My eldest son started school this week.
He’s four. Just. Four years and 27 days to be precise. So he’s one of the youngest in his year.
In many ways, he doesn’t seem like one of the youngest. He’s tall. He’s articulate. He’s pretty confident.
But then I remember that some of his class will turn five in the coming weeks. And there seems like such a huge difference between four and five.
Those nearly five year olds will have had nearly a whole extra year in preschool. They’ve had a whole extra year to get ready to learn. They can probably hold their pencils correctly, write their name fluently and will stand out a mile.
You see, I know how they are at aged 11. I ask my Year 7 classes to line up in birth order. The Summer-born children stand out: they generally look younger, more vulnerable and less confident. You get more summer born children in bottom sets.
Does being summer-born really matter?
You see, summer-born children, particularly boys, are less likely to achieve top GCSEs, to attend Russell Group Universities and more likely to be bullied.
I know that it’s not the same for everyone. I know that there are August-born children who have been highly successful academically. I’m an August-born child myself, and did well.
And I know that there are other factors that influence children much more strongly than month of birth. Factors like poverty, parental influence and teacher expectation. I know we can now hold our children back a year if we so choose – and I think Ben would be frustrated by that.
But it just seems so early.
Children start so much later in so many other countries: age 6 or 7 in Europe, Scandinavia and China. The age of 4 in the UK was decided, back in 1870, was a way to get mothers back into the workforce.
Even in Scotland, children in reception start between 4 and a half and 5 and half, so the August born children are half way through the year. Yet I know that the February children would be a year behind the eldest in their class. Whichever way, someone is always going to be the youngest.
So I worry.
I worry that the older children will be more dominant, more confident.
I worry that my son will get overlooked in his needs.
I worry that he’ll be put into the ‘slower’ group and he might get stuck there.
I worry that other children will be able to read and write a bit.
I worry that his teacher won’t notice his other skills. His imagination, for example. His memory for important dates. His vocabulary.
I worry that some of his peers are 25% older than him – they’ve had a quarter more of their development.
I worry that the older children will be more used to lesson situations.
I worry that the older children will be better at doing their buttons, better at carrying their own lunch tray, better at remembering where to put their things…
But you know what? I expect there are parents of nearly 5 year olds who are worried about the same things. I know that good teachers and good teaching assistants will get to know him. They will celebrate his successes. They will help him learn all the things he hasn’t quite mastered. I know that he won’t be the only one.
What can we do?
I know that we will try to help and support him as much as we can. I know, from talking to friends who teach Reception, that knowing some letters and numbers can actually be a disadvantage in Reception.
I know he can do the things that school asked us to make sure he can do – cutting up his own lunch, listening well, sharing and taking turns – because we’ve practised. I know he’s positive about going to school. I know he’s going with a couple of friends from preschool. I know he coped well on the school visits in the summer term.
And ultimately, the only thing we can do is support him. We chose not to hold him back. We think he is ready to go to school.
So when he tumbles out of school, exhausted, having lost his water bottle and forgotten his reading book, or when he seems to be stuck on the same spellings for weeks on end, I’ll remind myself that he’s one of the youngest. I’ll remind the teacher too, as he looks older than he actually is. I’ll get him to practise his buttons and carrying his tray. I’ll celebrate his successes.
And I’ll keep my expectations high. I know that his progress will be judged by the same standards as everyone else. There’s no adjustment to his scores to allow for being summer-born. The rules and expectations of the classroom should be the same for everyone, whether they are born in September or August. Someone will always be the youngest, and someone will always be the oldest.
But I’ll worry. Like all parents, I’ll worry.
What do you think about it? Do our children start school too early? Are you a summer-born child? Or your children? Does it really matter?