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Starting school

As a result of being born prematurely, some children might benefit from starting reception year a little later. Bliss believes that there needs to be more flexibility in the school admissions process in England to allow this.

While there is no legal reason why children can’t start reception year at five rather than four, many schools and admissions authorities are reluctant to allow children to start school at this age. This is why we have been campaigning for many years for greater flexibility, particularly for children who are born premature in the summer months and have fallen into a different school year group as a result.

On this page you can find more about:

Deciding whether to apply for a delay can be a difficult one, and it’s important to know all your options. You can find out more about the options available to you and your child, and support with making your decision on our family support pages

Read one family's experience with securing a delayed school start for their little girl, Ella, who was born at 25 weeks and fell into a different year group as a result.

Campaign developments 

Following campaigning from Bliss and parents, a revised English School Admissions Code was released in December 2014, alongside updated guidance, Advice on the Admission of Summer Born Children

These documents give greater clarity to Admissions Authorities that prematurity is a factor which they should be taking into account when deciding if delaying a child’s start in reception till they are five is in their best interests.

While there is still a long way to go, this is a step in the right direction. You can read more about the changes, and what else we would like to see improved here.

On 4 March 2015, Bliss attended the Education Select Committee to scrutinise the evidence used by the Government to inform its summer born policy. We pressed for the Department to change their policy so that once a child successfully delays their school start they are not forced to miss a year later on. We also highlighted the lack of awareness amongst teachers and other education professionals about how children are affected by their prematurity once they start school.

Nick Gibb, Minister for School Reform, responded to our concerns and committed to investigating how requests to delay are handled by different authorities. Find out more

On 7 September 2015, Nick Gibb MP released an open letter stating that it is his intention to make further changes to the School Admissions Code so summer-born children can automatically start reception at five years old, and remain with that year group throughout school. This follows a debate, led by Stephen Hammond MP the evening before where the Minister also committed to considering allowing due date, rather than birth date, to be used when making admissions decsions. A consultation is to follow shortly.

We are delighted with this news, and will be responding to the consultation to make sure the needs of premature born children are properly protected. Find out more about the changes, and our reaction here

Starting school in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

There is no standard process for starting school across the UK because education is a devolved issue. This means the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland create their own laws around when children should start school, what, if any, flexibilities should be in place and what curriculum children follow once they start school.


The youngest children in Scotland (born in January and February) are able to automatically defer starting the first year of school until they are six years old. For children born at other points in the year, their parents can apply for them to have a descretionary deferral, but this has to be evidenced and a formal decision made. You can find more information on starting school in Scotland here


Like in England, compulsory school age is five years old. While the Wales School Admissions Code does suggest a child can start reception at five, their is less legislative support. There is currently no additional guidance for authorities on how to makes admissions decisions based on these requests, either. You can find more information on starting school in Wales here

Northern Ireland

Children must start school the September after they turn four in Northern Ireland - one of the lowest compulsory school ages in the world. There is currently no flexibility for deferring a child's school starting age. In Decemeber 2014, the Northern Ireland Executive set up a consulation on the issue where over 90 percent of respondents agreed that there needed to be some flexibility. There are currently no plans to change the legislation, but the Government have committed to relasing Guidance for authorities and parents on the issue. You can find more information on starting school in Northern Ireland here

Get involved

Help us strengthen our campaign by taking part in this short survey if you have applied for your child's school start to be delayed. This will allow us to see where Government policies are working well - and where they still need to improve.

If you want to be the first to hear about our school news updates and breakthroughs, make sure you’re signed up to our campaigning network. Your experiences influence all our work and help us support our arguments. If you want to make a difference, share your experience of delaying, or trying to delay your child’s school start with us.


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