However, parents of 'summer-born children' (ie those born between 1 April and 31 August) are not permitted to defer taking up their child's place for a whole school year and still retain it. They can only choose to either defer for two terms, or delay their child starting school for a year and re-apply for admission at that time.
This leads to a dilemma for parents as, unless they made a formal request for admission outside normal age group to the admission authority of their chosen school (for their child to be admitted one year below their normal age group to Reception Year), and this is agreed in principle by the admission authority who have a discretion in this respect, they would only be entitled to apply for a place in Year 1 which would, of course, be subject to availability of places.
The School Admissions Code 2014 (Code) sets out the factors that admission authorities must consider when dealing with these types of requests, and makes it clear that blanket policies are not lawful. Decisions must be made on a case by case basis in the best interests of the child concerned. Unfortunately, many schools did not approach this correctly.
As a result, in 2015 the DfE committed to revising the Code to make it clear that parents of summer-born children will have an absolute right for their child to be admitted to Reception Year if they choose to delay entry for one school year, rather than this being at the discretion of the admission authority. To give effect to this, the Government would have to amend the primary legislation, something that appears to have been shelved after the Brexit referendum. It is surprising to note that it does not form part of the DfE's current consultation on proposed changes to the Code.
The DfE has recently published Updated statement on admission of summer-born children: 2020 which explains why these changes have not been formally proposed during their current consultation. Notably, the DfE acknowledges that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may cause parents of summer-born children to consider delaying their child's entry to school for one year, but simply states "We do not anticipate that, as a general rule, children will need to delay their admission to school purely as a consequence of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Schools will be planning carefully to take the impact of the outbreak into account in their teaching and their support for children."
On balance, we consider that there is a real risk that a higher number of parents than usual may choose to exercise their absolute right to delay school entry for one school year, which could then potentially result in an artificial 'bulge' in respect of the 2022 intake for Reception Year. Schools should be prepared to assist parents in directing them to the procedure they must follow (which should be set out in the school's admission arrangements) and to process a higher number of requests for admission outside normal age group than normal.
Admission authorities should ensure that an admission committee (with appropriate formal delegation/terms of reference) has been set up to deal with these requests. Academy trusts should note that it is the trust itself that is the admission authority, not the governing body of the school involved. This means that, where a MAT trust board would like this to be dealt with at local governing body (LGB) level, it must formally delegate this task to the LGB (with onward delegation to an admission committee). It must also ensure that the members of the committee are appropriately trained in how to deal with these types of request.
Separately, we also consider that there may be higher numbers of parents than usual choosing to exercise their absolute right to defer their child's entry to Reception Year for one or two terms in the 2021 intake, if they have lingering concerns about their children returning to school in September due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These children will, of course, retain their achieved places, and schools should ensure that their attendance data is correctly recorded in this respect, so that the correct numbers are used in the October census for funding purposes.
Lastly, we would like to remind schools that parents also have an absolute right to decide that their child will attend school part-time until they reach CSA (which can be combined with the right to defer) and that this can happen throughout the school year, not just the first two terms.
Schools should keep in mind that this is a parental right, not something the school can decide. All children are entitled to full-time education from the September following their fourth birthday, and schools cannot therefore impose a part-time timetable on pupils, unless this is required for medical reasons and the parent has voluntarily agreed to this. Notably, schools cannot impose a part-time timetable because they are unable to cope with a pupil's challenging behaviour, or use the threat of exclusion to secure parental agreement.
We see that part-time timetables regularly form the basis of disability discrimination claims for pupils with behavioural disabilities (which do not require a formal diagnosis) in the First Tier Tribunal (SEN & Disability), where they are often found to be informal (and therefore unlawful) exclusion from school because of something arising from the pupil's behavioural disability.