London - Summer-born children are already at a massive disadvantage by the end of their first year at school compared with older children, official figures reveal.
Almost two thirds of those born between May and August (the northern hemisphere summer) fail to meet minimum expected levels in areas such as reading, writing, speaking, maths and listening.
But little more than a third fall behind if their birthday falls between September and December.
The findings, from Department for Education data, will fuel the debate over when children should start school after previous studies showed that it can have a long-term impact on their education.
Children who are young for their year typically do worse at GCSEs and are less likely to get into university.
State pupils can begin school in the September after their fourth birthday, although summer-born children can start part-time or defer entry. Children’s development is assessed by teachers at the end of their first year in school.
Tests cover a range of skills, from literacy and numeracy to communication and personal, social and emotional development.
The latest figures show that 49 percent of children reached expected levels, rising to 60 percent among autumn-born pupils. Among younger children it was 38 percent.
The DfE report noted a significant gulf in academic areas but less of a difference in non-academic areas such as the ability to make friends.
“Month of birth has the largest impact on the literacy and mathematics areas of learning,” it said.
“In contrast, gaps were narrower between autumn-born and summer-born children in health and self-care and making relationships.”
Test results released earlier this year showed that girls were far more advanced than boys at the end of their first year of school. Overall, 58 percent reached expected levels, compared to 41 percent of boys.
This suggests that boys who are young for their year face the greatest disadvantage.
The DfE figures coincided with the release yesterday of a report by the Skills Commission, an independent research and policy group, that recommended allowing children to repeat school years if they are not “ready” to move on. Based on an inquiry chaired by former chief inspector of schools Sir Mike Tomlinson, it said: “We cannot expect that all learners achieve at the same rate.
“Indeed, there has been a plethora written about the disadvantages of ‘summer babies’, who statistically achieve lower marks than their peers, some of whom could be more than 11 months older.”
It said the system was commonplace in some countries but “in England the inclination is very much against this approach, too concerned, perhaps, by the brand of failure”.
A DfE spokesman said: “We have changed the Schools Admission Code to make it easier for summer-born children to defer their child’s entry or request they attend part-time until they reach their fifth birthday.
“Schools should make this clear in their own admissions arrangements so that parents are fully aware of the options available for their children.
“Parents of summer-born children also have the flexibility to request their child enters reception class rather than Year 1.”
Many parents of young children choose not to delay, often due to financial pressures associated with child care costs or returning to work. Campaigners say formal schooling should not begin until a child is at least five. - Daily Mail