In the majority of education systems around the world children are grouped into cohorts of students born within an academic year. In most of the UK the academic year runs from the 1st of September to 31st August and so the children born in May, June, July and August are often known as Summer Born. In other countries the Summer Born Effect or, more correctly, the End of Academic Year Effect, is observed in different months depending on when their academic year ends. Educating children in year groups means that there can be 12 months difference between the oldest and youngest child in any cohort of children. In the UK children start formal and compulsory schooling from the academic year in which they turn five and at this age a difference of 12 months can be very significant.
Children mature and develop at different rates so age is certainly not the only factor that will account for the wide range of ability and skills in any one class. However, being born at the end of an academic year can definately be a disadvantage and this is particularly so for children who are developing more slowly. The table below shows how children born at the start, middle and end of the academic year compare chronologically and developmentally.
Difficulties experienced by summer born children:
Can be perceived as not as bright or clever as other children
Developmentally not ready to start compulsory formal schooling
Physically younger with implications initially for fine and gross motor skills, size, then later sport and to a certain extent sexual maturity
School examinations are usually based on the age of the cohort not individual ages thus advantageous to children born earlier in year
Self-esteem can be poor as they can appear to be lagging behind others
Missed opportunties - more mature pupils given special responsibilities or represent year group in sports and quiz teams, drama productions etc.
Less social confidence - social groups dominated by older pupils
Less happy in school
More likely to be diagnosed with a developmental condition
More likely to be diagnosed as having Special Educational Needs
The long term effects on summer born children
As children get older the differences between average development for autumn born and summer born children closes to become eventually neglible. Thus for most of the important milestones important in learning such as attention span; working memory; language acquistion etc the summer born children generally catch up during their primary schooling. However, evidence suggests that there can be a lasting legacy of being summer born child. Summer born children continue to do less well in public examinations all the way into adulthood where they are under represented in professional sport, university education and higher paid jobs.
Right to defer your child
In the UK there is no statutory reason why children must be taught in their age group cohort. Parents have the right to request that there child starts school after turning 5 in Reception rather than Year 1. However, in practice this is not easy to achieve and would involve convincing your local authority and school of your case for your child being educated out of year. Equally, the availabiity of places in over-subscribed schools make this also difficult to achieve. For those parents seeking schools in the independent sector the individual school can make the decision.
In other countries, such as Denmark, there is a more flexible approach to deferring summer born children to the next academic year.