ARE SUMMER-BORN CHILDREN AT A DISADVANTAGE?

Is there really any substance to summer-born babies being a step behind their peers? One expert tells of her own experiences

This September, it will be 19 years since our own small, blonde-haired first daughter waved us goodbye at the door of her Reception class and entered her ‘big school’ for the first time at the tender age of four years and one week. Had she been born exactly one week later, she would have had a year more before taking this momentous step. In short, along with her summer-born friends, she was a year younger than some of her classmates.

As an educational professional, my empathy has always been with parents with offspring born in the summer months. At this time of year, it may well be that some of you will be preparing your (very small) children for their next steps into their bigger world.

Should we worry about them? Are they truly at a disadvantage in their class? It is true that many studies have shown that children born in August can struggle against their older classmates. At seven years of age, studies show that children born in August often lag behind their classmates in reading and maths. One would expect that this may well be accurate. At such tender ages, being a year younger than other classmates obviously means nearly a year less school input. Interestingly, gaps are often still evident at 12 and even 18. One study conducted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggests that our August children are 20% more likely to study vocational subjects and 20% less likely to end up at top universities than their September-born friends.

Are summer-born children at a disadvantage?

Regardless of date of birth, things eventually level out in the classroom

So what can we do? What is being done about this within our education system? Recent guidance from the Department of Education states that it is permissible for parent to opt for their summer-born children to enter school later, if it is in their best interests. In short, it is quite possible for school entry to be delayed until the September following their 5th birthday. In practice this can often prove more complex than it might seem. Demand on Reception places can sometimes mean that children end up in Year 1, the second year of schooling and therefore missing their Reception year.

In reality, each child is different and, just as there are some children who may not seem very ready for school at six years of age, we all know high achievers who are born in every month of the year, including July and August. Indeed, in my own experience, regardless of birth month, things do eventually level out. They get to where they should be in the end despite the path, for some, being a little more demanding on the way.

And what of my own little blonde haired August baby? Well, she did just fine despite her years throughout primary school, seeing everyone have their birthday and always being the last to have hers, waiting to start driving when her friends had passed their tests – and being somewhat frustrated at not being able to enter certain 18th birthday party venues as she wasn’t yet 18! The offspring of our antenatal group and the summer-borns of Reception class have gone on to grow in confidence and develop in a variety of directions and beckoning careers. It is true to say that a surprisingly high percentage of them are now moving out of their prestigious university lives and into careers in banking, law and medicine to name but a few. Moreover, they now have time on their side and are rather pleased that they have a good few months in the bag!

Words: Sue Laidlaw

Sue Laidlaw is Founder and Senior Partner of Laidlaw Education. For more information, go to laidlaweducation.co.uk or call 020 8487 9517