Children born in the summer are ‘unfairly labelled’ as having special needs by primary schools, because they’re the youngest in their class, an expert argues.
Dr Tammy Campbell, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, says summer-born primary school kids are disproportionately given the ‘special educational needs or disabilities’ (SEND) label.
Children in England face early ‘attainment’ tests during their first years of primary school, which are inappropriate, particularly for younger children, she argues.
Summer-born children are up to 12 months younger than some of their fellow classmates, and have therefore had less time to develop.
Currently, the UK school year runs from September 1 to August 31, so children born towards the end of this period are at an unfortunate disadvantage.
Judgements and assessments are against rigid top-down ‘national standards’ prescribed centrally by the government and with no flexibility to account for birth month and age within year group.
This ‘rigid’ and ‘Kafkaesque system’ is creating needless anxiety for children and parents, which can affect their lives outside of school, Dr Campbell says.
Summer-born children are being unfairly labelled by primary schools as having special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), according to the new research, which is funded by the British Academy (stock image)
Dr Campbell, a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow, specialises in the effects of biases and stereotyping in judgements and assessments of children’s abilities.
Summer-born children, particularly boys, are much more likely to be given the SEND label by the end of their primary school career, she found.
Nearly half of summer-born boys are categorised as having SEND by primary schools, according to her research paper.
‘The crux of the problem as I see it is not quite that they have had less time to learn,’ she told MailOnline.
‘It is more that they are simply younger and less developed – and so of course shouldn’t be expected to have learned and developed as much – because they are up to 12 months younger.
‘Expectations of what is “normal” for very young children should be flexible, and emphasise individual progress and growth rather than static thresholds.’
Mistakenly labelling swathes of children as SEND may also contribute to increasing numbers of children being forced from education prematurely.
For her paper, Dr Campbell used census records from National Pupil Database (NPD) for more than 6 million children who were in state primary schools between the years 2008 and 2018.
CURRENT PRIMARY ATTAINMENT TESTS
At age four/five, children enter school, and are quickly ascribed a binary judgement of having reached a ‘good level of development’ – or not – against criteria forming the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, at the end of their reception year.
At age five/six, children are ‘screened’ for phonics, and deemed to have met the ‘expected standard’ – or not.
At age six/seven, they are assessed (currently in reading, writing, and maths) at the end of Key Stage 1.
There is then a pause, before the end of Key Stage 2, when at ten/eleven children sit exams and are assessed once more by teachers.
Among children reaching Year 6 in 2018, 16 per cent of autumn-born girls had been attributed SEND support at some point during primary school, compared with 26 per cent of summer-born girls,’ she found.
As for the boys, 28 per cent of autumn-born boys and 40 per cent of summer-born boys had been attributed SEND support at some point during primary school.
On average, from 2008 to 2018, only 39 per cent of summer-born boys have been ascribed a ‘good level of development’ in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (a summary of a child’s attainment at the end of reception) compared to 80 per cent of autumn-born girls.
Between the years 2012 and 2018, 64 per cent of summer-born boys have been recorded as meeting the ‘expected standard’ in the Phonics Screening Check (a word test for children at the end of Year 1), compared to 84 per cent of summer-born girls.
By the end of the infant years (age 6/7/8), children have been subject to three sets of assessments that don’t take age differences between children in a single academic year into account.
Dr Campbell says: ‘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.
‘Higher-level SEND provision should very much be based on children’s own needs and disabilities, and these do not inherently vary by birth season.’
Summer-born children, particularly boys, are much more likely to be given the SEND label by the end of their primary school career (stock image)
When the cohort of children who finished primary school in 2018 were in Year 2, 8 per cent of autumn-born girls were attributed school-level SEND Support, compared to 27 per cent of summer-born boys.
Dr Campbell says: ‘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.’
The SEND system is currently under review by the Department for Education (DfE), having been described as a ‘nightmare’ by the 2019 Education Select Committee.
Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
SEND stands for special educational needs or disabilities.
Children said to have SEND can receive SEND support in school.
Children can be recorded with SEND at two levels:
– Lower: Decisions about who has SEND are made by the school, and provision is funded by the school. Outside agencies may be involved in assessments and provision in some cases, but not necessarily. Support at this level is not statutory/guaranteed.
– Higher: Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) level: decisions about whether to award an EHCP are made by the local authority (LA). Provision is then statutory and legally guaranteed (in theory), and funded by the LA. This is intended to be for children whose needs cannot be met by existing provision and funding within mainstream schools.
Dr Campbell found that overall patterns are similar for ‘higher’ local authority-funded statutory SEND provision.
For example, among children reaching Year 6 in 2018, 1.7 per cent of autumn-born girls had been granted statutory SEND provision at some point during primary school, compared 1.9 per cent of summer-born girls, 4.5 per cent of autumn-born boys, and 5.2 per cent of summer-born boys.