Who delays entry to primary school in England? Examining inequalities using the National Pupil Database

W8, 28/11/22

Dr Tammy Campbell, CASE, London School of Economics

Who delays entry to primary school in England? Examining inequalities using the National Pupil Database.

Within the ‘normal’ school year-group cohort, which runs in England from September through to the following August, summer-born children are proportionally much younger than autumn-borns at the usual point of entry to primary school. August-borns are just four, while September-borns are turning five. Since 2014, families’ right to request delayed entry for summer-borns has increasingly been clarified, publicised, and enshrined in national guidance.

This has been welcomed by those who argue that the Reception curriculum and environment are inappropriate for young four-year-olds, especially children who were born prematurely or who have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). However, particularly as this is a ‘right to request,’ rather than a fully mainstreamed pathway, others have warned against the option to delay, proposing that it may exacerbate inequalities, if it is more ‘advantaged’ families who take up and / or can access the right.

Partial evidence from surveys by the Department for Education begins to support both these positions. It suggests children born premature and / or with SEND are more likely to delay entry, but also that higher-income families are more likely. However, as documented throughout the reports, this evidence is not nationally representative and probably contains biased responses. Crucially, it does not consider the interaction between family circumstances and child factors. So it does not tell us whether, among families of children who may be less developmentally ‘ready’ for school, those who are ‘disadvantaged’ are less likely to use the option of later entry to Reception with the younger cohort.

In this research I use the National Pupil Database to fill evidence gaps and build more comprehensive information on patterns of delayed entry over the past decade. I examine which children begin primary school ‘out-of-year-group’ – with the cohort below – considering family income-level (proxied by FSM), home language (EAL), gender, and SEND. I explore relationships between these family and child-level factors, and also map disparities in proportions delaying entry by Local Authority. I show how patterns have changed before and during the establishment of the ‘right to request,’ and I discuss implications of my findings for the success, or otherwise, and continued implementation of the policy.

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