When Laura Riach decided to exercise her right to delay her four-year-old twins’ start to school life, amid fears her summer-born identical daughters would struggle as the youngest in the class, she hoped the process would be straightforward.
But it soon became clear that the journey would be far from simple for the Yorkshire mother.
In February Kirklees Council told the 39-year-old that her little girls, who turned four just weeks before being due to start school in September, would instead have to go straight into Year 1, effectively missing a year of their education.
Now the twins are set to be given a place in reception at Mrs Riach’s top choice of school after the council accepted her appeal.
However, it has not been without its challenges, with Mrs Riach saying she had had to “jump through hoops” to provide evidence from health professionals to back up the request.
She is now calling for an end to the postcode lottery that sees some councils take a stricter stance than others on the issue.
Mrs Riach, from Gomersal, near Cleckheaton, said: “My twins were premature and they suffer with huge anxiety issues around school. That’s why we wanted to delay them a year.
“They are just not ready and are nowhere near where their brother was when he started school. I didn’t want them to miss reception because it is such a vital year.
“I think parents know their children best, it’s not a decision for a person that has never met them. The whole thing has been a huge mess to be honest, it has just been really horrible.”
Hoping to highlight the huge disparities among councils in the region in a bid to help other families, Mrs Riach added: “It shouldn’t be a postcode lottery. It is incredibly unfair. There are councils that say yes after 24 to 48 hours, and others where parents are battling for almost a year, and this is dependent on where you live.
“There’s no Government appeal process and it is very subjective based on the people involved.
“Some people just don’t understand it and don’t want to give parents that right.”
Mrs Riach said it had been two years since Schools Minister Nick Gibb put a letter out advising that there would be a consultation over when summer-born children could start school, and it still hadn’t been addressed.
“It’s leaving a lot of parents in a really horrendous place because local authorities are just interpreting it how they want to,” she said.
“I’ve been trying to move a mountain so we can help other families. I don’t want others to go through this.”
Department for Education (DfE) guidance says children in England must be in education from the term after their fifth birthday. But the law also allows for pupils to start school earlier.
As a result, most children begin their education by taking up a reception class place at the age of four. But the DfE guidance brought in two years ago gives flexibility to parents of those born between April 1 and August 31 to wait until the September after their fifth birthday if they feel that they need more time to develop.
The rule was introduced after research showed summer-born children were more likely to struggle at school, do worse in
exams and have less chance of getting into university.
But some councils are still sending youngsters straight into Year 1 – skipping reception altogether – if their parents hold them back.
They say “exceptional” circumstances must be proved to allow the child to start in reception. This means the child has only six years of education instead of seven before moving to
secondary school, therefore wiping out much of the intended benefit.
Mr Gibb launched a review in 2015 to investigate the admission rules for summer-born children.
That September he announced the Government would amend the admissions code so schools had to admit summer-born five-year-olds into reception classes. But a consultation over the plans has still not been launched.
Children put first, says council
Kirklees council has argued that it must make a decision based on the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child.
A spokesperson for the authority said: “The best way to ensure this is to work with both parents who can share invaluable information about their children’s development and professionals, such as early education providers and health workers, involved with the children.
“There are a large number of factors to consider.
“We have recently reviewed the decision by the service on this case, and whilst the arguments for and against supporting Mrs Riach’s request were finely balanced, the review has concluded that it is also appropriate for her twins to join school a year later.”