Grant Woodward: School age muddle leaves children playing catch-up

Mum Mary Lawler won a battle with the local council to keep summer-born son Oscar back a year. PIC: Ross Parry
Mum Mary Lawler won a battle with the local council to keep summer-born son Oscar back a year. PIC: Ross Parry
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IT’S been a big week in our house: our twins started school. Bless them, they’ve only just turned four. Their uniforms swamp them and look more like fancy dress.

It does seem awfully young to be going to school. When we took them in on the first day they were a bit shellshocked by the sight of all the big boys and girls running helter skelter around the playground.

It doesn’t help that the failure to address the school places shortage in Leeds has led to the hurried decision to add another 30 children to their year, making it even more intimidating to little people like them.

Just as frustrating has been the inability of Government and local authorities to clear up the confusion over summer-born children.

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Under current law, children in England must be in education from the term after their fifth birthday. But councils like Leeds have effectively changed it to four, moving the cut-off point to the end of August.

It means that a child is expected to start school as little as a few days after their fourth birthday – and will be rubbing shoulders with children a full year older than them.

Even a few months is a big deal at that age. A year can be a chasm, equating to a quarter of their lives. Studies have shown most children who are young for their year will be behind their older peers in terms of speech and language, motor abilities and social skills.

The Government has said that parents can defer entry if they don’t feel their children are ready.

But this has led to schools and councils developing their own policies and practices.

Often it means that if you do keep them at home for another year they will then miss reception and be plonked straight into Year 1, by which time all the places at your local school are likely to have been taken up.

It’s a situation that has left parents with no choice at all.

And having summer babies can be a source of huge worry for parents, because the odds seem so stacked against them.

Summer babies face the so-called “birth-date effect”, which means that children born in June, July and August are statistically likely to perform less well than their older classmates.

This gap is still measurable all the way through primary and secondary school, GCSEs, A-levels and university admissions.

The difference is so stark that the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that summer-born children should get extra exam marks.

Children born in the summer are more likely to take vocational rather than academic courses and are less likely to go to a high-status university – and as such are likely to earn less than older children in their year group.

So while some may snipe that we’re getting our knickers in a twist about nothing, this is pretty important stuff.

Their nursery school teacher said that our two were ready for school. But the thing is that if they hadn’t have been born early, chances are they would have been going to school next year rather than this.

The Government has finally come out and said that parents of summer babies can keep them back a year and they won’t have to go straight into Year 1. But typically, the change came too late for this year’s admissions.

So we’re just going to have to see how they get on. From Monday they will be spending all day at school but for the last week or so they have been just doing half-days – and they still come home exhausted.

And why are we in such a rush as a country to pack children off to school at such a young age anyway?

In Australia they start at the age of six. In Sweden it can either be six, seven or eight.

Surely once you’ve had children you want to spend as much time with them as possible – as well as make sure they’re really ready for all the things that go hand in hand with the big step of starting school.

Piggate shines light on modern Britain – and it ain’t pretty

IT’S fair to say I’m not a huge fan of David Cameron or his politics, which seem to be more about restoring the old status quo than bringing about genuine social mobility.

But the lurid claims this week that the Prime Minister carried out an obscene act with a dead pig’s head while he was a student are scraping the barrel a bit.

Number 10 haven’t exactly done themselves any favours either. The lack of an official and instant denial has only served to stoke the interest of the media and public alike when it might well have saved Dave’s bacon (can you see what I did there?).

Still, aren’t young people supposed to do stupid and reckless things? They’re wired that way.

What I do find interesting, though, is the way #Piggate shines a light on the fact that the consequences of that youthful stupidity tend to depend on what social class you belong to.

Plenty of children from poor backgrounds do idiotic things when they’re growing up – just as kids from rich families do.

But while the former tend to be stigmatised for years to come, those with wealth and privilege laugh them off and sail through life regardless. And the trouble is it’s precisely this sort of double standards that the Etonian-fronted Tories seem keen to perpetuate.

I don’t mind if David Cameronwas an overprivileged, self-centred twit when he was younger, but it doesn’t mean he has to stay that way.

Are Joe’s memoirs a quick Root to book boredom?

WHAT were you doing at the age of 24? Even if you’d already packed rather a lot in, I’m not sure you were busy writing your autobiography.

But that’s what Yorkshire cricketer Joe Root is doing (or at least his ghostwriter is) after enjoying a successful summer against the Australians.

He certainly had an Ashes to remember, rightly earning the man of the series award for his consistent run-scoring. Still, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to buy a copy of the memoirs of a cricketer who’s only been playing Tests for two-and-a-bit years.

What happened to the days when sport’s biggest names would wait until the end of their glorious careers before looking back and spilling the beans, when it made for far more interesting and insightful reading?

These days even the newest kids on the block seem to churn out a new book every 18 months.

Or am I just showing my age?

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