’t mean home education is a bad choice

            Not at all. But as I said, it should ring massive alarm bells when they go out of their way to get around submitting any data. Policy, or even greater still, any claim cannot go beyond mere assertion if it is not supported by data. For such a group to attempt to disallow data to be collected does, indeed, ring alarm bells. If you have nothing to hide, don’t hide it.

            it would not be right of me to walk away without offering an alternative viewpoint

            Absolutely – it is fully welcomed.

            Of course, we all have anecdotal evidence. I can give you plenty of evidence of awesome advances and good things in formal education, and many examples of bad. But to be able to conclude anything which approaches being valid (and this is what the scientific method is built upon) you need data.

            As I pointed out, the excellent article in the PJE pulls apart the data that IS offered by home educators. And this leaves us with a quandary. Do your claims amount to anything more than assertion based on your anecdotal situation?

            If HSing had a proven, empirical track record, I would be the very first person to laud it and fight for it. But without so much as uniform pedagogical training and understanding, it becomes difficult to argue that it fulfils much of needs. Now, admittedly, it is hugely dependent on the family. I can tell you right now that some of the children I have taught as young as 8, 9 and 10 have been more intelligent / knowledgable (some debatable concepts there) than their parents. Thus relying on HSing in those situations would be insane.

            But that is anecdotal too, of course. The idea is that uniform education grants uniform access and opportunity, in theory.

            In the UK, figures are lacking, too. Though the TES reported in 2010 (based on new data then),

            “Nearly half of the home-educated children in some areas of England receive an unsatisfactory or non-existent education, according to the first official statistics on the subject released last week.

            The figures show that nationally nearly 10 per cent of children who are not in the school system are not receiving an acceptable education.

            But this figure – produced from a survey of local authorities – rises to 45 per cent in Stockton-on-Tees, 23 per cent in Wolverhampton and 24 per cent in Leeds. By comparison, the latest Ofsted figures report that just two per cent of teaching in schools is considered “inadequate”.”

            Of course, if you empirically gave your children a great education and equipped them with good social skills in such an environment, then well done, job’s a goodun.

  5. Jonathan, thank you so much for ousting the guidance,p. My son is August born, due to start September 2014. I am so concerned. We have been referred to a speech and language therapist as his speech is vey difficult to understand. It’s not just the speech I though, he is such a sensitive, emotionally immature boy. Not a chance he will be ready for school in a mere ten months.

    So, what’s the next step? Admissions open in November and close in January, so we don’t have long. What would you suggest my next step should be? Contact the school?

    Sorry about this, but I am just so relieved that there is an avenue open for us, but no idea what to do with the information.

    • No problems.

      1) Contact you county Admissions team, and they will advise you. If you are applying to a voluntary aided or an academy, you approach the school.

      2) Contact the school anyway.

      For a normal county LEA school the admissions are controlled by the LEA and the school gets very little no no input into who they get.

      With denominational schools or academies, schools have (somewhat divisive!) admissions policies which give them control over who they take. This actually gives you more leeway to create a rapport with the school so that they might be more likely to entertain taking him into the incorrect chronological year.

      It is vital to have as much evidence as possible – s&l paperwork etc and use this in conjunction with the guidance. Build a case to approach concerned parties that states that your child will suffer by being in the correct chronological year group. I would personally emphasise that you do not either want your son to ‘just cope’, but to THRIVE.

      My partner emailed admissions at our LEA and they said this (bearing in mind they only wrote the first 3 lines of the email, the rest is copied from the guidance. At least this means they are aware, as they should be):

      The following information is what we are telling parents regarding Summer Born children who are requesting Sep 2015 entry into YR. A parent would not need to apply for 2014, and instead apply for 2015 entry, however this is not guaranteed and we would advise them to apply for Sept 2014 whilst we are considering their request as outline below.

      “For us to consider such a request, there are a few things we would need to look into before agreeing to allow your child to apply in the incorrect chronological year group.

      Please be advised that if an agreement was given for you to apply for a place in September 2015 rather than September 2014, there is no guarantee that your child would receive a place at one of your preferred schools. The agreement would be that the application would be accepted and then considered with all other applications in the September 2015 Admissions Round.

      Before we could come to any agreement, you would need to provide information to support your claims that a 2015 Year R start would be beneficial for your child.

      The DfE guidance suggests that factors that the admission authority might take into account are:

      * the needs of the child and the possible impact on them of entering Year 1 without having first attended the reception class;
      * in the case of children born prematurely, the fact that they may have naturally fallen into the lower age group if they had been born on their expected date of birth;
      * whether delayed social, emotional or physical development is adversely affecting their readiness for school.

      This information would either need to come to us at the admissions team (if the school are community or voluntary controlled) or sent directly to school (if they are aided or an academy)”

      I hope this information is of help to you.

      Incidentally, I am no expert here, just finding my own way etc.

  6. Massive thanks Jonathan!

    One concern is sports. Would our son be able to play competitively in the same year group? I guess a question to ask the LEA.

    Also, the 11Plus (we live in a grammar school area), would he have to take a year early?

    Finally, is there a chance that secondary school will put him up a year?

    • I think it depends what the secondary school is like – it’s up to them. That said, I can’t see them suddenly shunting them up a year group.

      As the OP states above:

      “We have been told by the LEA that there would be a problem once our children went to secondary school yet local senior schools have told us that they admit and educate children out of year all the time.”

      So I don’ think it would be a problem. The govt guidelines state:

      Q10. If a child is educated out of their normal age group, when would they take
      their national curriculum tests (SATs)?
      A10. Children are assessed when they reach the end of each key stage, not when they
      reach a particular age.

      I can’t see the 11+ being any different.

      Secondary schools have targets themselves and by putting yours suddenly up a year and effectively missing a year of education will shoot themselves in the foot. They are hardly likely to do that. imho.

  7. Given it is a long established fact that summer (full term) born children, particularly boys, do worse at school than therest of their cohort, it seems ludicrous to me that it could be anything but wrong to put a child who is, in every way but chronological age, younger than a summer born child. The education system ought to be about what is best for individual children and not what is easiest for the system.

  8. I really hope that you manage to come to an understanding with your local schools and the rules involved. As you say you know how schools work, YOU know your own children not the people you control when and where the children go! Good luck! x

  9. Hi Jennie, I’m so glad you’re talking about this and getting involved with the campaigning group as i’m sure you can make a difference. As you know, I have been going through a similar experience but my premature August born twin boys have started reception – part time. They have done a couple of full days (three in total since the start of term) but they are very tired and emotional when I pick them up, They couldn’t possibly do two full days on the trot. I’m still in talks with the council about a possible delay and said i’d give it till christmas (their request) but reading all the facts and figures I really think my boys have the odds stacked against them if they continue in this cohort. I’m considering not sending them back to school after the half term. You should definitely stick to your guns, I’m sure you will be giving lots of parents much needed inspiration :( xx

  10. you shoild fight for what you believe Jennie, if you think they are just not ready, than they are not. purely because you are a teacher and you are a parent and you know them best. my little boy was only two weeks early but he has a chromosome deletion and developmental delay. he is a march kid and he started school this year at the age of 4.5 years old, but he is on a 3 years old level in many aspects. we have been told he has to start school as it would be very difficult for him to start next year , falling behind to his peers. very interesting as he is aready pretty much behind by a year at least. he has speech delay, cannot dress or undress himself, still in nappies and the list is long and long. obviously its a different story to your twins as he has started school in a special needs school after 6 months of me battlingfor a statement and all, and we are very lucky that he was awarded the help and the school place, but what i found through the system and battles is that LEA is totally concernednover paperwork and figures, and doesnt guve a damn about an individual childs needs. the age of 4 is i think a very early age to start school anyway. back home we start at 6-7 years old and its pretty much a good age i think. my son would be absolutely lost in a normal school without any help , not just because of his global delay, and balance issues and speech delay, but because he is just not on the same page as a kid of 4-5 years old. the teachers would not have enough time to focus on him and helping him and im sure its not good for a child to fall behind even more or feel left out due to the system pushing for them to be in school at a certain age by calendars and rules. as per the headteachers comment, id say uts totally out of line, its got nothing to do with her, and by all means, yes you probably are overpritecting your kids, she should have enough compassion and understanding to that, and accept your wishes , and rather help you with choices or if she cannot do that, she should just step back. hope you find a solution, but your kids dont have to start school till they are 5 years old. you know that and im sure if there was no sense behind that rule, it would not be in place. for many many kids in the counrty, every year that is an option thats taken on.

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