Under current law, children in England must be in education from the term after their fifth birthday. However…..some would argue that fact as reception class in primary school starts in September following a child’s 4th birthday. Should you choose to wait until your child reaches compulsory school age (CSA) many schools, and indeed many local authorities (LA) in charge of school admissions will try to push you into starting your child in year 1 and skipping reception class altogether!
A bit of background on my story…
My oldest daughter was born mid August. When she started recpetion class she was just 4 years and 2 weeks old. I considered her ready for school though. She was, I thought, quite bright and happy to leave me sobbing at the door as she excitedly went into her classroom and found her coat peg etc. There were kids in that class room a full 11 months older than her.
Let me put that into persective for a second……My cousin has just had a baby a month ago, her son cannot hold his head up properly yet. He will be going into the same year group at school as my youngest daughter who can already recognise and point to members of the family when asked. She is almost walking and nearly talking. Yet these 2 children are going to be held to exactly the same standard when it comes to school assesments and tests. It’s just not fair!
Back to my eldest….So school is great and she loves it and makes friends and all is well…..awesome! 😀
Well not quite, you see, as I mentioned above children with almost an entire years worth of life experience and development were in the same class, being held to the same standards and naturally they were doing better than my girl. By the time she got to year 2 she was labeled as being too far behind her peers and needed extra help to keep up , a slow learner. I believe the term additional needs was used at one point! By the time year 6 rolls around she is having extra tuition in the mornings before school and someone to help her in class to keep up!
Knowing this had happened to my summer born daughter I had a dilemma approaching fast for my autistic son!
The Fight Begins
So as I mentioned my boy has Autism. He is completely non verbal and has delays in several areas of development. As the time to register for a school place approached we talked to his professionals and made the decision that he was not going to be even close to ready for school at age 4!
We contacted the local authority and asked about the process of applying for an Out of Cohort education (Using the phrase out of cohort instead of delayed start is important when talking to officials so that they are clear you are not just delaying or ‘deffering’ your childs start date unitl later in the same year!).
We were told that we needed to apply for schools in the normal way and then contact them via email with any eveidence to support or case. (We did exactly that, including reports from his consultant paediatrician, support worker and his speech and language therapist.)
The LA would then go to the head teachers of all the school in our application to seek their opinion. If they all agree (remember that bit, it’s important later!) we would be able to apply for a reception place the following school year.
We get a reply a week or so later stating our application was successful and we could apply for a reception place the next year and if we wanted to go ahead we would need to cancel this years application. We did so and all was well…………sort of!
All was well and quiet for the next few months, the boy was at nursery and doing well in his second year there and we were ready to re apply for his school place.
We had to do it the old fashioned way because the system would not recognise his date of birth due to him being a year older than the other reception starters. This meant an agonizing wait to see if we got our chosen school (i.e. the school 10 doors down from our house!) via snail mail.
A couple of days before it arrived we had a bit of a shock though. We were in the final stages of an EHCP (Statement of additional needs in ‘old money’) and when the school were contacted about being named as his chosen placement we were told they would not, and had never agreed, to placing our son in Reception out of cohort!
I was distraught! The whole agonising (and it truely was) decision to hold him back a year was taken in the knowledge that he would still have that very important first year to introduce school life gently via reception class. Now……when it is far too late to do anything about it I am told he can’t have that after all!
Apparently someone, somewhere, was told that this school didn’t agree and never bothered to pass that information on! (remeber that bit before about all the schools having to agree!?)
So, after much backwards and forwards between us, his support professionals, the pre school and the school we were still stuck exactly where we started! The school would not budge at all and were adamant it was “against their policy” to allow out of cohort applications.
To really rub salt in the wound the school placement letter arrived a few days after this bombshell was dropped……it said he had a place in reception at our chosen school for this year!
Unfortunately (…..for them), they severely underestimated the strength and determination and mother of a special needs child who feels backed into a corner over the rights of her child! I scoured every single bit of every single policy I could find and discovered no such policy existed!
I asked them to show me the policy and highlight the bit in question, that was when the story changed and suddenly it wasn’t about policy anymore.
They changed their story!
I had them on the ropes and they knew it!
Yes it took me months of fighting and I’m not gonna lie, it almost cost me marriage and my sanity. I spent half of our family holiday this year curled up in a ball, sobbing into a pillow about how I had failed our son and ruined his chance at a normal school life forever!
I blamed myself and genuinely thought I was losing my mind and imagining things in policies that weren’t really there!
Everytime I wrote to someone for help or advice they all seeemed to say the same thing.
The school don’t do that so you’ll have to find another school or suck it up and start him in year 1……EVERYONE! I went to the manager of school admissions, the independent special needs service SENDIASS, to Statutory Assesment who were in charge of the EHCP regarding his education and care and the school themselves. They were all adament I was wrong and the school could deny my son his reception place!
At this point the battle was 5 months old and I was tired! I had almost given up………..ALMOST!
It was all arranged. My son would start his very first day at school ever in year 1.
I couldn’t bare it!
I know the school system from reception to year 4. I’ve worked in all those years myself and I know how different each year is from the last.
I likened them starting my baby in year 1 as chucking him in the deep end……with concrete blocks tied to his feet!
I really just couldn’t fathom how a child who was already so far behind in development could possibly cope and benefit from missing an entire year of school! (and don’t even get me started on the term time holiday fines! Missing a single week of school is detrimental my arse!!)
So fast forward a bit…….it’s just over 2 weeks until his first day.
I was done, I was beaten. They had won!
But then that special needs mum in me woke up again! I was lying awake crying quietly into my pillow at 2am (sadly this was nothing new at this point in the fight) and boom there she was in the back of my head. Kicking the crap out of my little broken crying lady in my head and telling to grow the fuck up and fight for her kid! She was right! My boy doesn’t have a voice so I have to use mine to fight for him!
I sent an email to my local MP outlining the basics. She replied and said she understood how stressful it must be and that she would look into it via the local council and also with the school but that time was running out and she couldn’t promise anything would be finalised in time for starting school.
She was wrong, in the best way! Friday afternoon I received a call from the head of school admissions for Essex county council. He said he had looked at the file and that whilst the school do have a say about applications the final decision rests with the local authority and he could see that we already had a letter to say he could start in reception. He said he would speak with the head teacher on Monday and get back to me with “hopefully a positive outcome for everyone”.
I put the phone down and I cried!
I wasn’t making it up! He said exactly what I had read in the policies and what I had tried to argue with anyone who would listen! I was right all along and the school could not overide what we had been told!
and the winner is…….
He was due to start in year 1 on Tuesday.
The wait for the call on Monday felt like enternity but it was worth it!
It was confirmed that he would start in Reception!
We had won!
The school called soon afterwards to remind me that reception class do not start this week and that his start date would be next Monday instead. To say she was not her usually helpful, happy self on the phone would be an understatemnt! I think it’s safe to say I’ll have made more enemies than friends amongst the school management this week but I honestly couldn’t care less!
I honestly thing I could win the lottery now and it wouldn’t make me as happy as winning thsi fight!
How can this help you?
Well for a start if you are reading this and you live in Essex, UK. You should, thankfully, never find yourself in the same situation I did.
After the royal balls up about witholding information about schools agreeing (or not in this case) on a decision, meetings at high management level were had and I have been assured that procdures have been put in place so that this sitaution will not be able to happen again!
Unfortunately the decision to have a reception start our of cohort approved, is still very much a postcode lottery for parents.
I had lots of support from some facebook groups full of other parents who have or are trying to secure the same reception start at compulsory school age that we now have.
If you’d like more information leave a comment or drop me a message on facebook and I’d be happy to help.
If you are fighting for a delayed school start for your little one I wish you the best of luck and remember……
No matter how hard it is and how impossible it seems we are proof that it can happen! Never give up!