Tuesday, 1 September 2009

August 31st: Worst day to be born?

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?


  1. My daughter is a spring birthday so she'll start when she's 4.5, which I think is perfect. My son was born in mid-September so he won't start until just before he turns 5. I think that will probably be better for him too, as I know that boys generally develop a bit slower than girls in the early years so waiting another year to start will probably be a good thing for him. Because boys get picked on more for their size, being the youngest can mean being the smallest and my husband (having attended an all boys school) thinks that's something to avoid if it can be helped. I'm not that worried or bothered about it either way though, every child develops at his or her own pace and those near the 'deadline' should be given an assessment to decide whether going ahead with enrolment or waiting another year would be more beneficial.

  2. Hi, this affected us this time, with a Spetember 13th due date, but a planned section. As it turns out, the hospital were not as flexible as I'd hoped with dates. I had hoped for a September baby anyhow (even though friends pointed out that it's an extra year's childcare to pay out) as my 1st son is really learning to talk at his own pace, and "seems" quite behind other children. I know he's just not ready yet, and there are no problems. I think particularly boys struggle with being ready for school, they just don't have the same skills as girls at that age. Luckliy, my son is December birthday (some people shy away from those too....well, Christmas eve is not ideal!!), so by school age, hopefully he will have caught up. Although I did have my heart set on a Sept birthday for this new baby (and now I shall get my wish), I hadn't anticipated how ill I would become in pregnancy, and, stuff the school system, I would have bitten the surgeon's hand off for an August date! I do think the old staggered systems were better. My mum, Aug born, started in March and flourished. But had two Sept born sisters, both of whom never did well...I think that's just temperament though. But as parents, we should have the right to decide, as we know our children best. This could tempt working parents or less emotionally involved parents to carts children off to school before they are truly ready though, as a convenience, but I think most of us can make an informed decision on the matter.

  3. I'm in Scotland, so our cut off is 31st March, my daughter was born 23rd March, so she'll be one of the oldest. I'm very happy about this, coming from a country where you start school at 6, not 4 or 5. However, her cousin is such a smart cookie that I think he could go to school next year at 3. He was born in December so will be at school a year before my daughter, at 4 1/2.

    I was myself one of the oldest - we had an assessment a year before for children who seemed school ready and I was considered for early entry at 5 3/4 (rather than 6 3/4) but I just about didn't make it in. Yes, I didn't find school very challenging, but on the plus, I did really well throughout school which isn't a bad thing.

    So I guess, I'm all in favour of some degree of flexibility - kids are different. I would always have thought that 4 is too early for starting school, but now when I see my nephew, who can spell simple words at 2 1/2, read numbers up to 100 and put all letters in the right order, all I can say is: bring school on for him. And I'm still happy that my daughter has a bit more time to play because she's an active little girl and I couldn't see her sit still on a school chair.

  4. This is a great post, my eldest Mia's birthday is the 16th August adn she just made the school year in september, whilst my other three are the 2nd and 3rd of November just missing out. I think it completely depends on the child in question like you say, Mia probably could have done with the extra year off school as she was clingy, shy and cried every day for three months not settling. However Sofia who will be four this November has just missed out but i feel she could have really benifited from starting this september as she is more than ready and will probably be very board this year. I like the Scotish system that sounds like a good plan.

  5. K is a spring child, so she started after Christmas. Her school has three intakes a year, September, January and after Easter. I am an August baby, so I was always the baby in the class.

  6. My brothers birthday is 28th August. He was always the youngest and really struggled. When he was about 12 they held him back a year and he found it easier. Problem was, by then, he had sort of given up on school work so being the eldest in his year just meant an extra year of school for him. There is always the possibility that he is a bit idle (very visible from how he is now!). It is a shame there isn't more flexibility, particularly as parents etc. are generally good judges of whether their children are ready or not. At least, they should be. You would hope that noone would push their child who wasn't ready (or indeed hold their child back because the parent wasn't ready!).

  7. It depends on the child. My youngest born 7th Sept is the oldest child in his year and has never liked school even though at 5 he should have been ready for it in theory. He is bright enough but doesn't like doing written work so his grades are not that good. Dreading Thursday first day back at school he will not be a happy bunny.

  8. My DD's b'day is August 31st. The cut-off date for school here is Sep 1, so she is literally THE youngest in her year. It doesn't show academically as she reads well ahead of grade level, but it does show socially. Because of that I would be very reluctant to let her skip a grade.

    My birthday is also in August, and I always felt that I was moving on to the next step just a little before I was ready for it - especially when it came to leaving home for college.

  9. The cut-off in Belgium is 1st of January, which is awfully arbitrary.

    I got to skip a year when I was five. My son (July baby) skipped a year when he was three. My daughter will be among the youngest in her year, which makes me wonder if she will be able to skip a year, but a twenty-one months, I can see she's going the way of her brother.

    I do worry about it as well. I collected my son for lunch today on his first day of primary school, and he was bored already. He can just about read already, he knows how to do maths - I just don't know how they'll keep him busy.

  10. My boys were both born in September and are the eldest in their class. I think this is good for them and I am relieved they weren't born in August. However, most of the friends I made when the boys were babies had girls who were born in August - and they have all been ready for school that year earlier. Their attention spans were longer, their behaviour generally maturer. It was interesting to observe.

    My first son was actually born in August and the hospital in Chicago was jampacked with soon-to-be parents, all inducing births so that they achieved the August school cut off date. I didn't understand it then and I don't now. Apparently this happens every year and many parents, whose babies are due in early-mid Sept bring the birth date forward simply for school reasons. Bizarre.

  11. I've lived in Scotland and now America, and in both places, there is much more flexibility. For a child born in Jan or Feb in Scotland (I think the cut-off is 28 Feb, actually), the parent can choose which school year they go into. In America, it seems even more flexible than that, with children being able to be pushed forward or held back.

    My nephew is an August birthday, but he was premature - due September. His parents did manage to get him held back a year, but it was a fight, and they were probably only successful as they have 2 older siblings in the school, so knew the head teacher.

    I think the flexibility offered by Scotland and America is much better than the English rigidity. I really can't see a reason why there is so little lee-way. The prevailing climate is all about parent choice in everything, so why is it so rigidly resisted in this decision? Apart from the tidiness for bureaucracy, what possible disadvantages could there be to letting a parent choose? So long as it's the same rule for everyone, how can it matter?

    My chlidren's birthdays mean that there's never been a choice for me, but 2 of the 3 have started school a year later for being in Scotland or the US, rather than in England. They'll still leave school at 18. I am confident, I really am, that a year's less education won't make a difference in the long run!

  12. I've just read Cartside's comment, so I stand corrected. I'm puzzled though, since I once had a discussion with a midwife about babies born on Feb 29th, and how you could opt to celebrate the birthday on Feb 28th or March 1st, but you had to pick carefully, as that could affect schooling. Could it vary between regions in Scotland?

  13. We're in Scotland and Erin's birthday is in February, we have the option to defer but I think she'll be ready, and all her friends are moving up.

  14. Goodness, what a lot of comments! Obviously this is something we think about a lot.

    NS: I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that 'every child develops at his or her own pace'. I think that's why there should be some flexibility in the system to allow for different states of readiness in different children. It's an interesting point about boys, in general, developing a bit slower at an early age, too. I think they're supposed to catch up around 6 or 7. I wonder if they would catch up sooner, given a later start date? (But again, that's talking in generalities, I suppose, which is the problem.)

    Allgrownup: I can imagine you would have jumped at the chance for an August baby, just to be able to get back on your feet! That's a good point about the potential for misuse of flexibility in the system. I would imagine if the parental opinion was combined with that of early years practitioners who know the child, it would work, but not everyone actually sends their children to some kind of pre-school. The staggered system sounds OK, but might work better if everything were staggered, rather than the younger ones needing to catch up at some point - i.e. up to and including staggered GCSEs and A Levels, maybe.

    Cartside: Your nephew sounds like he's going to need some real challenges and very soon. I do think it can be just as damaging to be left un-challenged as not to be given enough support. It's far too easy for an extra bright child to be left to their own devices, while teachers struggle to keep up with the rest of the class. It sounds like having assessment so that those ready to start early can do so would work well. Perhaps we'll get that here eventually.

    TWOB: Oh poor Mia. That must have been really difficult. And Sofia missing out by a few months... they both would have benefited from more flexibility - or living in Scotland. Perhaps we should all up sticks and move up there.

    Tawny: I think the staggering sounds interesting, though I'd worry about those starting at Easter falling behind. I suppose they catch up in the end, though.

    BiB/FM: Sounds like your brother could have done with flexibility at the start. Of course, as you say it might have nothing to do with the school start date and might be more down to personality. I might have had a bad time, even if I'd started a year earlier and my cousin might have struggled just as much if she'd started a year later. And, yes, there is the problem of some parents not making the right decision if there were flexibility. There are well be parents out there who would jump out the chance of the free school place, just to get their children out from under the feet.

    Jennysnail: It certainly does depend on the child, yes. I hope your son gets more out of school this year.

    [will respond to the rest a bit later...]

  15. AA: I think your daughter shows that there's more to think about than being academically ready to start school (which I think is what I concentrate on when I mull the subject over). There is social and emotional readiness which may not go hand in hand with academic readiness. I took a couple of years out between school and uni (necessarily so, as I missed the grades I needed for university offers), which I found incredibly beneficial when it came to starting uni. I think many people could benefit from that.

    Mwa: Bored after one day? Poor guy. Hope it picks up for him soon. Some schools seem to be good at identifying boredom and then need for extra challenge, while others can end up letting them coast. Really hope your son's at one of the good ones.

    Nicola: That's interesting that you've seen the difference between the girls and boys of almost the same age. Inducing for an August birthday - interesting. I think I might well be tempted myself, especially with a girl.

    Iota: Yes, I don't see why there can't be flexibility. I believe many continental European countries also have flexibility with the ability to repeat a year (not sure about starting early). I do recall some very old students when I was a language assistant - there was one who was a couple of years older than me, which was a bit odd. I suppose there is then potential for never every graduating.

    I found the Scottish date doing an Internet (Bing) search, so it might well be wrong. I imagine it's quite possible that different areas have different dates.

    Littlemummy: I think it's great that you have the option to defer. I know that Rosemary wouldn't need that, but I would feel much happier about the whole system, knowing that there was that flexibility available.

  16. What a fascinating discussion. I`m in Canada (Alberta) and we have pretty good flexibility here. Cut off is March 1st, so kids can be 4.5 and up starting kindergarten. But if you feel the 4.5yr old is not ready they can wait a year. My oldest has a Dec bday so he could have gone at 4.75 years or 5.75 years. I waited and for my child it was a good choice!

  17. Sorry to be so late iwth my commenting, but I must join, this is a hot button issue! I'm in California, where the cutoff is december 1st. For starting school this year, 2009, child must trun 5 before december first of this year, so the youngest in the class are the November birthdays, who will start shcool at 4 and and 10 months. In practice, since K is not compulsory, many parents (middle class ones who can afford preschool) hold their kids back, a year, especially boys, so many kids are almost 6 when they start K. I find it a bit odd, being so used to the Britsh system.

    My kids are both February, so will be fairly old in their year, my daughter will be 5.5 yrs old when she starts school in 2011. This seems really old to me, and I find the whole system confusing since I have the British one drilled into my brain! In the UK she would start school in September 2010 at 4.5, and I have to admit I feel that she is being cheated of a year of education, she will be ready by then, I"m sure (and I'm having to pay for an extra year of preshcool!)

    The book outliers by Maclom Gadwell decribes some interesting studies suggesting that the older kids in class do actually do better, statisically than the younger ones, so I do think it is an issue worth thiniking about, both as parents and more broadly by education professionals.

  18. Can totally relate to all the worries about August-born babies as Renée was born on August 14th. She started in Reception last year having just turned 4 when only a couple of weeks later there were a couple of children in her class having 5th birthday parties. And at such a young age a whole year makes a huge difference to their level of learning and capability. Having said all of that, I think it definitely does depend on the individal child. Luckily Renée has always been bright and keen on learning, so she never had a problem - and I think if she had had to hang on at nursery for another whole year she would have gone a bit doo-lally. But I do know that other Summer-born children (especially boys) have struggled. My other one, Edie is a November baby, so she'll be fairly old when she starts school and I think she needs that bit of extra time. Although annoyingly they'll be three school years between them even though there's only just over two years in age. But there's never an easy way to sort it out. Each child is so individual and for the LEA's and Government it's easier to have one cut-off date rather than looking at individual cases.

  19. TDs birthday is 27th Aug, so the youngest in her year. Large Sons is 23rd Oct so one of the oldest. TD was more than ready academically, her reading & verbal skills were ready to go at just 4. but socially not so ready, and I think that has always had a knock on effect. TD is now 16, so the last of mine to leave compulsory education and I think most of her friends still behave in a far more mature fashion than her. LS always coasted a little, maybe boredom. But he was much more socially adept than TD. He now has a huge circle of friends, and has never had any problems in that respect. So now its quite difficult for me to tell if different school starting dates would have changed either outcome, a bit chicken & egg! Its a tricky one!

  20. IJ is a summer baby. She was born in mid-July so she is one of the youngest in her year. At the moment I have to admit it is a huge disadvantage and she seems to be behind her peers in so many areas. The experts say this disadvantage will always be there but I doubt the difference will be so obvious in later school years.

  21. Sorry I'm so late commenting. Excellent post and fascinating comments. This is so relevant to me.

    My boys were born 1st September 2007 and 29th August 2008.

    So I'll have the eldest AND the youngest in the same school year. Yikes.

    I'm hoping there will be some flexibility. I would prefer them to be in separate school years so they have the opportunity to make their own friends and not have to constantly answer the question 'are you twins?'. I'm planning to talk to the head of our local schgool soon so that I have more of an idea about our options - if we have any.

    On top of all of this, my husband's birthday is 31st August! He was fine academically with being the youngest in the year, but physically he felt disadvantaged. He was always one of the smallest in his year and was never picked for sports teams, despite loving sport.

    Last weekend was rather expensive!!

  22. Laurie: The Canadian system sounds nice and flexible. I wonder if Kindergarten is more equivalent to pre-school here, or to reception, though. If it's pre-school, I would like to have the choice for them to start earlier still!

    Geekymummy: I have always thought that they seem to start quite later over there - though there are plenty of European countries that do, too. The worry with the late start is more about those who are ready much earlier. I'm sure the later start cuts out a lot of the problems with children being made to start too early. 5.5 does seem old to me, too, but I know plenty of parents here that would think even that was young. I think the trouble is, without flexibility, any system is going to let someone down. It's very difficult to work to individual requirements within a system that has to work for the majority.

    MT: I can see that Renee would have been bored if she had to wait another year, just like I think Rosemary would be. But there are others who really don't seem like they'll be ready and it would be beneficial for them to have another year. Rosemary and Eleanor will have a whole 4 school years between, unless the system changes in time for Eleanor (please, please, please!). Of course, we have yet to see what Eleanor's like. Maybe she'll really benefit from that extra year. It seems there are plenty of countries that provide the flexibility of choice in starting age, so I think we should get it here, too. Wonder if there's a petition/campaign to join, somewhere!

    Brighton Mum: That's very interesting to hear about the social side of things. I think that is something we can forget and concentrate on the academic only. Rosemary's incredibly sociable and at a decent stage of coming to understand rules and manners, so I think she'll be OK on that side of things, as well as the academic. But I was never (and still am not) any good at the social side of things - don't think starting later made much difference to that, though it's possible that a few years of home-schooling may have further hindered it.

    Rosie: Hmm. Thought you'd disappeared, but I seem to have lost your feed. Sorry! Poor IJ. I hope it evens out for her as the years go on. It really does seem like some flexibility in the system would be a good idea.

    Sandy: OMG! Both in the same year. That will be very strange, indeed. I hope you get some luck out of the school, though I don't know very many people who have! And your husband was a 31st August baby. Interesting that he felt at a physical disadvantage. Along with the social, that's something else I think we may forget in our concentration on the academic readiness. I had issues with sports myself, but they were more down to not doing any team sports for the few years I was home-schooled and so not really knowing how they worked. It's horrible not to picked, whatever the reason, though, so I sympathise with your husband there. Good luck with talking to the school!

  23. Award for you at mine. Hope you not feeling too 'big'!! xx

  24. my birthday is the 8th july so I too was one of the youngest of the class I remember being teased about it when I was in junior school but now I am having the last laugh now I am a fully grown adult.

  25. Everyone in my school year was born between 1st September 1966 and August 31st 1967, I have a nephew who was born on the 1st september 1986 and so was the oldest in his class. I am curious to how they do things in other countries.

    All children (as all the British posters would know) born between Sept 1st 1998 and Aug 31st 1999 are all due to start secondary school this September.