Wait gain

Nuala Gormley is expecting her fourth child in February. "When I said what date the baby was due, one friend immediately asked if I was planning to defer. At the moment, I'm just thinking about getting through the next year or so. But when it comes to it, I can't imagine we would send a child to school at the age of four and a half."
"Are you planning to defer?" is one of the first questions a pregnant woman north of the border will be asked if her due date falls between November and February. Thanks to a once little-known provision of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, the parents of children who are not five when the school year begins have the legal right to hold them back until the next year.

Technically, all children born between the beginning of March one year and the end of February the next, start school together in mid-August, with an average age of four and a half. In Scotland, therefore, it is the winter-born children who are the youngest in the class, not the summer-born as in the rest of the UK. But they suffer the same tendency to underachieve.

A recent UK-wide study published in the British Medical Journal found that regardless of season of birth, the youngest in the year have a slightly increased chance of mental health problems.

There is no reception year to ease the transition to school in Scotland; literacy and numeracy programmes kick in almost immediately.

“I was very jealous of my friends in England where the reception year really is a gentle introduction to school and children can go part-time and play until they feel ready to do longer hours and more work,” says community education worker Fiona Henderson.

The Guardian

November 4th 2003