Summer-born children are being unfairly labelled by primary schools as having special educational needs, research suggests.
Two in five summer-born boys are categorised as having SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) by primary schools, creating needless anxiety for children and parents, according to a paper by the London School of Economics (LSE).
Among children who reached Year 6 in 2018, the study found that 26% of summer-born girls were given SEND support at some point during primary school, compared to 16% of autumn-born girls.
Meanwhile, 40% of summer-born boys received SEND help, compared to 28% of autumn-born boys.
Researchers analysed the National Pupil Database census records for more than six million children in state primary schools over the years 2008 to 2018.
On average, some 39% of summer-born boys were ascribed a “good level of development” in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile at the end of reception, compared to 80% of autumn-born girls.
Meanwhile, at the end of Year 1, 64% of summer-born boys were recorded as meeting the “expected standard” in the phonics screening check, compared to 84% of summer-born girls.
The disproportionalities by birth season and gender were present throughout primary school, across cohorts of children, and were most pronounced between the ages of six and eight, the study suggested.
When the cohort of children who finished primary school in 2018 were in Year 2, some 8% of autumn-born girls were attributed school-level SEND support, compared to 27% of summer-born boys.
The author of the report, Dr Tammy Campbell, argues that England’s early testing and curriculum regimes are inappropriate, particularly for younger children.
They are set up to sort children into the “expected” and “good” who “meet standards”, and those who are deficient, which results in over-attribution of SEND to summer-born children, Dr Campbell says.
The paper states:
“Rigid prescriptive expectations not suitable for relatively younger children result in many of these children being denoted with SEND, and then the system that has created these needs cannot or will not meet them.
“This is because inherently by the same conditions through which it creates some SEND, it is configured not to serve the children it attributes.
“It is configured instead to denote children as sufficient (good, meeting standards, expected level) or deficient (not good, not meeting standards, not at the expected level).”
She added that this “may contribute to increasing numbers of children being forced from the mainstream system”.
Data released by the Department for Education (DfE) this month showed that the number of pupils in England with education, health and care (EHC) plans increased by 10% from January 2020 to January 2021.
Dr Campbell, assistant research professor at LSE’s centre for analysis of social exclusion, said: “Beneath these numbers lie real children and families.
“The past decade’s SEND system reforms have not improved their experiences: the system remains insufficient, inefficient, and unequal. More, and crucially, different reform therefore seems necessary.
“This is why it is important to continue to examine from all angles the factors that play into and construct the SEND system: which, as a whole, is characterised by ‘nightmares’ and ‘dashed hopes’, and which fails to serve the children it should be supporting.”
Under the current system, children in England usually start school in the autumn after they turn four, but parents of those born between April and August can ask to delay entry for a year.
Figures published last year showed that the number of parents asking for their summer-born children to delay starting school had increased annually since 2016.
DfE statistics showed that 1.2% of summer-born pupils delayed entry in January 2020, up from 1.0% in January 2019.
Pauline McDonagh Hull, spokeswoman for the Summer Born Campaign, said: “This study reaffirms the disproportionate number of summer born children with SEND in schools.
“One of the most important benefits of allowing compulsory school age entry is reducing new SEND diagnoses in summer born children and improving the educational outcomes of those already diagnosed.
“While we have seen improvements in the admissions approach taken by some authorities, equity concerns remain, and it is vital the government communicates the legal right to start school at age 5 instead of age 4 to all parents.”