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Early Years and late starts.

  • Early Years
  • Nursery
Mike Hodgkiss
Mike Hodgkiss 20 June, 2018

Early Years and late starts.

All 4-year-olds have been entitled to government-funded early education since 1998 and in 2004 this was extended to all 3-year-olds. Since September 2017, working parents of 3- and 4-year-olds have been entitled to an additional 15 hours of funded childcare for 38 weeks of the year.

Research has shown that attending early years education and care can help to improve children’s outcomes and narrow the gap associated with socio-economic disadvantage. The UK government, as well as other governments overseas, have consequently made large increases in the number of free hours of early years education available to parents of pre-school children, particularly among disadvantaged groups.

However, Nuffield-funded research by Dr Jo Blanden, Professor Sandra McNally and Dr Kirstine Hansen has questioned the overall benefits of universal provision as implemented in England, finding that the positive effects of the roll-out of free entitlement on children’s educational attainment were small and short-lived.

Amongst their findings were:

  • Free part-time nursery places for three-year-olds enabled some children to do better in assessments at the end of Reception, but overall educational benefits are small and do not last.
  • Between 1999 and 2007, the proportion of three-year-olds in England benefitting from a free nursery place rose from 37% to 88%. However, for every four children given a free place, only one additional child began to use early education. For the other three children, the policy gave parents a discount on the early education that they would have paid for in any case.
  • While there was modest evidence that the policy had more impact on the poorest, most disadvantaged children, the policy did not close the gap in attainment between those from richer and poorer families in the longer term.


There has been a significant rise in the number of parents asking for their summer-born children

to delay starting school.

Research published by the Department for Education shows that the number of requests to defer a school start, rose by 84 per cent between 2015 and 2017.

Among the local authorities surveyed, 916 requests were received to delay school entry from 2015-16 to 2016-17. A year later, 1750 requests to delay school entry were received by the same number of local authorities, equivalent to 0.5 per cent of the five-year-old population.

In both periods, 75 per cent of requests were granted. The research says that as this trend is based on data from a relatively short period, just two years, it is not possible to predict whether this rate of increase is likely to continue. The data is based on responses from 92 local authorities.

Parents with higher incomes were significantly more likely to delay their summer-born child’s admission, with 47 per cent having a household income of £50,000 or more. The vast majority (79 per cent) had a household income above £25,000. A majority of children whose admission was delayed were born in July and August, 22 per cent and 53 per cent respectively. Nearly 85 per cent of children whose admission was delayed were White.

When asked for their reasons for delaying their child’s admission, the most common reason given was, whether parents felt their child was ready for school, followed by evidence about summer-born children, and advice from pre-school/ nursery (47 per cent). Around one in five parents (21 per cent) cited the cost of childcare, and the availability of childcare (18 per cent). Parents were able to give more than one reason.

Reasons given by parents for delaying their child’s admission:

  • Whether I felt my child was ready for school 97 per cent
  • Evidence I had seen about summer-born children in… 77 per cent
  • Advice from pre-school/ nursery 47 per cent
  • Medical condition/ developmental delay 38 per cent
  • Advice from the school/teacher/ head teacher 29 per cent
  • Advice from friends 22 per cent
  • Cost of childcare if I delayed my child’s school entry 21 per cent
  • Availability of childcare if I delayed my child’s school entry 18 per cent
  • Availability of places in my preferred school 13 per cent.

Michelle Melson of the Summer Born Campaign said, ‘We have maintained for years now, there is no excuse for admission authorities to deny children access to their Reception class year, and to a continuous curriculum thereafter, simply for starting school at England’s compulsory school age.

‘It’s very important that any amendments to the code and its drafting are robust and leave no room for any ambiguity, otherwise some admission authorities will utilise anything they perceive as a loophole to block parents and remove parental choice.’

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, ‘ATL has consistently argued that early years education needs to be flexible enough to support all children to succeed regardless of the age at which they start school.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “It’s about taking a sensible and human approach based on the individual needs of the child in question.

“The flexibility required in order to accommodate the needs of some children born between April and August each year can cause some organisational and financial issues for schools but they are not insurmountable and more guidance from the government has certainly helped.”