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Reception: Starting Age

Volume 628: debated on Monday 11 September 2017

8. What progress her Department has made on giving summer-born and premature children the right to start reception at the age of five. (900746)

We remain concerned that some summer-born children, particularly those born prematurely, are missing the reception year when the essential teaching of early reading and arithmetic takes place. However, it is important for us not to cause any unintended consequences elsewhere in the system, and we are therefore giving careful consideration to how we might make any changes. Further information will be available in due course.

As my right hon. Friend will recognise, it is two years since we had an Adjournment debate on this subject, and there is increasing frustration about the fact that the code of conduct has not yet been published. Will he agree to provide a timetable showing when he might publish it, and will he also agree to meet me to discuss the unintended consequences?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of summer-born and prematurely born children, and I pay tribute to him for that. He and I share the view that when the parents of such children exercise their right to delay their entry to school until they turn five, the children should be able to start school in reception if that is in their best interests. However, the issue is complex, and it is important for us to consider carefully the impact of changes on the earliest sector in particular. I should be delighted to continue our conversation and discussion about these matters.

Surely the Minister realises that, while it is true that the summer-born question is difficult and complex, it must be linked with a terrible stain on our education policy: the fact that little children who have been identified as bright up to the age of 11 are lost to the education system post-11. What is going on with the failed policies of a Government who cannot help kids who are bright at 11 and who disappear afterwards?

I wrote an open letter to all local authorities about the issue, urging them to take the wishes of parents very seriously, to act in the best interests of children when considering which age group they should start with, and to enable them to start school outside their own age group if their parents have elected not to allow them to start in the year in which they turn five. I believe that local and admission authorities are taking notice of that letter.

As my summer-born son starts his first day in reception today, I am all too well aware that the big gaps in attainment among his classmates are related not to the time of year when they were born, but to whether they come from advantaged or disadvantaged backgrounds. That is still the biggest problem facing our education system. Does the Minister agree that it needs to be tackled? If so, how does he square that with findings that I published last week with the Social Market Foundation, showing that 75% of the extra money that the Government are pumping into the early years will go to better-off families and less than 3% will go to those who are disadvantaged?

We take the issue of social mobility very seriously. The attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children has narrowed by 7% in key stage 4 and by 9.3% in key stage 2, in primary schools. However, we continue to work hard to ensure, and believe passionately in ensuring, that all children, regardless of background and regardless of where they live, are able to fulfil their potential in our education system, which is why the pupil premium provides an extra £2.5 billion a year for children with disadvantaged backgrounds.