Well, it’s 1st September and Eleanor is still baking. Yesterday, I saw a magazine story on the BBC about how many people regard 31 August to be the worst day to be born (in England). I was not surprised to hear this, as I know many people who avoid August birthdays. We don’t – as you might have noticed.
The reason, in case you’re not aware of it, is the school year cut off date. If you are born on 31 August, you start school a few days after you are four, and are therefore (one of) the youngest in the year; if you’re born on the 1 September, you start school just when you’ve turned five, and are therefore (one of) the oldest in the year. Some LEAs have staggered starts, where the younger children don’t start until January, though most of these are being phased out.
The concern that many parents avoiding an August birthday have is that their children will be strongly disadvantaged by being the youngest in the year and that they won’t be ready for school at four. (Incidentally, in Scotland, the cut-off date is 31 March, so no child will start younger than 4.5 years. Though, of course, there will still be children who are the youngest in the class and others who are the oldest.)
I don’t have a bunch of statistics (there are a few figures in the BBC article), but anecdotally I know people who have been disadvantaged from having an August birthday and others who have been disadvantaged from having an autumn birthday. I think that the problem is more with the inflexibility of the system. If the decision of whether a child would start when they’re just four, or just five, or four and a half or five and a half, etc. was given over to the parents (along with any early years practitioners – pre-school teachers, nursery nurses, childminders, etc. – who know the child well), then the majority would probably start as they do now, but the few who are ready to and need to start early could do so, and those who need an extra year to get ready, could have that extra year. It seems a fairly simple solution to me.
Rosemary is an August baby. She was born on 5 August 2006 (though her due date was 28 August, so there was potential for her to be born on 31 August) and will therefore start school next September, about a month after turning four. She will be born than ready for it then. She would probably be ready for it now, and is most certainly ready for the ‘proper’ pre-school year. I have no qualms whatsoever about her starting school at four years old.
I was an October baby and, so started school just before turning five. I was ready to start a year before and was pretty bored and unchallenged during my first two years of primary school. If the opportunity had been available to skip ahead a year, I would have stayed at primary school. As it was not, though, I chose to learn at home instead, where I could skip ahead in all the subjects that interested. I was finally allowed to skip ahead and start secondary school a year early (though it was half way through the year, due to moving back from Spain mid-year). Unfortunately, I’d skipped ahead a bit far, so the first couple of years of secondary school were mostly about coasting which meant that, by the time I needed to actually sit down and work hard (sixth form), I’d forgotten how to and was more interested in boys and booze and parties. Ah well. Who knows if skipping ahead at primary school entrance would have made enough difference?
I have a cousin who is an August baby and she struggled her whole school life. I think an extra year before starting school could have made a huge difference to her. Of course, no-one knows that for sure. Perhaps she still would have struggled even with a later start. But the opportunity to be flexible would have been useful.
When I saw the article yesterday, it crossed my mind that my conviction that Eleanor was going to be born in August (which, as we can see, was wrong), might have actually been a subconscious desire to ensure that she doesn’t suffer the problems I had with being the eldest in the class. Was I desirous of another August baby? Well, if so, it’s too late now. She will be an autumn baby, whether September of October, or even (please, no) November.
Perhaps, by the time she’s four, they’ll have brought in a more flexible entrance system and, if we think she’s ready, she’ll be able to start that year early. Or perhaps we’ll have to work out strategies to ensure that she gets enough challenge out of school, or from us if the school can’t provide. Of course, it might turn out that she’s far from ready at four and will strongly benefit from that extra year. We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it. And make the most of the whole extra year of free pre-school.
What about you? Do you have a summer child or an autumn child? Do you think the cut-off point is fair? Do you live somewhere else with a different system? Do you think it’s silly to worry about these things at this stage?