Deferring school starting age in Northern Ireland

Voice Community’s response to consultation by Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI)

Background: This consultation relates to the age a child should start statutory education in Year One of primary school. It seeks views on proposals to introduce flexibility in school starting age for the youngest children in the year group born between 1 April and 1 July. It also seeks views on how the proposal will impact the pre-school provision for deferred children. These views will help to inform policy development on this issue in due course.

Summary: There is an almost universal expectation that children will commence compulsory schooling at the first opportunity or else risk losing an entire year of their primary education: perhaps bypassing the reception year altogether. But there is evidence to suggest that summer-born children, those born in July and August in particular could benefit from deferred start.

There may be times when children are ready to enter the education system before the legal minimum age. Equally there may be some who do not appear to be ready, who, when placed in the formal environment with their peers and provided with staff support, make excellent progress.

Of the many points to be considered, the primary focus must be on the child. Therefore, whilst it will be those with parental responsibility who make the decision, it must be based on the child’s individual needs. Voice Community is therefore pleased to see this referenced throughout the consultation document.

Voice Community is reassured by the following statements from the consultation document that the proposed new arrangements should:

  • Be child-centred and aim to ensure that all children receive education suitable to their individual age, ability and aptitude.
  • Ensure that flexibility operates as equitably and fairly as possible for all children – both those who defer and those who do not – across the education system.
  • Ensure that provision of flexibility is compatible with the efficient and effective operation of the school system in the interests of all children.
  • Be easy for parents to understand and access and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.
  • Ensure all children continue to have the same entitlement to receive 12 years of compulsory education.

We are reassured that the Department for Education has committed to ensure that at least one year of pre-school education is available even to those who defer as this will help to support the child to make a successful transition from the home into an informal and then formal learning environment.

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.

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