You don’t need to look far to find information about how badly summer-born babies are likely to do in life. Just one search brought up Why summer born children are scarred for life from The Telegraph – this reassuringly titled article included some figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies informing me that summer born children are more likely to be unhappy at school, less likely to attend a Russell Group university (with Russell spelt incorrectly – haha), and more likely to do a vocational course at university (how awful).
I have three of these summer born children. Not just summer born but August born. And not just August born but August-should-have-been-September born.
Huge advantage for them, academically, people would say when I told them my babies were due in September. Little did they know that a) my body apparently didn’t enjoy being pregnant one bit and b) my boys were all desperate to sneak into the school year above. And so it was that my September (they’ll-do-so-well-at-school) boys were destined to be summer (oh-dear-they’ll-really-struggle) boys.
But this year, I’ve had the option to change the fate of the younger boys. The government issued new guidelines stating that this year, I could have requested for my August born twins to start reception in 2017 as 5 year olds rather than starting this September as newly turned 4 year olds. As is often the case when you are suddenly presented with a choice; this, for me, turned what was a straightforward process two years ago into a dilemma this year. With the eldest boy I didn’t question it – yes he would be young but he would go to school, we would not expect too much from him, he would be fine. But this time……this time there was a choice. This time I have sat and wondered whether my boys are ready and whether starting school so young will, in the end, make them hate it. And if they did end up hating it, would I then blame myself for not having kept them back?
I read another article, this one in the Guardian, which said that that the new guidelines would hit disadvantaged families who either wouldn’t know about them or wouldn’t be able to afford to keep their children back for an extra year. The suggestion was that everyone who was in a position to do so would be taking advantage of the new arrangements. But I’m not. Does this make me a bad mum? I don’t know, but rightly or wrongly we have decided that the advantages of our boys going this year outweigh the disadvantages.
And I’m a bit fed up of reading about how summer children are likely to fail at everything they attempt – perhaps it doesn’t help that that everyone is expecting them to fail.
So here is a positive story about a summer born child, just because you don’t read them very often…..
When it was my eldest boy’s time to start school (he’s now just coming to the end of Year 1), he seemed tiny and young for his age. I wasn’t worried about his ability to sit and concentrate (sitting has always been his thing, as has concentrating) but I did think that he seemed young socially and that, from this point of view, school might be a struggle. He started school in age 3-4 trousers that swamped him, and needing some extra help with holding a pen properly. But he got to grips with that quite swiftly, and since then he has flourished. School has been the making of him. He is still one of the quieter ones and always will be – that is just him; but every day I notice his increased confidence. School has meant learning to read, and reading has opened up a whole new world to him. He started school as a young one and he hasn’t looked back. Rather than feeling sorry, I feel grateful that he snuck into school a year early. He has kept up with others in his class and, like all of them, he has his strengths (reading, writing, retaining information) and his weaknesses (PE, doing up his buttons, remembering to pull his trousers up properly). That is him – he was always going to be the boy who struggled with doing up his buttons, whether he started as an older one or younger one.
So, having had a positive experience with one August boy, holding back the twin boys is not the obvious thing to do. They are, in many ways, the opposite of their brother. I suspect that they will love the social side of school but will find the sitting down element more of a challenge. Yes, I could keep them back, but I’m not sure that they will be any more ready to sit down in a year’s time – I think this is just them, just as it is lots of little boys regardless of when they are born. They are happy, sociable, independent and curious boys. They are desperate to join in with all their big brother’s friends on the school run and that too has been an important consideration – my three boys will only have one year together at this school before the eldest one moves onto the Junior School. And I’m sure that having their brother and his friends there will be a huge advantage in terms of helping them to settle. Added to that the fact that almost all of their nursery friends are off to school this year, and it would feel unfair to tell them they weren’t going. In fact I know many parents of autumn-born children who find it difficult explaining to their little ones why they can’t go to school with all their friends but have to wait a year instead.
I know that I have been lucky to have such a good experience the first time around – my eldest boy’s personality just happens to be well suited to the structure of school. That may not be the case for my twins; however, having watched my son and his friends go through the process, I’ve noticed that starting school can be a struggle for all sorts of reasons, often totally unrelated to how old or young the child is in his/her year.
The new arrangements regarding summer born children are important for so many parents; but I’m not sure that they are the answer to everything. Perhaps, rather than making it optional, the cut-off date should just be moved from 31st August to 31st March for everyone, so that all children who turned four between 1st April and 31st March the following year would start reception in September – this would mean that the youngest children would be 4 ½ rather than only just 4 when they started school. Changing the cut-off for everyone would also mean that you wouldn’t get a potential age difference of 17 months between the oldest and youngest in the class, which you could get if some summer born children are starting school a year later than others. However, you are always going to have young ones in the year, and by moving the cut-off date it would be the parents of the February and March born children getting the pitying looks.
But as well as looking at when children should be starting school in relation to when they were born, the other thing the government should be considering is this – that putting increasingly high demands on small children does not mean they will automatically reach higher standards. That for all children, whether autumn, spring, or summer born, their early years at school should be about encouraging a love of learning, reading, exploring and discovering; and not simply about being taught to pass tests. And that for young children to enjoy school we need good teachers who are valued; and unfortunately they are leaving the profession in droves because they know that the standards being demanded of these little people are unrealistic.
I am under no illusions – I know that school will be a lot for my little ones to cope with at a young age. Like their classmates and their big brother, they will have their strengths and their weaknesses – we will see what those turn out to be. But I will be doing my very best to approach it positively rather than with a summer-born-boys-are-destined-to-fail mentality.